By Ann Wylie
January 2, 2014
Forget everything you think or know about Obamacare.
Does it represent the country’s worst slide into socialism since 1776? Or does it offer a much-needed basket of rainbows and kittens to all Americans? Those questions are the least of our worries.
The real question is: Is it readable?
That’s the question that Carla K. Johnson, a Chicago-based Associated Press medical writer, asked me recently.
Johnson sent me four samples of text from an online training program. The program was developed for Illinois outreach workers who are helping people sign up for insurance benefits under the new health law.
Many of the outreach workers have a high school diploma or GED and do not have college education. Some have college degrees.
Will they be able to read it? Johnson asked.
No, I said. They won’t.
I used StoryToolz readability analyzer to study four passages from the training program. They weighed in at the 9.2nd, 11.8th, 12th and 14.5th grade levels on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale.
All of the examples are too difficult for outreach workers with high school diplomas and GEDs to read easily. But these passages will also put off workers with college degrees.
More than four out of 10 Americans have basic or below-basic prose skills, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
These folks can sign forms, compare ticket prices for two events and look up shows in a TV guide. But they have trouble finding places on a map, calculating the cost of office supplies from a catalog and comparing viewpoints in two editorials.
The question for writers of this online training program is: Are you smart enough to write for a fifth grader?
It would be simple to make the passages easier to read by:
Here’s what one of the passages might look like after editing for readability:
Before (14.5th grade level): Medicaid eligibility is organized by category or population, each of which has different rules for how much income and resources you can have. For the most part, only citizens and qualified immigrants can qualify. The largest Medicaid categories covering most eligible individuals are children under age 19, parents raising children under age 19, pregnant women, individuals 65 and older, and persons with disabilities.
After (5.1st grade level): Are you eligible for Medicaid? That depends on who you are, how high your income is and how many other resources you have. The largest groups of people who qualify for Medicaid are:
How readable is your copy? Are you reaching the readers you hope to reach?
Copyright © 2014 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.
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