Tuesday, 6 December, 2022

Readability Research

Aashish Mishra

Print media is not dead, at least not yet. A significant chunk of our population still gets their news and analysis from newspapers and magazines. People may learn about an event from various sources but it’s not news until it gets published in the paper. So, let us not write off the place of print from Nepali society.

This importance and relevance, in turn, gives print media a wide scope for academic research. As world-renowned media researchers Roger Wimmer and Joseph Dominick outlined, there are six basic areas for research in print media. They are readership research, circulation research, newspaper management research, typography/makeup research, readability research and online media use. Among them, readability research is a particularly important one because it is conducted to determine how hard or easy a publication is to read and comprehend for the audience. People must be able to read and understand a newspaper or magazine’s content to be able to act on it and bring impact. Printing news is meaningless if the readers do not get its intended meaning.

But before diving in, we first need to clarify what readability is. Wimmer and Dominick have defined readability as the sum total of all the elements and their interactions that affect the success of a piece of printed material. Success is measured by the extent to which readers understand the piece, are able to read it at an optimal speed and find it interesting. So, the crux of the matter in readability research becomes, how easily can the readers understand the piece. This understanding is crucial for news content because nothing is considered information unless it is communicated to the audience.

The need for news pieces to be first, understood by the readers and second, to be interesting enough to motivate people to read it completely and ponder on it cannot be understated. Print media are primarily reliant on text to communicate information and messages. Hence, readability is an important aspect that publications absolutely need to consider. A higher level of readability is desirable as it shows that the audience is easily able to grasp the printed content. This is especially important for newspapers because they have a declared responsibility of providing information to the audience, and nothing is considered information until it is first clearly understood. In such a context, a readability study of newspapers seems relevant. And one of the best methods to carry out this study is the Cloze procedure.

In the Cloze technique, the researcher chooses a passage of 250 to 300 words and deletes every fifth word from a random starting point; thus, creating a passage with blanks in the middle. This passage is then given to the respondents to fill in the blanks with what they feel to be the correct words. The researcher then counts the number of times the blanks are replaced with the actual correct words. The percentage of correct replacement constitutes the readability score of that passage.
Multiple studies have found Cloze procedure scores as a good predictor of readers’ evaluations of content difficulty. The Cloze procedure was also found to be a better predictor of evaluations than other common readability tests.

The point of writing news is to impart accurate information to the people. That is why they need to be written in language the readers understand. This means using simple words and short sentences and avoiding jargon. One of the first things journalists learn in school is to keep their reports short and simple. Of course, a certain linguistic standard needs to be maintained but going the route of poets and philosophers is not preferred.
There are no points for using big fancy words in journalism, only for legibility.