Foreign learners of English, like all others, are troubled by long sentences. One would expect that they would be equally confounded by long words. Interestingly, that need not be the case. They are harassed by miniword clusters. And the credit for this finding goes to Rachel McAlpine, author of ‘Global English For Global Business’.
In an article titled ‘From Plain English To Global English’ — available online at http://www.webpagecontent.com/arc_archive/139/5/ — she defines miniwords as common words of one, two or three letters and says that miniword clusters in wordy cliches, colloquial expressions and phrasal verbs confuse international readers. She presents two difficult sentences consisting of many miniwords and offers better versions. She also discusses several other points regarding English as a Foreign Language (EFL) from a readability perspective.
Towards the end of the article she introduces her readability formula — McAlpine EFLAW Readability Score. The term EFLAW, she clarifies, is a portmanteau combination of EFL and flaw.
Let W, M and S be the number of words, miniwords and sentences in a text. Then EFLAW Score = (W+M)/S. The lower the score, the fewer the flaws, she says and recommends a score of 25 or lower. And here is the scale: 1-20 (very easy to understand); 21-25 (quite easy to understand); 26-29 (a little difficult); and 30+ (very confusing).
The EFLAW Score for a single sentence is just the sum of W and M. Let us apply the formula on the following sentence: “In relation to the selection of a firm of consultants, we are at liberty to make a choice.” W and M are 18 and 11 respectively; and the EFLAW Score is 18+11 = 29 (a little difficult).
McAlpine offers a better version: “The Marketing Team is authorised to select a consultancy firm.” W and M are 10 and 4 respectively; and the EFLAW Score is 10+4 = 14 (very easy to understand).
She suggests two steps for lowering the EFLAW Score of a document: “1. Shorten all sentences to 20 words maximum; and 2. Reduce the number of miniwords.” And she adds: “Take these steps early, because they often automatically eliminate many other problems.”