The Story Of Writing

By Nirmaldasan


Nita Berry’s The Story Of Writing, published by the Children’s Book Trust in 1998, is a delightful read for students of the higher grade levels. This is the way it begins: “Remember how long you took to start writing? When you were very young, you had to learn initially to grasp a pencil or crayon firmly between your fingers. Slowly, you began to draw clumsy lines, then circles and different shapes. Later, you wrote your ABC in capitals, perhaps a little shakily to start with, but yes, you were writing! And when you were a little bigger, you developed a beautiful running hand, and wrote words, then sentences at last!”


This sample has 5 sentences, 116 syllables, 373 characters and 80 words. The average number of words per sentence (AWS) is 80/5 = 16. Let us calculate the readability of this passage applying three formulae: Strain Index (SI), Character-count Index (CI) and the Higher Grade Level (HGL).


SI = 0.3 * (Sn/n), where Sn is the number of syllables in ‘n’ sentences. Substituting the values, we get SI = 0.3 * (116/5) = 6.96.


CI = 0.1 * (Cn/n), where Cn is the number of characters in ‘n’ sentences. Substituting the values, we get CI = 0.1 * (373/5) = 7.46.


HGL = W4/10 to W5/10, where W4 and W5 are the number of words in 4 sentences and 5 sentences respectively. Here, W4 = 59 and W5 = 80. Therefore, HGL = 5.9 to 8.0. It is interesting to note that the SI and the CI scores lie within this range.


And here is the concluding paragraph of Nita Berry’s book: “In an electric age today, when computers have taken over the task of designing letters and text, the ancient art of writing by hand has perhaps ceased to evolve. Yet, the value of the written word is cherished. The early lesson it taught us at the dawn of our history — of how to communicate and record — is pushing mankind towards new frontiers, and newer horizons on earth and even beyond.”


This sample has 3 sentences, 105 syllables, 320 characters and 70 words. And AWS is 70/3 = 23.33.


SI = 0.3 * (105/3) = 0.1 * 105 = 10.5.


CI = 0.1 * (320/3) = 10.66.


HGL = (0.4 * AWS) to (0.5 * AWS) = (0.4 * 70/3) to (0.5 * 70/3) = 9.33 to 11.66. Here again, the SI and CI scores lie within this range.


Of the two passages we have tested, the first appears easier to read than the second. It is better to test more samples before averaging the scores.


NOTE: The Strain Index, the Character-count Index and the High Grade Level are single-factor readability formulae like the FORCAST, the SMOG and the Easy Listening Formula. I have discussed the last three formulae in ‘Fascinating Approaches To Readability’; and the first three formulae in ‘Strain Index: A New Readability Formula’, ‘Character-count Formula For Readable Writing’ and ‘Readability Conjectures’ respectively.



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