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Fast test on simplified english

In this post I'd like to do a brief (and not scientific at all) test on how easy is to write English in a simple way, and indirectly to personally understand how wordy I am, hopefully it can be interesting to you too.

The reason for this is that some time ago, when writing Plaza's documentation, a friend which helped me writing it expressed concern on the documentation's use of words being too complex for someone whose first language is not English. That criticism made a lot of sense as the goal of the documentation was (and is) to be an easy way for people to understand the goal and technical structure of the project, so they can contribute to its development.

For the purposes of this post, the criteria used to check if the text is "simple" or not will be the ones of the Simple English Wikipedia.

The "structure" of the test will be the following:

  1. I'll first write the introduction text (the one above).
  2. Then, I'll try to find a proper way to check if some text is simplified English.
  3. I'll go through the text above pointing what seems not to pass the checks and why.

This is not terribly scientific as there is not much data, not many evaluators (just one), English is not even my primary language, I'm definitely not a grammar expert, and finally I was aware of the goal of the text when I wrote it. For these reasons, take this just as a personal exercise to reflect on this. :)

The goal for this test is mostly to be more aware when introducing unnecessary complexities on texts.

Anyway, let's go...

Resources on simplified English

First we need some way to check if something is simple. For this I'll consider the following resources:

From these, we can set some rules, taken for the Simplified Technical English entry, as it's mechanically clear and can be applied directly by the writer:

  1. Restrict the length of noun clusters to no more than 3 words
  2. Restrict sentence length to no more than 20 words (procedural sentences) or 25 words (descriptive sentences)
  3. Restrict paragraphs to no more than 6 sentences (in descriptive text)
  4. Avoid slang and jargon while allowing for specific terminology
  5. Make instructions as specific as possible
  6. Use articles such as "a/an" and "the" wherever possible
  7. Use simple verb tenses (past, present, and future)
  8. Use active voice
  9. Not use present participles or gerunds (unless part of a Technical Name)
  10. Write sequential steps as separate sentences
  11. Start a safety instruction (a warning or a caution) with a clear and simple command or condition.

Results

Lets get this one out of the way, rule 2 is broken on every sentence. If you want my opinion 20 words is too short, but I'll try to keep that in mind.

I'll add an index referring to the list above like “[11]” after something that breaks a rule.

For the 4th rule I'll just underline the words not found (or derived from one) on VOA Special English Word Book. Keep in mind that these are a bit of an interpretation from my side.

In this post I (would)like to do a brief (and not scientific at all) test on how easy is to write English in a simple way,, and indirectly to personally understand how wordy I am hopefully it can be interesting to you too.

The reason for this is that some time ago, when writing [7] [9] Plaza's documentation, a friend which helped me writing it expressed concern on the documentation's use of words being too complex for someone whose first language is not English. That criticism made a lot of sense as the goal of the documentation was (and is) to be an easy way for people to understand the goal and technical structure of the project, so they can contribute to its development.

For the purposes of this post, the criteria used to check if the text is "simple" or not will be the ones of the Simple English Wikipedia.

Final count

"Errors" found:

  1. Noun cluster length: 0 ✓
  2. Sentence length: Failed on every sentence.
  3. Sentences per paragraph: 0 (might be affected by the sentence length).
  4. Slang: 12 out of the dictionary. But that can go up easily.
  5. Instructions: Does not apply
  6. Articles: 0 ✓
  7. Simple tenses: 1 ... IMHO, it was the proper way ¯\(ツ)
  8. Active voice: 0 ✓
  9. No present participles or gerunds: 1+ (present participle). There might be more, there's some -ing terms there, but I think they are not gerunds.
  10. Sequential steps: Does not apply
  11. Start safety instruction with command: Does not apply

Conclusion

I think this is an useful exercise, but it's too heavy to be applied to everyday writings. While it helps making the text simpler it limits the options of the writer and requires significant additional effort.

Additionally, the dictionary didn't make a lot of sense. It didn't even include English (though I skipped that one) or "text", but did include "criticize" or "structure".

Anyway, I learned from this, hope you got something from it too :)