Reading level

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Reading level?[edit]

Has there been a discussion about the target reading level that we are aiming for? I see a wide range in the articles. I've watched many articles start out understandable by a layman but end up so qualified and academic that only a scholar already in the field can make sense of it. Rossami 21:51, 30 Jan 2004 (UTC)

And that's going to be an ongoing problem for an encyclopedia that attempts to be all things to all people. IMO some method needs to be found for both type to exist side-by-side. Elde 00:16, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I've seen some discussion of it. My opinion is that all of Wikipedia should be understandable to college student who is a native speaker of English but is not knowledgable about the specific subject matter, and we should strive to make things accessible to a wider audience whenever we can. Ideally articles should have introductory sections with a simplified overview when the body of the article has to get more challenging. —Morven 00:29, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
There's no writing level either we have youngsters writing articles as well. It has a mix which is a good thing. I for one hope we never dumb down articles with an arbitary reading age. Archivist 01:19, Jan 31, 2004 (UTC)
There's a difference between dumbing down and making an article comprehensible to someone who is not an expert. The former involves simplifying the concepts, while the second involves simplifying the language used, and not just trying to impress people with your knowledge of confusing trivia. I find the trivia bit is especially what turns a readable text into a mess readable only by experts. ShaneKing 04:42, 4 Feb 2004 (UTC)
For the record, I think the target audience should be your average person off the street. (Call be a pessemist, but) I think "College student" might be setting the bar a little too high. Middle-high school might be more appropriate. This applies not only to the language employed (grammatical and lexical complexity), but assumptions about how informed the reader is, as well. →Raul654 01:29, Jan 31, 2004 (UTC)
No reason why it has to be either/or. An article could begin with a concise, pithy, section aimed at delivering "just the facts, ma'am" to a relatively less informed reader, and then move on to a deeper and more detailed level. Incidentally, if someone writes what seems to be an overly advanced article, that could be an opportunity for someone else to use it as the basis for adding a simpler, introductory section. Dpbsmith 01:54, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Your comment about the progression of difficulty in an article is very important. I do not think of myself as uneducated, but when I read some of the math articles I have doubts: I am often lost by the second paragraph. When I write my articles I try to start simple and gradually increase difficulty. By the midpoint of the article, and for the remainder of it, I write for an individual with an undergrad education in the topic under discussion. mydogategodshat 04:42, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Sometimes an article may simply have to require that the reader already have a grasp of basic concepts gained elsewhere. Sometimes it's possible to progress by increasing the difficulty sometimes you may need links to pages with the more basic information. Elde 06:34, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

I'll take this opportunity to make sure everyone knows about the Simple Wikipedia which attempts to use "simple English words and simple grammar" for purposes of wider audience and aiding translation. Also, most news organizations (in the United States) shoot for high school level reading, for what it's worth. Fuzheado 02:23, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

