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Readability

There’s a quickie-link from s1ngularity about sf author Michael A. Burstein’s examination of readability. His reference is Fiction Writer’s Barainstormer by James V. Smith, Jr. And for purposes of his discussion, Smith defines readability (measured by the Flesch-Kincaid scale) as the ability of the reader to understand what is being written.

The Flesch-Kincaid scale rates prose on two fronts: a percentage and a grade-level. An example from the link:

A story with a 75% readability will be understood by 75% of readers. A story with a grade level of 8 will be understood by anyone with an 8th grade education or higher.

(Is it me, or does this other grade-level rating validate our recurring infatuation with SF Signal’s Lix score?)

The result of the Smith’s study was essentially that bestselling fiction rates an average 83% readability score and a 4.4 grade level.

Some take issue with Burstein’s subsequent likening of readability to quality.

Personally, I think the word “readability” is misused. “Accessible” might be more accurate. To me, and to Merriam-Webster, readability is more than just using a set of monosyllabic vocabulary words. (Does anyone else get a kick out of the fact that “monosyllabic” is such a polysyllabic word?) There is also the author’s prose to consider.

Some works use sentences that are just awkwardly constructed. Some writers craft the prose to be lyrical. Particularly in genre fiction, the text could be weighed down with made up language. This prose construction is independent of whether or not the writer is using a bunch of 50 cent words in the process. Sometimes, like with my current read as I’m coming to realize, a book is just too hard to wade through. Or maybe better stated: it requires more work than the payoff it gives. Readability is a must if you want to make your reading accessible – it’s the doorway to the story. If something is not readable, a reader is not going to bother.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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