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Going Beyond Readability Formula: How Do Titles Contribute to the Readability of Essays?

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John R. Baker

National Quemoy University, Taiwan



The belief that genre specific reading provides numerous benefits for apprenticing writers is something we in the field of writing education value as an underlying constant. Accepting this, writing center directors stock their self-access library shelves with a variety of composition texts, to include rhetorics (and the essays therein). To select these materials, readability formulae (e.g., the Lexile Readability Formula) are often employed. However, such formulae only measure two of the many features that make up the readability of an essay (i.e., semantic, syntactic). Other important features such as the title are not considered. To address this, this article reports the results of a sequential, mixed-methods study conducted in an Asian postsecondary setting. The study found that titles influence readability both as (a) a primary (i.e., an isolated feature) and (b) a conjoined feature (i.e., consisting of two or more associated entities where the second impacts the first). The article also makes a recommendation for teachers, writing center staff, and the publishing industry that readability formulae be administered in a hybrid fashion to explore additional features such as the title when considering the difficulty of exemplars.



Text selection, readability, titles, Lexile, rhetorics, writing center administration