Re: Action Item: 3.3 Proposal (Writing Style)

Moved to xtech for discussion that involves testability as well as
requirement, and also implies authoring tool requirements. This thread began
at with the
suggestion that the "write clearly" checkpoint be dropped, in part because
there is no way to know when it has been met.

so much for administrivia...

WCAG 1 has the following P1 checkpoint:

14.1 Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site's content.

In the WCAG 2 draft of 25 January at there is the following:

3.3 Write clearly and simply.
  This checkpoint addresses the need to facilitate comprehension of the
  content by all readers, especially those with cognitive disabilities. It
  should not be interpreted as discouraging the expression of complex or
  technical ideas. However, authors should strive for clarity and simplicity
  in their writing.

The questions I have for this thread is "Can this checkpoint (in some form)
be tested?", and "Is it possible to automate the process?" and "Is it
possible to support this checkpoint in an authoring tool?". (I am explicitly
not addressing the wording of the checkpoint - that seems to be a GL issue to
me and should stay on its current thread).

I think that the answers are "sort of", "yes" and "yes".

Can it be tested?
We could write it in terms of some absolute requirement - produce text with a
gunning-fog index of less than 7.3 - but I think that would not work for two
reasons. One is that it fails to take account of internationalisation
requirements. That could be handled by putting it in content-specific
checkpoints (or whatever they are called). The other is that it fails to take
into account the fact that there are different audiences for different
content. (rest of that argument I will have on GL).

So we get a test of "could this be simpler?" In fact the answer is almost
always "yes". But the interesting question is "how complex is it?", or "what
makes it complex?". And there you can use a gunning-fog index to get an idea,
or a vocabulary-based test, or a grammar test, or all the above, to get an

Can this be automated?
Yes. Microsoft Word provides an implementation example, but it shouldn't be
terribly difficult to automate all three of the tests described above. It
will take more than a day or two, but that doesn't mean the same thing - most
tools take a while to develop.

Can it be supported in an authoring tool?
Yes. As mentioned above, some of this is supported in MS Word - grammar
checking is already available as an on-the-fly marker. So is spellcheck,
which is a dictionary lookup system - in other words compares against
known vocabulary, although in this case for a different purpose. The
gunning-fog test is a tool that can be run over the text.

To provide improved support the tool could use a thesaurus / grammar
transposer. The first is fairly simple, and there is one in Word.

The second requires a more complex bit of programming, especially in a
language that has very little grammar anyway, like english. But while the
current tools are rudimentary (think of something like an automatic
translation service, which is essentially what I am discussing here, except
it goes from english to english, or German to German, or whatever) they do
work enough to be useful in many cases, and they are improving. Admittedly
this is probably at the blue-sky end of tool development, but it is not
impossible to have a better world before we have a perfect one.

For those who got this far...
I think the final technique offered, of using automatic translation
technology is a new technique. Are there any other things we need to take
note of, or should some part of this be felshed out further, or have I said
something really silly (again <grin/>)?



On Mon, 12 Mar 2001, Kynn Bartlett wrote:

  At 05:12 PM 3/12/2001 , Anne Pemberton wrote:
  >         A stab at it ....
  >                 Unless the content is quoted or copyrighted, it should be readable by the
  >"average" user as defined by the newspaper/news media (to cover listening)
  >... which is sorta about 6th - 8th grade level ...

  All material is copyrighted. :)  This rewrite proposal fails
  immediately on those grounds.

  Also, you completely ignore the technical aspects required by
  some writing -- you made no exception for works that require
  specific pre-knowledge.

  Finally, you don't address how to handle works that are SPECIFICALLY
  meant to be unclear, such as poetry or sarcasm.


  Kynn Bartlett <>
  Technical Developer Liaison
  Reef North America
  Tel +1 949-567-7006

Charles McCathieNevile  phone: +61 409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative    fax: +1 617 258 5999
Location: I-cubed, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
(or W3C INRIA, Route des Lucioles, BP 93, 06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex, France)

Received on Tuesday, 13 March 2001 13:58:17 UTC