Archive for February, 2012

Grading The Technical Text

February 20, 2012

By Nirmaldasan


There is no reason why the technical text, whether it is a user manual or a project report, should have long sentences. But the technical text may have long words if necessary, as technical terms expressing complex ideas tend to be long. If this proposition be granted, then here is a new formula in two variables for grading the technical text.

The length of a sentence helps determine the syntactic difficulty. To measure semantic complexity, here is a new variable. Polysyllabic excess is the number of syllables more than three per word. The word ‘technicality’ has five syllables and so the polysyllabic excess is two. Obviously, the polysyllabic excess of monosyllables, disyllables and trisyllables is zero.

Let W4 be the number of words and pX4 the polysyllabic excess in a sample of four sentences. The Grade Level (GL), which indicates the number of years of schooling to understand a given technical text, is measured by this formula: GL = (W4/10) + pX4.

Let us apply the formula on the following sample: “Technical writing is the art of communicating technical knowledge to a specified audience. The topic may be as simple as a recipe or as complex as an integral equation. Some of the common technical documents are business letters and user manuals. The nature of the subject and audience determines the style and structure in which technical content is packaged.”

The number of words W4 = 59. Though there are a number of polysyllables, the only word with polysyllabic excess is the pentasyllabic ‘communicating’. So pX4 = 2. Therefore, GL = (59/10) + 2 = 7.9 years of schooling. Since the average reader has about eight years of schooling, the sample that comes from my other article titled ‘The Technical Text’ targets an average audience.

Several factors make a technical text readable. The length of a sentence and polysyllabic excess are just two of them. And this new formula, I hope, will take technical writers closer to their audience.