opinion: Why Can't Vendors Write in English?
Have you ever read a whitepaper and wondered what it was talking about? Or
looked something up on a vendor's website, and come away without learning anything?
Of course you have.
I mean, take a look at two examples:
- (Product name) uses business policies to aggregate and centrally manage
cross-enterprise, heterogeneous workloads to support business goals and service
- (Product name). Distributes or centralize job submission, management
and monitoring as you choose and simplify job management by automating as
much as possible and provides a simple-to-use interface to manage your environment.
(Product name) is a mainframe-hosted, fully-integrated workload automation
engine that coordinates and executes job schedules and event triggers across
If you haven't figured it out (and there's an excellent chance you haven't),
both describe software that automatically submits and controls batch jobs.
Now, with a university degree in Engineering, I don't think I'm poorly educated.
But I seriously have enormous difficulty understanding these two examples.
Two ways to measure how easy text can be understood are the Flesch Reading
Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score.
The Reading Ease Score is a number from 0 to 100 (100 being the best), and the
Grade Score is a number that indicates the US school grade level needed to understand
Unfortunately both of the above examples have a Reading Ease Score of 0 and
a Grade Level Score in excess of 19. Or in other words, they couldn't be any
I believe that this is an all too common problem - vendor content that is extraordinarily
difficult to understand. And the problems aren't just about sentence and word
length. Many vendors liberally use buzzwords such as "leverage" and
"best of breed" to further muddy the waters. Take the following example
from a vendor's whitepaper:
The convergence of SOA and mainframe technologies can help enterprises liberate
these core business assets by making it easier to enrich, modernize, extend
and reuse them well beyond their original scope of design.
This is just terrible.
Though it's true that some IT companies produce clear documents (well done
BMC), the habit of unclear documents is easy to find. In fact you'll have a
hard time finding many vendor whitepapers with a Reading Ease Score higher than
30. That's not good enough.
So let's take a stand. All Longpela Expertise articles, documents and books
will be as clear and easy-to-read as possible. All will have a Reading Ease
Score of at least 50, and a Grade Level Score of no more than 10.
It would be wonderful to see other IT companies take a similar stand.
This document (without the vendor quotes) has a Reading Ease Score of 61.9,
and a Grade Level Score of 8.4.
 Both these scores look at the number
of syllables in a word, and the number of words in a sentence. These figures
are widely used, so much so that they're included in Microsoft Word. In this
document, I've applied these measurements to only one or two sentences. Academics
may argue that this sample is too small, but it gives a basic idea.
Most sources (such as Microsoft Word help) recommend a Grade Level Score of
60-70, and a Reading Ease Score of 7-8.