Journal Article

The effect of word familiarity on actual and perceived text difficulty

Gondy Leroy and David Kauchak

in Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association

Published on behalf of American Medical Informatics Association

Volume 21, issue e1, pages e169-e172
Published in print February 2014 | ISSN: 1067-5027
Published online October 2013 | e-ISSN: 1527-974X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/amiajnl-2013-002172
The effect of word familiarity on actual and perceived text difficulty

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  • Medical Statistics and Methodology
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Abstract

There is little evidence that readability formula outcomes relate to text understanding. The potential cause may lie in their strong reliance on word and sentence length. We evaluated word familiarity rather than word length as a stand-in for word difficulty. Word familiarity represents how well known a word is, and is estimated using word frequency in a large text corpus, in this work the Google web corpus. We conducted a study with 239 people, who provided 50 evaluations for each of 275 words. Our study is the first study to focus on actual difficulty, measured with a multiple-choice task, in addition to perceived difficulty, measured with a Likert scale. Actual difficulty was correlated with word familiarity (r=0.219, p<0.001) but not with word length (r=−0.075, p=0.107). Perceived difficulty was correlated with both word familiarity (r=−0.397, p<0.001) and word length (r=0.254, p<0.001).

Keywords: Text Simplification; Health Literacy; User Study; Readability; Comprehension

Journal Article.  3150 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Statistics and Methodology ; Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Biomathematics and Statistics

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