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Quantifying Readability

July 14, 2023 | General

Hey hey,

hope you're doing so far. <3

So for today, I got something a bit different, but hopefully still interesting for y'all.

Readability. What does that mean though?

Let's take this paragraph, for example.

The fox walks across the forest path. It looks around, trying to find something to eat. Meanwhile, a person stands around and looks into the distance. The mind is empty, and the smell of cinnamon lingers in the air.

Quite weird, but I am uncreative and couldn't come up with something else. Okay. Now we're going to look at this same paragraph, but this time it's rewritten. The general meaning stays the same, though.

The small orange-haired foxy animal strolls along the old, pre-trembled wild paths of the wooded flatlands. A slight wind is blowing, and the quietness can be heard all over the area. The creature is sitting, the wind is blowing over its hair and a stomach rumble can be heard from a distance. It's looking for edible substances. Meanwhile, an individual lingers in this arboreal area and emits a blank stare in the general area. Every thought has been cleared and the spicy aroma of fresh cinnamon fills the atmosphere.

I don't know what you think, but the first one is a bit easier to read. But they convey the same meaningless meaning.

This difference is even quantifiable. Some major differences we can instantly make out are things like the length of the two texts, the complexity of the words used, or even sentence structures. So we can make out that those could be a factor for the calculations of a text's readability.

Now let's look at a few real-life examples and see how they do it.

Gunning-Fog Index:

Formula of the Gunning-Fog readability index

Flesch-Kincaid Index:

Formula of the Flesch-Kincaid readability index

Automated Readability Index:

Formula of the Automated readability index

Okay. I think we can see some things that (nearly) all of them have in common is that they include the amount of (complex) words, sentences, and sometimes syllables. I mean. It makes sense if you think about it. The more words, the more sentences you use, well, the more complex something gets, thus becoming less readable.

If you think for a bit more, then you might realize, that this isn't as accurate as we originally thought. This methodology doesn't consider things like varying levels of grammatical complexity, text layouts, different languages, or changing word rarities inside your given text.

Not as great as we thought so in the beginning. As with many other things that promise greatness, they still can be used as help or another tool for writing more readable texts, or indicating weaknesses with a specialized readability index.

So yeah. Yes. You can quantify the readability of a text, and yes you can use that to help you out in giving you a more objective indication of your text's indication. Is it the end-all solution? No.

See ya.