Monday, September 14, 2015

Reading Level

I'm finishing up the [first] edit of the Lincoln book for teens, and I'm annoyed that I've had to restore a bunch of the unnecessarily long words and sentences I'd trimmed, to get the reading level back up. 

The publisher uses an online analyzer to determine reading level, and after I'd clarified a lot of murky and tangled sentences and rephrased hard concepts, such as "the elections were contentious due to the issue of popular sovereignty", which I figured most thirteenish year olds wouldn't get (hey, some I didn't get), the analyzer said the book was at 7.4 grade level.

Since even most adults only read at about that level, I was pleased, but the publisher's marketing dept. said I had to bring it up a grade. So, I reinserted the Latinate vocabulary, the cumbersome participial phrases, the passive verb constructions, the political science terminology, and I elongated the sentence structure...

And now it is much worse. 
It hurts me to turn it in, knowing a lot of kids will find it hard going.

Out of curiosity, I submitted a bunch of my blog posts, and the analyzer said I write at a 5.8 grade level.

Fine with me. 
I'm not trying to write with the elegance of Atget at Versailles, but I did work hard to prune the overgrown verbiage I used to produce.


Zhoen said...

So, elegant writing is less intelligent than overblown contorted prose? I mean, complex vocabulary doesn't necessarily mean tortured syntax, does it? Ah, well. Getting them ready for grad school.

Michael Leddy said...

The publisher has such a mistaken sense of what counts as good writing. But that sense is everywhere: in the grading of ACT and SAT essays (big words, yay!), in the high-school mania for thesaurus words (big words, yay!), in teachers' insistence on cumbersome phrasing: "It is observed that" rather than "I think" (really). It's no wonder that so many students enter college thinking that clarity = dumbness.

Frex said...

ZHOEN: In fact, I did try to leave out the tortured syntax so it was just a matter of long words and long sentences, which is what the analyzer measures. (So stupid---that's no indicator one way or another of writing skill or intelligence.)

MICHAEL: I actually didn't realize there's the same preference for big words (yay!) everywhere, so I'm weirdly glad to have that reality check ["it's no better elsewhere"]. Thanks, I guess. :)

"Jesus wept" would no longer cut it, eh?

bink said...

Hemingway doesn't cut it either.

Fresca said...

BINK: Ha! He's probably at 4.8.