I think the college student level is a better aiming point, although I agree with the input above that suggests we can include both. I find the news organization "target" to be an insult to anyone with an education, and an encyclopedia should aspire to be well above that. Text should not be difficult for highschool students, but face it, most people with only a highschool education are unlikely to use the technical articles in Wikipedia, gravitating instead to the articles on movies, entertainment, games, etc. which would not be written in a style over their (or anyone else's) heads. It is only in the sciences, and perhaps social/history/language topics, where trying to address several levels of education can be a problem. I try to meet that challenge by making sure all tech terms are defined on the page (rather than in another article), but I won't dumb down the writing. Simple Wikipedia can serve that purpose, and anyone that approaches learning a technical topic is not really going to be educated if you leave out the jargon and technical terms. - Marsh (unable to log in today for some reason). Had to lower my security level on IE another notch to get the cookies accepted. Strange because I've made no changes there for months - Marshman 03:04, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Defining all the terms on the page, rather than via links seems to defeat the very purpose of a hypertext encyclopedia. Elde 06:34, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
In an idealized hypertext encyclopedia, linked pages would appear as fast as you could click. Here in the real world, it takes a T1 line 5-10 seconds to display a page, and much longer if you are using cable or dialup. (I expect that most people searching Wikipedia for information are at home, not at their college library.) Users find themselves weighing their need to look at a link with the time it will take to bring up the page and then return to the page they were reading. -- It is good rhetoric to define terms explicitly or implicitly within your text. If you rely on links for defining terms, then you must know that you are writing above their reading level. Clicking on a link and waiting for it to display should reward someone with a full article, not a dictionary definition. GUllman 04:23, 3 Feb 2004 (UTC)
I think we should have two levels: for general audience (including able children) and for able college students (who should understand whatever, if clearly exposed). And whenever the exposition exceeds the level of general understanding, we should place in the beginning an exposition for the general audience. (True, it might be that the whole subject is too obscure for the general audience, and then the whole article is targeted for the second level). It is not enough to have links and to explain everything from the beginning. For example, mathematics requires "mathematical culture": even when everything is explained you will not understand if you are not trained and used to think in a special way. The same holds for philosophy: for people not used to it, philosophy rapidly becomes 'an abracadabra' or 'just word game'. Andres 07:19, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I don't know if that is true. There are many well written mathematics and philosophy articles on Wikipedia that will gradually take you from the basics to quite an advanced level. I don't think math or philosophy is any different than any other subject in this regard. mydogategodshat 07:57, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I think the difference is perhaps of degree, not of principle. To really understand mathematics, you need not only understand all proofs but additionally something that is very hard to explain but you can get by persistently occupying yourself with mathematics, by trying to solve problems, by trying to prove theorems yourself, by considerable efforts. In principle, the same holds for other subjects, but on some other subject there are many facts easily understood because they are near enough to anyone's everyday occupations.
There are very good (not worse than Wikipedia) college-level text-books of mathematics. Then why so few 12-year children can understand them?
Clarity and good exposition don't stand alone. They presuppose that the reader meets them. Andres 08:55, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
There are probably plenty of 12 year olds who could understand them, except for the fact that the still need to cover several subjects of background material first. If an article requires background reading to understand, that's not a problem. It should be linked up front though (this article on subject X, assumes a knowledge of Y and Z). If Y and Z don't exist, the what is X doing there? Surely the general needs to be covered before the specific? ShaneKing 04:47, 4 Feb 2004 (UTC)
I firmly believe that the first paragraph (at the very least, the first sentence) should be a general introduction which will be comprehensible to everyone. For example on a complex mathematical subject you might start with
"Suchandsuch is an advanced mathematical technique first proposed in the 1930s by Hungarian mathematician and philosopher Bob d'Hungry. It is used in made-up-name, which is a branch of some-thing-broader, mathematics which focuses on predicting wave patterns. This suchandsuch was a breakthrough in the field and was the most refined method of prediction of some-exciting-form-of-waves for over 30 years until it was superceeded by something-else." Well, you get the idea. The advanced reader can always skim the article, or select the relevent heading from the TOC to reach the level of precision they require.
I will never forget a how to use the resources in the library quiz our class was set when I was 16. One of the questions was "who was Lord Someone?" We all looked in the same encyclopedia and proudly told our teacher he was a general in the army. If there had been a better introduction to his entry (which we didn't have time to read) we would have been able to tell her why he was notable, not what he did for a living, which is all we gleaned. fabiform | talk 09:25, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I agree. Yes, an introduction of this type should and could always be added. Andres 10:14, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Some of the mathematics articles seem to me to be written in a manner so abstruse as to make them useless: anyone who could understand the article would not be looking it up in Wikipedia except as an editor. I ran across this today at en:Weakly compact cardinal. I have a BA in Mathematics and a Masters' in Computer Science; I've done graduate work in topology, and upper division undergraduate work in several major branches of mathematics. I was looking at this (brief) article to refresh my memory on a topic I once knew well, and I couldn't follow it. -- Jmabel 11:46, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

This and probably many other similar articles just need expanding. Formulations of definitions and theorems clearly are not enough. Informal explanations are needed. And my opinion is that proofs are needed as well. Andres 11:52, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Great example. I made it three words in before coming unstuck. I think I understood the bit about landscape gardening at number 3 though.  ;) fabiform | talk 11:55, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

We probably shouldn't pick on the math articles. When I mentioned the math articles I was just giving an example. The same criticsims can be made about articles in all subjects, articles that are so poorly written that they give no easily understood introduction, no context, and make no attempt to gradually ease the reader into the more difficult concepts. It might even include some articles that you and I have writen. mydogategodshat 12:35, 31 Jan 2004 (UTC)

