From Prof. Dr. Kiran Thakur and Prof. Dr. Sanjay Ranade,
department of Communication and Journalism, University of Mumbai
We are happy to inform you that we submitted our report on the UGC funded Major Research Project on "Language of English Newspapers in India"on July 13. We traveled to Pune, Aurangabad, Mumbai, Mysore, Bangalore, Chennai, Srinagar, and Tezpur for the study. The UGC had provided us a grant of Rs. 8.8 lakhs.
Following is a 54000-word, 200-page summary of thereport:
We often come across newspaper stories that have intro containing words ranging from 40 to 90 or more. . Such a long sentence is against the style-books and textbooks that suggest that a sentence should not have more than15-25 words. Spell check the text and run the readability tests. These will tell you the following: If you run readability Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) is often 0 (zero). The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL) test gives a readability at move that 40
Even without running such a test, one could say that the sentence was clumsy and a reader would find it difficult to understand the news. A reader would have to read and re-read the sentence to grasp its meaning. One comes across such examples of verbose and clumsy leads in most Indian English newspapers. The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Statesman and scores other newspapers are among them.
This is against the training the journalism students get in the media schools. Veteran scribes and textbook authors similarly insist that journalists should avoid passive voice and clauses in the news writing. They should not use difficult words which lay persons may not understand. They should avoid foreign words and abbreviation till their meanings are not explained in the text. Yet, we find such words as ex-officio, inebriated, clout, ensue, man Friday, allude, inferno, carnage, potpourri, demur, juggernaut, and hustings. The journalists are fond of using such words presuming that these are simple for the readers to understand. In our study most respondents said they did not understand these words. In some cases, more than 85 per cent respondents did not understand the words.
Here is a summary of our report:
Research problems: Do journalists in English newspapers in India write news that common readers can understand quickly and easily? Do they use plain and simple language? Do they use difficult words?
Research Methodologies and Methods: We adopted Exploratory, Qualitative, Quantitative and Descriptive methodologies and the following Research Methods: Field Study, a questionnaire-based survey that used printed questionnaire, online questionnaire through a website and survey through emails, focus group discussion, and personal interviews.
The questionnaire-based study was carried out in stages. The questionnaires were administered to Master’s degree students of Communication, Journalism, Media, English language and MBA. In one study, Sub-editors in Marathi newspapers in Pune participated.
Readability Tests: The study was exploratory. The first part of the study related to a. ‘Long Intros’ of news stories. For this, formulae for the Flesch Reading Ease Test and Flesch-Kinkaid Grade-level Test provided by MS Word were used, and b. Study on ‘Difficult Words’ used by journalists in newspapers.
We divided the project broadly in two parts as follows:
a. Study of the language used by newspapers in their news columns.
b. Readership studies to find out if the readers understood the language quickly and easily.
We carried out readership surveys using the following tools: Focus Group Discussion, Questionnaire-based survey, Survey through a website and through emails
The majority of them were Masters Students of Communication, Journalism, English Language, and Business Administration. Some respondents joined the online survey through a website:
We carried out Focus Group Discussions at eight locations during which students, teachers and journalists participated.
Focus Group Discussions and interviews of media teachers and senior journalists of leading newspapers and news agencies indicated that they expected the younger colleagues should stick to guidelines for news writing and sub-editing. Sub-editors in Marathi newspapers suggested that the news agencies should edit stories to enable easy translation of the contents from English to Marathi.
Outcome of the study: Most respondents indicated that the intros written by the newspaper journalists, used in the study, were not easier and quicker to understand. The intros re-written by the researchers for this study were easier and quicker to understand for the student respondents. It was because these were written for simplicity, brevity, and objectivity. The rewritten intros showed better readability under the Flesch
Reading Ease and also in Flesch-Kinkaid Grade level.
Study on difficult words: Our study on difficult words indicated that the journalists often use words that were difficult to understand for the lay readers. Similarly, many journalists use foreign words that the readers do not understood .
We place on record our sincere appreciation for the inputs by Ms. Ashwini Kamble and Mr. Sagar Atre in data collection for our study.
Prof. Dr. Sunder Rajdeep (Head, Communication and Journalism, University of Mumbai), his predecessor, Prof. Dr. Mangesh Karandikar, Prof. Daivata Chavan and Prof. Dr. Meenakshi Upadhyay, and our colleagues in the administrative section of the department: Kaveri Akiwate,her sister, Sharada and Sanket Mahadik.
We enjoyed the study. It was fun and was very satisfying.
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