By Max Dietshe and Andy Austin, Simplifcation Strategists

The chattering classes have been busy for the last week parsing the frst 2012 presidential debate. What should President Obama’s strategy be? Will Governor Romney use his strong showing to reinvigorate the party base? Will the president be more aggressive with Romney in the next two debates? Did Romney win on style but not substance?

A Simple Case of Style

A Simple Case of Style As part of Addison’s PLAID℠ (Plain Language and Information Design) training, we direct clients to, where an interactive “Style & Diction” tool rates content on a number of different points. Paste your text into the box, click “submit” and voilà—instant assessment. Traditionally, these readability indices are applied to written work, and are used by some government agencies to judge compliance with regulations.

Was the president too professorial? Did Romney oversimplify? Inspired by a client who assessed the candidates’ acceptance speeches, we thought it would be fun to measure the recent debate using the same yardstick. We ran a couple of key sections—the opening statements and the discussion of taxes—through editcentral’s interactive tool.

Here’s how they scored:

Debate Opening Statements


Discussion of Taxes


Of course, these indices are silent on points of politics and policy. But whatever your political leanings, you can use the analysis above to form your own conclusions about which of the speakers was the more plainspoken.

Decoding the Indices

The Flesch reading ease score (required in some industries for certain regulated communications) is based on a range of 0–100, with lower values indicating harder content and higher values easier content. The other scores show the approximate U.S. school grade level of the text. Many government agencies require that content be at the 8th grade level. . . .

. . . With a Grain of Salt

The indices are fun to use, and it’s interesting to apply them to your own writing. But while they can give you absolute information about word and sentence counts, some of the other rankings are based purely on algorithms. The “complex word” designator, for example, just counts syllables, so words such as insurance and Canada are fagged as complex. And if you’ve incorporated PLAID℠ best practices—using bulleted lists or tables, for example—you may find that this plays havoc with your results.

Original post via Addison 2015. At Addison, we help our clients with plain language and information design challenges every day. Whether an interaction is simple or complex, we specialize in making information accessible and easy to understand. So, whether you seek to inform or persuade, we can help make sure you never lose sight of the basics.