The source was a newsletter from Wylie Communications and its author, Ann Wylie, came to this conclusion based on data from the 1993 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS).
I did a little research and discovered there was little change between the results of a 1993 survey and the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), in spite of considerable changes in the demographics of the participants. I doubt there has been any significant improvement in adult literacy since. But then you probably know that better than I do.
How often do you find yourself saying politely and patiently, "Yes, you'll find that information in the report on Page 3"?
What should you expect of your customers? The NAAL used a 500-point scale, divided from Below Basic to Proficient, and provided real-life examples at each level, including the following:
- Identify what is permissible to drink before a medical test, based on a short set of instructions.
- Calculate the change from a $20 bill after paying the amount on a receipt.
- Find information in a newspaper article that explains how students who participate in a school program benefit from the program.
- Calculate the weekly salary for a job, based on hourly wages listed in a job advertisement.
- Infer the meaning of a metaphor in a poem.
- Calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, using a page from an office supplies catalog and an order form.
- Contrast financial information presented in a table regarding the differences between various types of credit cards.
- Determine the number of units of flooring required to cover the floor in a room, when the area of the room is not evenly divisible by the units in which the flooring is sold.
Anne Wiley says improve readability by keeping it simple. "Worried about talking down to your audience? Don't. Most audience members — even brain surgeons and rocket scientists (and home inspectors) — are tired, busy and overwhelmed with information. They'll be happy to get your copy in a more digestible package."
By the way, you just read a piece written for you — a highly literate audience — that scores 51 on the Flesch Reading Ease (Microsoft suggests 60-70) and at a tenth-grade reading level, according to Flesch-Kincaid.