Effect of rhetorical organization on the readability of study texts
Rhetoricians have traditionally claimed that the communicative effectiveness of a text can be increased if the writer adheres to certain relevant principles of organization. Up to now, however, there appears to have been little objective validation of this view. The aim of this study is to establish whether it is possible, by systematically varying selected features of overall textual organization, to affect the readability of a teaching text, i.e. a text primarily designed to impart factual information to students. In the context of this study, one text is considered to be more 'readable' than another if it results in the reader's gaining more content information from it without any corresponding increase in reading time. The approach taken is an experimental one. Normally, two texts are prepared, as similar as possible to each other in content, length, and syntactic complexity, and differing in respect of some previously defined organizational feature. When two such texts have been prepared, their comparative readability is tested in experimental conditions. The tests used are primarily designed to measure speed of reading, and recall of content. The organization features investigated here are restricted to inter-sentence or inter-clause relationships; no attempt is made to use larger 'units' such as paragraphs.