What is college level being referred to here anyway? I have a university degree, in computer science. However, outside of my field, it's really a matter of what I have a personal interest in as to my level of knowledge. So while I might have a reasonable knowledge of most of the sciences, and some spotty knowledge on topics like economics, law and philosophy, it's mostly because I decided to gain that knowledge. Nothing in my course made me learn them. For subjects I couldn't give a toss about, like most of the fine arts, I'm probably no better educated than a high school student (in fact I dare say there are many high school students who know significantly more than I do). So how can you say you're aiming at a college student? To me, aiming at college student level is aiming at high school student level. They're the same, except for a specialist in the field. ShaneKing 04:56, 4 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Is there now enough concensus that someone can distill this into a coherent "style" page? Rossami

Based on what has been said, I think the concensus is clear. We should be writing for an audience with an elementary school education, a high school education, an undergrad college education, or an undergrad college education in the topic under discussion. (Did I miss anybody's comments?) About the only thing we seem to be able to agree on is that the more advanced audience you target, the more cognizant you must be of those readers without the requisite skills.

If an article becomes ultra complex then it has defeated its own purpose. The purpose of an encyclopedia seems to be as a reference material for individuals who know little to nothing about a particular subject. If you knew alot about a subject then there is no point in consulting an encyclopedia, therefore, articles need to be aimed for an average high school level. The reason behind links to other articles indicates that the reader is assumed to not be knowledgeable about every aspect of a particular subject. When a WP contributor sets out to write an article about a subject which could potentially become ultra complex, then no links would have to be highlighted within that article because it would be assumed that the target audience would already know everything there is to know about the subject, and yet every single article either has or is supposed to have links to other articles. What I am trying to say is that the fact that links exist proves that WP's target audience is not all-knowing. WP's target audience is not elementary kids either. This is ruled out by the fact that Wp's article base encompasses a massive wealth of topics that no elementary kid is expected to know. Jaberwocky6669 03:10, 29 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The target reading level should be that a 12-year-old of average intelligence in any part of the English-speaking world can understand almost all articles. (We're bound to have a small number of highly complex issues people want to write about, but these are very rare indeed.) Take for instance, an article on history - everyone can understand that if properly explained to them - so why come in with academic jargon and assume background knowledge that an undergraduate history student will know but a layman will not? Shouldn't we be writing for as wide an audience (in age groups, background and location) as possible? Jguk 10:34, 10 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

I think that if you want to discuss your target audience's level of reading ability and/or education, then that's what you should do. But many of the comments in this discussion seem to confuse the formal educational process that traditionally takes place during one's youth (e.g., high school, college, etc.) with education. Education is not synonymous with sitting in a classroom.

What is a "college level" education? Undergraduate students are taught from text books that are available to anyone who has access to books. The importance of where the texts are read is not clear.

Variable reading level[edit]

I believe every article should be aimed for the broadest audience possible. That is, if there are concepts understandable to children, include them first. Then include any concepts understandable by teens, college students, and finally include those concepts only understandable by those doing post-doctorate work in the field.

For example, a WikiPedia article on house cats could start with pictures and some basic care instruction for cats, aimed at children. Next a genealogy diagram of the various breeds could be included. Next the relationship of the species to the big cats could be included. Next the current evolutionary theory on the origin of cats could be included. At the end, we might end up with sections like "enzymatic reactions involving protease inhibitors in felis silvestris" (I made that one up). So, we have something for everyone.

We should all fight the tendency to say "this article is only intended for audience X, so all contributions aimed at other audiences will be rejected". (An exception exists where an article is broken up into multiple articles for different audiences.) StuRat 18:47, 1 November 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Blandness and Mediocrity?[edit]

Robust prose well presented can make nearly any topic accessible. Isaac Asimov has delighted ten-year-olds with advanced concepts from math and science. It requires a firm sense of narrative structure and flow.

Communicating information well is different from knowing information well. Articles that seem too advanced are often just poorly written. They wallow in the passive voice. They digress on minor issues. They use obscure concepts without explanation. They present information as disconnected facts.

