More on the limitations of style analysis

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Not long ago, I wrote about the limitations of considering only style as the textual element that determines plain language (or quality workplace writing).  I made the point that over-reliance on style analysis is a reason software tools are not all that helpful.  Well . . . I just had time to read the Johnson blog at The Economist this morning and found a terrific response to The Guardian’s analysis of Obama’s state-of-the-union address last week. The Guardian relied on one of those software tools(specifically, the Flesh-Kincaid formula) to argue that “the state of our union is dumber” with a nifty, animated graphic display and a list of presidents by “reading level” on February 12.

In just two paragraphs, The Johnson writer does a masterful job of discrediting The Guardian piece. Here’s the second paragraph:

Relying on Flesch-Kincaid as a measure of intelligence would require you to believe that Abraham Lincoln delivered the “dumbest” State of the Union until 1913. It requires you to ignore the quirk that Mr Obama’s text as prepared for last night rated a score of 9.9, while Fox News’s transcript of the address as delivered rated a 9.1. Finally, it would have you accept that of America’s most recent four presidents—Mr Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush—the most intelligent speeches came from George W. Bush. Somehow I’d be surprised if the Guardian’s journalists believed that.

I encourage you to check it out! O, the sorry state of journalism . . .

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