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A writing lesson for the reading pleasure of M.D.'s and patients

It's estimated that more than 6,000 pages of medical information are published each day. How readable are those reams of material? Not very, according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by two DMS faculty members.

Index: William Weeks, M.D., and Amy Wallace, M.D., used two common measures—the Flesch formula and the FOG index— to assess the readability of the articles in six months of the BMJ and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Both indexes use such factors as words per sentence and syllables per word to compute readability. On the Flesch scale, the lower the number, the harder the reading; a score of under 30 indicates very difficult material. For example, a typical car insurance policy is 10, Newsweek magazine 50, and Reader's Digest 65.

The researchers found the BMJ (at 31.5) to be slightly easier reading than JAMA (27.8). They also rated articles by the first author's nationality; British authors scored 31.9, and U.S. authors 27.7.

"Virtually all of the medical manuscripts we evaluated were extremely difficult to read," they concluded. "Improving the readability of medical manuscripts may enhance their consumption —by both clinicians and the general public." (Their article scored 34.6 and this story 48.3.)

Alan Smithee

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