Good articles are more than informative and accurate: they're a good read. They inspire the reader to remark, "How interesting. So that's how it works." The best nonfiction writers make their readers feel smart.

I tested Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level tool (external link below). The following score illustrates my opinion of evaluating reading level.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 46
Ideally, web page text should be around the 60 to 80 mark on this scale. The higher the score, the more readable the text.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 13
Ideally, web page text should be around the 6 to 7 mark on this scale. The lower the score, the more readable the text.
Gunning-Fog Index: 20
Ideally, web page text should be between 11 and 15 on this scale. The lower the score, the more readable the text. (Anything over 22 should be considered the equivalent of post-graduate level text).
The first paragraph of The Wizard of Oz scored 54/12/18, the first paragraph of Treasure Island scored 30/19/26, and the first paragraph of Huckleberry Finn scored 66/8/14.
Durova 08:35, 5 November 2005 (UTC)[reply]
Of course, the difficulty in many of those cases might be that they are old, and thus much of the language used is now archaic. Probably saying "four score" for 80 was common back then. And Shakespeare was probably quite easy to read, if you happened to speak Middle English. StuRat 22:57, 6 November 2005 (UTC)[reply]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone scored 54/13/19 - chapter two, paragraph one, from the excerpt at the Scholastic website. Note that this is the first volume of the series and its content is most suited for very young readers. Test it yourself. [1] Fluent English readers of any age will rise to the occasion to enjoy good prose. Durova 01:16, 8 November 2005 (UTC)[reply]
I think the best thing would be to aim at the "Newspaper Standard", meaning that if a person can read and understand his local English-language newspaper, he should be able to follow every article in the Wikipedia. Not every reader is a native reader of English, and not every user has been to college. Maybe with subjects like mathematical theory or nuclear physics the average user would be slightly more educated. But even then, it's impossible to know for sure who might be interested in the topics. Accessability is what makes wikipedia a good "starting point" if you know nothing about the topic. If it's too arcane and incomprehensible, it won't be useable as a general introduction, which is the idea behind most encyclopedias.


I find that Wikipedia is becoming very elitist and is not an encyclopedia which is accessible to all people. I don't personally care how intelligent someone is. If they have the willingess to try and learn things then that is a good thing. If you are talking over their heads then you are being discouraging. I've always thought that wikipedia should have reading level tabs for pupil, general, intermediate, academic for example. I know this means 4 articles for the same subject but I think it's necessary. If you don't do it another encyclopedia website will emmerge for all the frustrated people like myself who can't learn anymore. Today I was reading about the drug "Xanax" because I'm interested in psychology. That article is a prime example of what's going on all over the place.

From user: Somebody removed my account Nibinaear for no reason!

Wiki = For all[edit]

Listen everyone, isn't the Wikipedia to be for everyone who can read fluently that language? So, the reading level should be at that of the youngest age on anyone that can contribute and read Wikipedia. We should use some interesting prose but only that understandable by a 9-10 year old, the youngest age of anyone that probably would use wikipedia. Now, most 9-10 year olds can read the newspaper semi-fluently, so...

Really all I'm getting at is the fact that Wikipedia articles should not be compromised by technical terms that no one excepyt an expert in the field can understand. An example would be en:Prader-Willi Syndrome. Editorofthewiki 20:24, 5 January 2008 (UTC)[reply]

I would not consider the average 9-10 year old native speaker of a language "fluent" in that language. Schools in, say, the abysmal school system of America are just starting to teach children how to read in 3rd grade, when they are nine years old, and the average 9-10 can't be used as a benchmark. Nonetheless a quarter of kids either fail to graduate or graduate from high school - long beyond the youngest age they could check Wikipedia - with such bad reading skills they can't fill out employment forms, much less hear of/want to research obscure medical/mathematical/scientific topics. 07:51, 27 December 2008 (UTC)[reply]
So because they are down there you want to keep them down there? Nibinaear 23:27, 6 January 2012 (UTC)[reply]
A lot of articles in certain fields, e.g., music, math and linguistics, start off with a lede that is opaque to all but initiates. It almost seems that this is intentional. The definitions are often heavily blue, with technical words that have equally blue introductions. It really makes me sad. 09:03, 13 February 2013 (UTC)[reply]

External links[edit]

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