Coronavirus Coronavirus (629) Public health communication in time of crisis: Readability of On-Line COVID-19 Information (2)

20 May, 2020

Dear friends at HIFA,

"Readability experts" focus on the number of syllables, but surely there are better ways to assess readability? There is an enormous difference between children who are learning to think and adults who are learning to read. I have sat in groups of people who struggle to read aloud but then move on to discuss and analyze insightfully the materials they have just read. A lifetime of experience is not negated by a lack of experience reading.

I tested materials created with the tools mentioned in the article. They identified as problems the words Coronavirus and respiratory system, all adverbs (as in "call a health worker immediately"), and sentences longer than 30 syllables.

What creates anxiety is not words with several syllables, but jargon that makes people feel like they are stupid; assumptions about living conditions and choices which are not available to people with low incomes, crowded homes, or those who confront other barriers due to racism, gender oppression, language differences, etc.

Where is the algorithm that will identify those problems in a piece of writing? That would be a useful contribution by our readability experts.

Todd Jailer, Hesperian Health Guides


Todd Jailer, managing editor

Hesperian Health Guides

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HIFA profile: Todd Jailer is Managing Editor of Hesperian Health Guides, USA. todd AT