Monthly Archives: May 2012

Readability: What the Tests Measure

I’ll end the suspense. In sum, the readability tests measure how well a piece of writing compares to plain-language standards. Not specific enough? Here’s more. According to Cheryl Stephens’ “All About Readability,” “Readability tests, which are mathematical formulas, were designed to assess the suitability of books for students at particular grade levels or ages.” Most modern formulas, which many people in business use to evaluate their own writing, measure a mix of semantics (word meanings) and syntactic elements (length or structure of sentences). As the article “Using Microsoft Word’s Readability Program” explains, the Flesch scale, which is what Microsoft Word uses, computes the average number of syllables per word and …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

What Is "Readability"?

Last week, in more than one post, I used readability to illustrate how parasitic suffixes drag a sentence down in readability scores and up in reading grade level. I’ve used readability tools to analyze my own writing for awhile, so I’ve taken them for granted. But now I’m curious about them, so I’m going to (a) break my promise from Friday’s post to comment on logical writing (sorry; we’ll cover it later), and (b) instead, write a few missives about readability and how it plays into technical writing. I’ll start tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Sufferin’ Suffixes! An “-Ation” Nation

I document a Web-based application that uses lots of words in the UI that end with -ation: Modification, notification, verification, Googlification. (Okay, I made the last word up, but you get the idea.) For example, when a site administrator makes a change to another user’s account, the admin must describe the change in the “Modification Description” field. If the admin wants to send the user a new password, he clicks the “Send Notification” button. The user then receives a “Password Verification” email. The parasitic suffix strikes again, dumping a heap of syllables on an otherwise simple word and manipulating it into acting differently. In this instance, -ation turns verbs into …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Sufferin’ Suffixes! The Reality of “-Ality”

Ever since I became a tech writer, one word has gnawed at me: functionality. It’s the parasitic -ality at the end of the word. I first encountered the word in a technical specification. Then I started seeing it in other writers’ work. (Parasites spread that way, you know.) The problem with this word is that, like all words with parasitic suffixes, there was nothing wrong with its root word: function. A noun is a noun, except when -ality adheres. Then it’s just a longer noun. That said, consider three versions of a sample sentence (including one without “function” at all): The web site’s functionality includes the shopping cart, wish list, …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Sufferin’ Suffixes! Your Suspicious “-Ize”

Standardize. Modernize. Finalize…All words found in the dictionary. All words in use today. So why the blog rant about their common appendage, the suffix -ize? The problem is scope creep. These words, like many others, have cousins, and their cousins are leaner, more succinct, and more common. Here’s what happens: The parasitic suffix -ize takes a word and turns it into a verb. It means to make (something): to make something modern, to make something standard, to make something final. Consider “finalize”: to make final. Okay, fine. But there’s already a word for that, and people who don’t work in IT or the annals of business marketing use it already. …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Sufferin’ Suffixes! The Parasites

I have a secret. Want to hear it? Many of the words we use in technical writing, words that are clean, simple, and often monosyllabic, have succumbed to the parasite of the rogue suffix. The rogue suffix, like any good parasite, bloats its victims and drains their life force. And once these parasites attach, their victims start to limp and stagger through our text, dragging their extra syllables, striving in vain to become something other than what they were meant to be. Nouns start to act like verbs; verbs act like nouns; verbs act like longer verbs. This week I want to smoke out and eradicate these offending appendages. I …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

What’s the Difference? "Comprise" vs. "Include"

Although common in technical and scientific writing (see Merriam-Webster), “comprise” is one of those words that seems to evade definition. We know it means something similar to “include” but that it’s also a little different. I did some research, and here’s what I learned. The difference between “comprise” and “include” is scope. “Comprise” means “includes all of these and nothing else,” whereas “include” means “includes all of these and maybe something else, too.” Let’s say you’re writing a software manual. You need to draft the chapter on installation, so you open the chapter this way: Installing the software [comprises/includes] the following steps: Downloading the software Running the executable file Configuring …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

What’s the Difference? “Comprise” vs. “Include”

Although common in technical and scientific writing (see Merriam-Webster), “comprise” is one of those words that seems to evade definition. We know it means something similar to “include” but that it’s also a little different. I did some research, and here’s what I learned. The difference between “comprise” and “include” is scope. “Comprise” means “includes all of these and nothing else,” whereas “include” means “includes all of these and maybe something else, too.” Let’s say you’re writing a software manual. You need to draft the chapter on installation, so you open the chapter this way: Installing the software [comprises/includes] the following steps: Downloading the software Running the executable file Configuring …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

What’s the Difference? “Further” vs. “Farther”

“We talked about getting a dog, but we didn’t take it any further than that.” “He ran a mile farther than his father did.” Further and farther. Both adverbs (here). Both describing how far something or someone went. But according to Merriam-Webster,  there’s a time to use one and a time to use the other. Can you tell the difference between them based on these sentences? It’s measurable distance. In the first sentence, “further” refers to something immeasurable, action: The couple talked about getting a dog, but they didn’t go so far as to actually get a dog. In the second, the distance is discrete: one mile. Another difference: Further …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

What’s the Difference? "Fewer" vs. "Less"

I have fewer than eight hours to write this post, but I have less than a day to publish it. Less than vs. fewer than. Less vs. fewer. The first sentence of my post, although grammatically correct, contradicts almost everything I’m about to tell you about these adjectives. Don’t you just love the English language? You’ve probably been in the grocery store and noticed the sign at the checkout stand that says, “10 items or less.” If you have an ear for our language, and most native speakers of it do, even if they don’t think so, the sign irks you. But why? It’s because of the difference between “count” …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.