Measuring The Difficulty Of Academic Text

There are many different ways of measuring the difficulty of academic text. Three different kinds of measure (which can be used in combination) are: 'expert-based', 'reader-based' and 'text-based', respectively (Schriver, 1989).

• Expert-based methods are ones that use experts to make assessments of the effectiveness of a piece of text. Referees, for example, are typically asked to judge the quality of an article submitted for publication in a scientific journal, and they frequently make comments about the clarity of the writing. Similarly, subject-matter experts are asked by publishers to judge the suitability of a manuscript submitted for publication in terms of content and difficulty.

• Reader-based methods are ones that involve the actual readers in making assessments of the text. Readers might be asked to complete evaluation scales, to state their preferences for different versions of the same texts, to comment on sections of text that they find difficult to follow, or be tested on how much they can recall after reading a text.

• Text-based measures are ones that can be used without recourse to experts or to readers, and these focus on the text itself. Such measures include computer-based readability formulae and computer-based measures of style and word use.

Two particular measures deserve attention here because they have both been used to assess the readability of academic text. One is a reader-based measure, called the 'cloze' test. The other is a computer-based measure, called the Flesch 'Reading Ease' score.

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