16 March 2016

Simple words work best #nlpoli

esquire.com last October.

 Big headline:
Donald Trump Woos Republicans By Speaking at a 4th Grade Level
Smaller head:
His competitors from both parties aren't much better.
Aren't much better.

Speaking at such a low grade level is a bad thing.

The speaker must be uneducated, simple, stupid, or something else that a president shouldn't be.

Or maybe it's bad because the politician is speaking only to dumbest people in the country.

Bunch of rednecks.

The Boston Globe, where the story originated, had the right take on things:

Simpler language resonates

Those three words, incidentally, score at a Grade 9 reading level.

They score 35.9 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease,  which ranks complex sentences that are hard to understand with low numbers on a scale of 100.  In other words, a 36 score out of 100 means that those words are hard for lots of people to understand.

The Globe assessed 19 candidates.  They put the text of their speeches through a computer program that scores for readability.  That means it looks at how many sentences a speaker used.  It counts the number of big words with lots of syllables in them.  They score against you for reading ease.  The program looks at things like how many sentences are in the passive voice.  All of that makes it harder for people to understand what a speech or aa written text means.  

The Globe concluded:
The Republican candidates — like Trump — who are speaking at a level easily understood by people at the lower end of the education spectrum are outperforming their highfalutin opponents in the polls. Simpler language resonates with a broader swath of voters in an era of 140-character Twitter tweets and 10-second television sound bites, say specialists on political speech.
Not exactly.

Speaking at a Grade 4 level means that Donald Trump can be understood not only by the folks with a Grade 4 language level but also by all the folks who speak and read English at a higher level.

Plus it is not just the world of Twitter that makes simpler language more effective.  Public relations professionals and others who spend their lives trying to get information across to people have been writing for years at a level of around Grade 9.

The reading ease or reading comprehension level for "communications" writers has trended down to Grade 4 both because of technology and because the audience is much wider.  In the United States, for example, writing or speaking at a Grade 4 level means that people who speak English as a second language will have an easier time understanding what you are saying.

It's not about intelligence or educational level.  Those folks could be engineers and doctors who speak English as their second or sometimes third language.  Using Grade 4 level English also means that the folks born in the United States and who have a Harvard MBA  - as another example - will get the message faster than if you used a lot of big words and complex sentences.

It's called reading ease for a reason.

Just to show you how it works, take those three words from the BG:  Simpler language resonates.

Nothing wrong with it at all.

But try this:

Simple words work better.

Same idea.

Different words.

Scored 76 on the FK scale and below Grade 4 for reading level.

Incidentally, that BG paragraph quoted above scored 30 on the FK scale for reading ease, meaning it was even harder to grasp than those three words we changed earlier.  And the grade level was almost 17.

Writing in a complex way isn't hard.  Writing or speaking at a Grade 4 level takes a lot of preparation. It also requires skill to do it over and over again.  That's why more people write and speak in complex sentences or, worst of all, in gigantic strings of words.

What Donald Trump displays when he speaks is a mastery of the political art few politicians can match.   He uses simple words.  Trump also  uses those words to say things that people want to hear. Trump knows that because his market research people have polled extensively.

This is not a new idea.  Winston Churchill famously said that when speaking "short words are best, and old words best of all."

Donald Trump is winning the Republican nomination because he is better than his competitors.  Donald Trump will not lose because people suddenly wake up and realise he is a nut-case.  The only people who think that are Trump's Republican opponents who are getting their ass kicked by a guy whose campaign speaks in English so clear almost everyone in the country and hear what he is saying.

Donald Trumps is connecting with his supporters.

That's how you win an election.