A comparison of the readability of newspaper columns written by national journalism award winners.

Author:Rollins, M. Wayne


Communication technology improvements introduced in recent years have opened up media outlets to global audiences. Individuals in countries around the globe have Internet access to news media throughout the world, including the U.S. Thus, readership for a U.S. newspaper may extend well beyond the country's borders. With the likely increase in online newspaper readership, factors previously considered in measuring readability in print newspapers may not be sufficient (TxReadability, n.d.). The New York Times and Microsoft Corporation collaborated on a program to aid individuals in reading the newspaper online and with mobile devices (Microsoft News Center, 2006). Called the Times Reader, it "... provides the increased functionality of the Web, including continuous updates, multimedia and hyperlinks" (p. 1).

In addition to technology advancements, inexpensive and efficient transportation systems have made global travel affordable. Further, flexible immigration rules make the U.S. one of the most diversely populated countries in the world. Ponder, too, that "the concept of readability also is becoming an important aspect to consider in Web accessibility for individuals with disabilities" (p. 1). When all of these factors are considered, one can readily see that literacy and reading abilities vary tremendously throughout the populous.

Do U.S. newspaper columnists consider the diversity of their readership when composing their columns? Do they account for the reading capabilities of their potential audience, including readers whose second language is English? Evidence exists that suggests that writers in other areas may not always be cognizant of their readers' competencies. One research study showed that 88% of privacy policy statements issued by banks were written at twelfth-grade level or higher (Lewis, Colvard, & Adams, 2008). Another study analyzed printed descriptions for museum exhibits. Of 20 international museums listed, most of which were located in the U.S., only one had exhibit descriptions written below grade level 12; and this despite the fact that "national surveys show that half the adult population reads below the 9th-level" (Plain Language at Work Newsletter, May 11, 2011).

This study examined the readability of newspaper columns written by winners of national journalism awards.


Wikipedia defines readability as "... the ease in which text can be read and understood" (Readability [1], n.d.). Multiple readability formulas have been developed to aid writers in developing...

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