longpelaexpertise.com/ezine/VendorsEnglish.php?ezinemode=printfriend

LongEx Mainframe Quarterly - May 2009

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:

  1. (Product name) uses business policies to aggregate and centrally manage cross-enterprise, heterogeneous workloads to support business goals and service levels.
  2. (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 the enterprise.

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[1]. 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 the text.

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 worse.

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.

[1] 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.


David Stephens