Readability is concerned with a basic problem for those who try to select reading material for their own use or for that of others. This is a problem of matching. The study of matching the reader and the text has come to be called ‘readability’.
It is not surprising that educators should show an interest in readability. Matching texts to readers is something they do on a daily basis.
Research into readability began in the nineteen twenties with an emphasis on quantification in an attempt to develop a scientifically based curriculum. To avoid subjectivity, the methods and materials of education were empirically evaluated. Hence, the study of readability became focused on factors in reading material which could be easily counted and were seen as objective. This approach to readability was very much based in a positivist paradigm.
This approach has, however, been more or less abandoned for almost 15-20 years now and current studies, at least in the area of education, no longer operate in this way. There are many reasons for this. One is that questions have been raised about whether the factors related to the characteristics of written material do actually correlate with, or cause, comprehension difficulty. Other factors, beyond the traditional measures of sentence length and word familiarity, may have more of a bearing upon success or failure in comprehending a text.
There has been a paradigm shift in the focus of readability studies. This is because the concept of reading and comprehension itself has changed. This is no longer considered as a simple matter of getting the meaning from the page. Readers are no longer seen as passive recipients of the information in a text and emphasis has shifted to the interactive nature of reading and the constructive nature of comprehension.
The change in the definition of reading has had a huge effect on the understanding of readability, which is now also seen as an interactive process between readers and text. It is clear that the positivist paradigm is no longer appropriate as a base for readability research. Readability is no longer ‘out there’.
There is, therefore, a need to develop a new paradigm in terms of conceptions of readability, and new models of how it operates and how it can inform teachers as they continue to need to match readers to texts. Developing such a new model is the main aim of the current research project.
You can download papers arising from the Readability project here: