One way to determine whether consumers understand a document is to use a readability formula to assign it a score. These formulas calculate readability by counting such variables as the number of words and syllables in a passage or document. The idea of readability formulas has been defined as “an equation which combines those text features that best predict text difficulty. The equation is usually developed by studying the relationship between text features (e.g., words, sentences) and text difficulty (e.g., reading comprehension, reading rate, and expert judgment of difficulty).” Even though readability formulas are mechanical and imperfect, they are easy to apply and, therefore, popular.
The Flesch-Kincaid test is one popular readability formula, perhaps because Microsoft Word allows users to apply it easily to documents that are typed or pasted into the program. If Microsoft’s readability program is flawed, however, it compromises the results of the many researchers who have relied on it.
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Date of this Version
Louis J. Sirico Jr., "Readability Studies: How Technocentrism Can Compromise Research and Legal Determinations" (February 2008). Villanova University School of Law Working Paper Series. Working Paper 104.