Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Readability and text complexity

Dahlia Janan (Sultan Idris Education University, Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaysia)

David Wray (University of Warwick)



Readability is mainly concerned with a basic problem of selecting reading materials for our own use or, for teachers, for the use of others. The process of selection will be influenced by the interests, experiences, previous knowledge and reading skill of the intended reader, but also by the content, style, and complexity of the reading material itself.

Choosing materials for students to read, and doing this with confidence that they will read these materials successfully, is a huge challenge for educators and other professionals. To help solve this problem, almost 90 years ago, readability formulae were created and used. There was a great deal of development in research in the area of readability from 1920 to the middle of the 1990s. The development in this research area appeared to slow down at that point however, and little research has been reported recently. Yet the problem of matching texts to readers still remains for teachers. The initial stimulus for this research programme was that it seemed important to find out the reasons for the decline in research in readability, and how a renewed model of readability could potentially assist researchers and teachers in choosing appropriate reading materials for student readers.


  • Our initial research in this area was designed to explore the concept of readability from two different research paradigms and to develop a new definition of readability by employing both these paradigms. A detailed description is given at Project 1: Towards a New Model of Readability.
  • Subsequent research was commissioned by Ofqual, who asked us to research and produce a Guide to Language Accessibilty for compilers of National Curriculum assessments. Details and outcomes of this project are given at Project 2: Language Accessibility.
  • More recently, we have begun to explore the new work being carried out in the US of the issue of text complexity. Details and emerging outcomes of this work are given at Project 3: Text Complexity.
  • With help of a grant from the British Academy and support from University Pendidikan Sultan Idris in Malaysia, we have begun a colaborative research programme aimed at exploring the issue of readability in a range of languages. Details and emerging outcomes of this work are given at Project 4: Readability in a range of languages.
  • Future research directions are described at Future Research.