[Image courtesy of centerforplainlanguage.org]
Last week, I blogged about the readability of state ballot initiatives – and judging from the discussion in the comments (and the traffic in the Twittersphere) it’s an object of tremendous interest.
You can imagine my excitement, then, when a fellow election geek forwarded me a new article by the Plain Language at Work newsletter that assesses the readability of state voting information websites.
The article is absolutely jam-packed with information – not just the readability scores themselves but also the discussion of different readability techniques. In particular, I was fascinated to learn that there is a test known as Gunning’s Fog Formula that uses sentence length and word complexity to assign readability scores.
While no computational readability score can take the place of user-centered testing – a fact that my new friends and colleagues in the usability community respectfully but insistently observed in response to last week’s post – they can be a quick way to “gut check” individual sites and make some cross-state comparisons. Thus, while one never wants to “write to the formula”, one can use the formula in conjunction with other usability tests to gauge how well users (in this case, voters) can navigate a given site.
In that spirit, I have reproduced below the newsletter article’s Fog scores for state voter information websites plus explanatory notes. Their observations about the best sites – specifically, Pennsylvania’s VotesPA.com – hold up well to this election geek/usability amateur’s eye:
|Voter’s Information||Fog Level||Languages||Online Forms|
|District of Columbia||15.2||1||Yes|
|Northern Marianas Islands||19.0||1||Yes|
- Languages shows the number of languages offered on the Web site or in registration forms.
- Online Forms shows whether the site makes forms available for voter registration, required in advance of an election.
- Yes shows that the user can download a regisration form that can be printed, filled out, signed, and mailed in.
- Yes+ shows that the voter can complete a registration online, with no form to send in.
- No shows that the user cannot mail in a registration form. The state requires a face-to-face registration.
- New Mexico’s site offers the Google Translate feature with instant translations in over 50 languages.
- North Dakota does not require voter registration. A voter just has to show up with a valid state ID. Most states now require an ID to vote plus some form of registration.
- Puerto Rico‘s site is in Spanish only and cannot be measured with the Fog formula.
Want to try out the Fog and other readability tests yourself? check out this tool at Juicy Studios … As always, caveats and alternate sites for such tests are not only welcome but encouraged in the comments.
*My apologies to our friends in the usability community for the pun in the post’s title … I suspect I am not the first person to make that pun – but I am confident I am the first person to make it on this blog 🙂