Archive for January, 2011

Newspaper Reading Factor

January 10, 2011

By Nirmaldasan


Nahoo has tested the hypothesis that long sentences and long words go together in newspaper articles. “The relationship between the length of words and sentences has been established within a certain writing style. If a reporter wishes to produce an article which is quick and easy to read information, the sentence and word length will be shorter,” he writes in an article titled ‘Sentence And Word Length’:

So to measure readability of newspapers, it is enough to calculate either syntactic difficulty (sentence length) or semantic complexity (word length). Relying on syntactic difficulty, I had suggested the Higher Grade Level (HGL) = W4/10 to W5/10; W4 and W5 are the number of words in four and five sentences respectively. This formula grades texts on a scale of 1 to 17+.

Semantic complexity, however, suggests a simpler measure. Words may be either short or long. Based on the assumption that the average syllable has three letters, a polysyllable may be expected to have nine letters. Hence a long word may be assumed to have more than eight letters.

I took a number of samples of 100 words each from Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Chicago Addresses’ and Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons ‘Strength To Love’ and found the approximation 5 x P (polysyllables) = 6 x LW (long words). But when I checked some articles from a magazine, I was disappointed to see this equation fail. No wonder because the long word and the polysyllable, interestingly, are not a perfect match. Here are some polysyllables that are not long words: enemy, cinema, belated, utility and devilish. And here are some long words that are not polysyllables: scratched, strengths, mountains, ourselves and conscience. I noticed, however, that in most samples there were more polysyllables than long words.

Now, the number of long words other than the names of persons and places in five sentences (LW5) may be called the Newspaper Reading Factor (NRF). Names of persons and places are exempted from the count as they are usually supposed to be very easy to understand. This formula measures newspaper texts on a five-point scale: 0 – 4 (very easy); 5 – 8 (easy); 9 – 12 (standard); 13 – 16 (hard); and 17+ (very hard).

Since reporters are in a hurry, the NRF would help them quickly assess the reading ease or difficulty of whatever they write.