Friday, 6 July 2012

A Newspaper in Plain and Simple English

I wish to introduce to you a website and its creator Arthur Schiff. He and his colleague have launched The Times in Plain English ( As the title suggests this online newspaper has simple and plain English that lay readers can easily understand. He uses stories from six American newspapers: The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The Arizona Republic, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

He subjects text of the selected stories to Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test and edits where necessary to make the language simple for his readers. (What is this test? Please visit link provided in my website,

His experiment fascinated me because I share his concern for writing plain and simple for the commoners. He responded to my queries yesterday. One of his points provides answer to my search on ‘Who is the reader of my newspaper?’ As part of my study on Language of English Newspapers in India, I have asked this question to reporters and editors of several Indian newspapers.

Are the readers from high/middle/low income group? Elite? Highly qualified? Graduates? Post-graduates? The journalists do not seem to be very clear about profile of the readers for whom they write.

Arthur says his readers are immigrants in USA. They are English language learners. For this class of readers, English has to be simple and plain.

I checked today readability of some stories placed at the home page of his website, using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. It indicated that his language could be easily understood by eighth to 13th graders of US schools. (In Indian context, this can be high school to junior college students). Statistical data I have collected for my study, on the other hand, suggests that Indian newspapers have several stories that could be understood only by 30th grades of US schools!

Arthur says, ‘I chose America's top newspapers because in so doing I could deliver the kind of information available to America's elite to an audience of immigrants and English language learners. I believe that kind of news would facilitate (their) entry into the middle-class. That is what I think information and words can do.’

Very well said. Shouldn't Indian journalists aspire to do something to help the large number of their readers enter the middle class and above? Shouldn't they write for undergraduate level readers?


Anonymous said...

Which kind of stories carried by Indian newspapers can be understood only by students of 30th grade in the US? I'm sure they are technical/scientific stories that only a minor section of readers, irrespective of the country they are from, understand.

Thirumoy Banerjee
(Sub editor, The Telegraph)

Joe Pinto said...

Dear Thirumoy,

If you send me your email address, I will send you a few stories from my personal collection of stories "carried by Indian newspapers which can be understood only by students of 30th grade in the US".

Peace and love,
- Joe.

Kiran Thakur said...

The 30th grade (or, any grade) offered by the Flesh-Kinkaid Grade Level is notional.

The test indicates the difficulty level of the text. It is not necessarily technical or scientific stories. Following is one example:

Having failed to pressure the state government on scrapping three hydro power projects in West Sikkim, two leading organisations representing the minority indigenous Buddhist Bhutia-Lepcha tribals have urged His Holiness, the Sakya Trizin, to persuade chief minister Pawan Chamling to respect and preserve the cultural heritage of the former kingdom and immediately scrap the power projects located near Tashiding. (The Statesman, October 30, 2011)

The intro has one long-winding sentence containing 60 words. There us nothing technical and scientific. Yet, the Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level test tells us that it could be understood by 30th grader.

If one tries to write this in simple and plain English, it can be understood by US 12th grader.

Forget about the grades, and say if the following is easier for the reader to understand:

Two leading organisations have urged His Holiness, the Sakya Trizin, to persuade the state government to scrap three power projects near Tashiding in West Sikkim. The projects are located close to this place considered the most sacred centre for the Buddhists.
The organisations represent the minority Buddhist Bhutia-Lepcha tribals. They requested His Holiness to persuade Chief Minister Pawan Chamling to respect and preserve the cultural heritage and scrap the projects.