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The W - Random - Newspapers at 5th Grade Level?
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Since: 15.2.02
From: Dallas

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#1 Posted on | Instant Rating: 4.54
Need a bit of help from the other Wieners.

I once read that most newspapers are written at a 5th grade level.

Can anyone confirm/deny this statement? If so, is there any documentation out there? (I couldn't find anything on Google)


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Since: 9.7.02
From: Sleep (That's where I'm a viking)

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#2 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.27
My journalism teacher used 6th-grade, but in general that's about right. Newspapers don't use highly sophisticated words because they're too long, so they're forced to limit their vocabulary. Plus, the more people who can understand the paper (without thinking it stupid), the more people will buy it.

Papers like The Wall Street Journal would be geared towards a more-educated audience, but most are in the 5th-7th grade level.

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Since: 17.11.03
From: Tallahassee, FL

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#3 Posted on | Instant Rating: 2.69
The only thing I can give you on that is just some mental recollection on my part from what my college journalism professors used to mention.

I don't know if it's set specifically on a 5th grade level, per se, but most newspapers are purposely written simple.

At least based on their lecturing, they used to say that that 9 times out of 10, editors would come up with the synonym for any 50 cent word that was written into copy out of fear that the readership would scratch their head with it.

But mainly, as it was explained to me, it's an edict that newspapers live by saying "we need to make sure that everyone who wants to read this can easily understand it", which means dumbing down the language.

And I can tell you from a personal perspective that there were numerous occasions that my copy would come back to my desk bleeding to death with margin notes that would say something to the extent of "this is good, but please simplfy", and of course every single time I'd ask why it was the same explanation: "we need to keep it simpler than how you're writing it"

As long as somebody CTC at the end of the day, I'm with them.
Matt Tracker

Since: 8.5.03
From: North Carolina

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#4 Posted on | Instant Rating: 6.26
I worked for a daily for three years creating copy, editing copy and doing layout work, including headlines and subheads.

Many, many times I was told we couldn't use certain words because the people who ate breakfast at Hardee's wouldn't know what those words meant. We packaged the material for the lowest common vocabulary denominator. The "fifth-grade level" code was invoked a few times by my editors, even though our media audits certified that our main readership had graduated high school.

"To be the man, you gotta beat demands." -- The Lovely Mrs. Tracker

Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

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#5 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.59
My wife has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. Stories are geared for a sixth grade (give or take) reading level to make them easily readible to the masses without a lot of effort, exceptions are areas such as columnists like George Will and his ilk who attract a more "educated" reader.

Some exceptions include no contractions except when quoting someone. Good writers also do things like avoid state of being verbs and passive verbage. Sound easy? Try it. Eliminate is, are, would and such. It reads great but is hard to do. Also rules on how to name people officials. But other than items like this, sixth grade level.

Almost forgot, careful usage of personal pronouns.

Perception is reality

Since: 12.1.02
From: Fresno, CA

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#6 Posted on | Instant Rating: 6.64
I remember one of my H.S. English teachers going over most of your list of "good writer's habits" with me after a paper I turned in. It helped tremendously, though, I'm not sure how well its carried over to here. I've always been fond of the comma splice.


Since: 12.10.02
From: Canada

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#7 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.15
That's not so bad compared to the 1st Grade Level that the web seems to be operating on. It's the place where people can't take the extra few milliseconds to type out words like "why" instead of "y" and "you" instead of "u".
Lap cheong

Since: 1.8.02
From: Huntington Beach, CA

Since last post: 2621 days
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#8 Posted on | Instant Rating: 4.32
Funny thing is, those are the very same people who take the EXTRA time to tYpE tHiNgS oUt LiKe ThIs!!!

To add to the pile, I vaguely remember the same thing about writing a news story in simple language. Perfectly sound practice if you ask me.

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Since: 2.1.02
From: MD, USA

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#9 Posted on | Instant Rating: 6.41

Also, smaller words allow you to put more words in a story and be able to shape the story if need be (no islands, for example).

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Since: 20.6.02
From: I am the Tag Team Champions!

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#10 Posted on | Instant Rating: 4.35
Working on a college newspaper and fresh from a convention in Dallas, I can confirm that newspapers are purposely written simple. Isolating the audience is death and thus the newspaper writer must keep the attention of his or her readers by using simpler words.

A newspaper writer's words to live by: Keep it simple, stupid!

(edited by It's False on 2.1.04 0110)

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The Thrill

Since: 16.4.02
From: Green Bay, WI

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#11 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.08
Writing news for TV is pretty much the same way. Of course, our stories are so limited by time, you usually can't fit in big words.

I don't ever recall hearing a grade-limit level, but it's generally done that way. The commandments: active voice, tighten it up, and can we cut this sentence?

Drives me batty somedays...and I don't even write much anymore. Got too creative. :-)

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Matt Tracker

Since: 8.5.03
From: North Carolina

Since last post: 5 days
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#12 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.79
    Originally posted by The Thrill
    Writing news for TV is pretty much the same way. Of course, our stories are so limited by time, you usually can't fit in big words.

That's the conundrum in print. Higher-level words don't have to mean longer words. When writing headlines -- trying to make them eye-catching and big -- you sacrifice one good "smart" word for four "easy" words and a smaller headline size. The head can go from one line to two, and everything has to shrink to fit that headline space. Then you don't get the strong graphic contrast in headline size and text size. This is especially irksome when the headline style is a serif, just like the body style.

"To be the man, you gotta beat demands." -- The Lovely Mrs. Tracker

Since: 2.1.02
From: The Las Vegas of Canada

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#13 Posted on | Instant Rating: 6.88
I guess that maybe the smaller blurbs might bring the average back down, but just doing a spot check of some of the main stories on I was getting an average of around 12.0 on the Fleish-Kincaid Grade Level score when I copied the text into Word.

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Since: 2.1.02

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#14 Posted on | Instant Rating: 8.23
Keep in mind that readability (Fry's, that is) is mostly a combination of syllables-words-sentence ratios.

Longer words (or shorter words with more syllables) can inflate a readability score. Fewer sentences in a passage have the same effect.

Here is some info on Fry Readability (what we in special education use to confirm or deny textbook/passage reading levels). schrockguide/fry/fry.html

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