Friday, March 14, 2008

There's not enough Flesch on these numbers

In his latest column, "Can you read as well as a fifth-grader?" Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," takes a swipe at the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease index, especially as it's implemented in Microsoft Word.

Noting that the same passage's score can differ by three grade levels or more, depending on the formula, readability consultant Mark Hochhauser says, "One of the things the field really needs is an updated formula."

Even neurolinguist G. Harry McLaughlin says of his own, widely used SMOG Readability Formula, "The theoretical basis is c---."

Still, when you need a rough measurement and all you have is a stick, well, you use the stick.

But the warning is well-taken by those who would automatically run the stats and declare something to be too complicated. Look at the writing, not just the numbers.

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