Ken Allen had an interesting post about "writing for the literacy level." I commented that there was difference between reading level and style. In the comment, I did a good job of describing reading level, but not such a good job of explaining what I see as "style" differences and how that is different than reading level.
When writing for a different level of reading, this usually means a writer must provide greater context and use a more common pattern of format, vocabulary, and grammar.
What are common patterns?
The common patterns will depend on the language (including the form of language, such as American English, British English, or International English). This means that there are certain writing, spelling, and punctuation protocols that are recognized by a large group of mainstream language speakers. Looking at a child's book, for example, this does not mean that sentences are simple, but they may be shorter. In American English, this means also that verbs are in an active tense, usually present, simple past, or simple future. More complex verb tenses (conditional, mixtures of time within the same sentence, and conditions such as might have gone if they had been there on time) would require high levels of abstraction (what is compared to what might be).
Likewise, language based on everyday life within the mainstream culture would be a common pattern. This is when defining reading level can put a member of a minority culture at a disadvantage. Younger members who might not be exposed to the mainstream cullture would not necessarily have the cultural knowledge needed to understand items written at a "lower" reading level. Therefore, it may be that a story, such as this one, written for a 5-7 year old, could be more difficult to an urban youth who has never been on a farm. Understanding the story might require a higher level of abstraction than a 5-7 year old is capable of.
Style on the other hand, has to do with the tone, register, genre or format, and organization of information that will be acceptable to the reader in the context of the audience.
Style may differ depending on profession, age, education, context, and (as my current research is indicating) power structures. For example, there is a different writing style for science, academic journals, business, managers, politicians, or a person's grandmother. The same content will be presented different ways, using different jargon and grammar, presenting information in different formats and order, and even giving a different visual representation of the writing (i.e. different fonts, spacing, pictures, use of white space).
Style won't have an effect on understanding a message, but it may have an effect on accepting the message or perception of the message.
While Ken contends that he does not change his writing for the age group (as I have not seen what he writes for his students, I can't verify this) he does change his style depending on the top. For example, this post on the knol and this post on technology change style and format.
In fact, many of us change style depending on the circumstances, often unconsiously. A good writer fits the style to the message, the audience expectations, and the formats often provided by those within the power structures within which we work. Our style is often informed by feedback from readers, bosses, and coworkers/colleagues. We begin to think differently, formulating our ideas through the interactive process of writing, feedback, and editing.
I would bet that Ken maintains a "scientific academic" writing style regardless of the reading level. This is because he is introducing his students into the scientific community's communication protocols and structures. If he were to "dumb down" or use too simplistic formats in developing his written material, students would not be inducted into the scientific community. In other words, he would be doing his students a disservice. On the other hand, I am sure that he does make some "reading level" changes without even knowing it, using active voice for younger readers, including definitions with the jargon that older readers would not need. His choice of examples (the use of examples would be stylistic, the types of examples would be reading level) would depend on his students' prior knowledge.
- V Yonkers
- Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.