Readability for Researchers

The challenge

All researchers, at some point, will need to communicate their work to a non-expert audience. You may wish to raise public awareness of a pressing issue. Perhaps you want to change public attitude or behaviour. Or maybe you just to get your research on the radar. So, how can you communicate your research in a way your audience will understand?

What is the relevance of readability scores to researchers?

Readability scores provide a gauge of how difficult a piece of text is to understand. Readability-score generates scores on a range of readability formula including grade level. Text aimed at the general public should aim for a readability grade level of around 8. If text is not easy to understand then the reader is less likely to engage. Without engagement, research communication won't result in any changes in knowledge, attitude or behaviour.

As well as telling you what the readability of your text is, Readability-score generates a set of text metrics. These include key word density, text statistics, and longest words and sentences. This will allow you to spot where you have overused words or perhaps not used a key word enough. Also, by highlighting long sentences you can easily see where changes need to be made.

What’s the evidence?

Well, there’s plenty. Many studies have measured the readability of text used to communicate research findings. They typically report a far higher grade level readability score than recommended for the general public. For instance, an evaluation was conducted on the readability of drinking water quality reports for consumers. These reports include important information on detected contaminants as well as educational material. The evaluation found that the reports were written at the 11-14th grade level. This is well above the recommended level of around 8. There is also evidence of poor readability of research participant consent forms. One study reported that average readability was at grade level 13. Again, well above the 7 or 8 typically recommended. So, even in the development of research materials, readability can play an important role.

What value can readability scores bring to the picture?

While readability is certainly not the only factor to consider in effective research communication it is an important factor. Misunderstanding of research and research implications can be anything from annoying to life threatening. Readability-score can help researchers fulfil their responsibility to communicate their research clearly reducing the chances for misinterpretation.

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Ruth Colmer

Ruth is a freelance writer, researcher, and lecturer. She likes reading, cooking, writing stories, travel, and human beings.

   


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