Toward an informed citizenry: Readability formulas as cultural artifacts

Bernadette Longo

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

8 Scopus citations


After World War II, the United States government and citizenry were concerned with truth, propaganda, democracy, and national security as they entered the Cold War era. This was a time when technocrats, engineers, and scientists could lead our free-world government through the perils of our tense relationships with Russia, Red China, and Korea. In the early 1940s, Rudolf Flesch began developing what he termed a "scientific rhetoric" to help writers of functional documents more effectively communicate technical information to a general public. He came up with a readability formula to help writers evaluate whether their writing was effective and this readability formula has profoundly shaped notions of "clear writing" for the last 60 years. This article explores Flesch's development of this readability formula, placing his work in a historical context, as well as discussing how the readability formula fit into a larger project to make effective writing more of a science than an art.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages8
Specialist publicationJournal of Technical Writing and Communication
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Education


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