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View Poll Results: Which of these paragraphs is more understandable
The first one 21 75.00%
The second one 7 25.00%
Voters: 28. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 10-15-07, 04:46 PM   #1
zeytoun
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Reading comprehension test

Question:

Which of these paragraphs is more understandable?

Quote:
Oversocialization can lead to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, guilt, etc. One of the most important means by which our society socializes children is by making them feel ashamed of behavior or speech that is contrary to society's expectations. If this is overdone, or if a particular child is especially susceptible to such feelings, he ends by feeling ashamed of himself. Moreover the thought and the behavior of the oversocialized person are more restricted by society's expectations than are those of the lightly socialized person. The majority of people engage in a significant amount of naughty behavior. They lie, they commit petty thefts, they break traffic laws, they goof off at work, they hate someone, they say spiteful things or they use some underhanded trick to get ahead of the other guy. The oversocialized person cannot do these things, or if he does do them he generates in himself a sense of shame and self-hatred. The oversocialized person cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality; he cannot think "unclean" thoughts. And socialization is not just a matter of morality; we are socialized to conform to many norms of behavior that do not fall under the heading of morality. Thus the oversocialized person is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. In many oversocialized people this results in a sense of constraint and powerlessness that can be a severe hardship. We suggest that oversocialization is among the more serious cruelties that human beings inflict on one another.
-----

Quote:
Every road (edit: I'm referring here only to paved roads built to accomodate any vehicle that is not "oversized" - vehicles up to 8.5' wide, but which are typically around 6' wide) has space towards the outside edge that is generally unused by through motor traffic (edit: comprised of typical width vehicles) - let's call this space the road margin (for lack of a better term). The width of a margin varies widely from road to road. On some roads space that is generally unused can be several feet wide; on roads with narrow outside lanes, the margin can be measured in inches. I can't imagine a road with a margin of zero width - that would mean that cars are regularly driven rubbing up against the curb or driven with the tires at the edge of the pavement and unpaved shoulder. Edit: Some very narrow roads without center dividing stripes are so narrow that cars traveling in opposite directions cannot both be fully on the road when they pass each other. However, such roads are typically lightly travelled, and, so, most of the time there is no oncoming traffic and the space normally used by through traffic is "centerish". The unused space to the right of vehicles driving in this "centerish" position is what I refer to as the "margin" on these types of very narrow roads. In practice, the margin of a given road can be identified by certain distinctive physical characteristics, even when no traffic is present. The characteristics identifying the road margin include:
* Stripe. A shoulder stripe, standard bike lane stripe, parking lane stripe, or "fog line" demarcates the outside edge of the outside vehicular travel lane, thus effectively defining the margin (space generally unused by through motor traffic) to be the space to the right of that.
EDIT: FYI, I meant to include an option to indicate that you find the 2 paragraphs equally understandable. If you would please just comment to that effect in this thread, I will keep a tally. Sorry for the mistake.

Last edited by zeytoun; 10-15-07 at 06:21 PM.
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Old 10-15-07, 05:16 PM   #2
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No choice for equally understandable?

Edit: or equally not?
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Old 10-15-07, 05:18 PM   #3
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I meant to, but accidentally hit submit and now can't go back. However, I'd be happy to keep a tally. Shall I put you down as "Equally understandable"?
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Old 10-15-07, 05:20 PM   #4
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..

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Old 10-15-07, 05:32 PM   #5
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Thanks CommuterRun

Tally:

2 for paragraph 1
1 for paragraph 2
2 for tie
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Old 10-15-07, 06:13 PM   #6
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Equally comprehensible, but the second was way more verbose than it needed to be.
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Old 10-15-07, 06:22 PM   #7
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Thanks Allister,

5 for paragraph 1
1 for paragraph 2
3 for tie
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Old 10-15-07, 06:26 PM   #8
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Somewhat equally comprehensible, but the second paragraph has deviations via parenthesis, asterisks and "edit:," all of which are sidetracks to the main thought, which can make readability more difficult.

Thus the first paragraph seems to be more readable and well thought out, while the second smacks of "stream of consciousness" writing.
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Old 10-15-07, 06:35 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genec View Post
Thus the first paragraph seems to be more readable and well thought out, while the second smacks of "stream of consciousness" writing.
The second looks like the person who wrote it had to go back and clarify repeatedly due to reader either intentionally or not mis-interpreting the original text and/or had to put in details and otherwise obvious clarifications to avoid having readers tear apart the words and possible meanings and note obscure exceptions instead of focusing on the intent or content of the paragraph.

Al
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Old 10-15-07, 06:42 PM   #10
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Quote:
The second looks like the person who wrote it had to go back and clarify repeatedly due to reader either intentionally or not mis-interpreting the original text and/or had to put in details and otherwise obvious clarifications to avoid having readers tear apart the words and possible meanings and note obscure exceptions instead of focusing on the intent or content of the paragraph.

Al
Yes, well, the writer of the first paragraph also claimed to be mis-understood, once in Haiku form*

Quote:
*i have a vision
but i am misunderstood
do you like my beard?

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Old 10-15-07, 06:56 PM   #11
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Readability is different from complexity. Both are complex in that they are talking about exact ideas which have to be explained very carefully. The second, though, is shot through with asides, distracting from the point.

In the first paragraph, the author is describing the oversocialized person. S/he begins with a subject sentence which is mostly straight forward (the only mistake in style being the use of the "etc." at the end, which severely softens the intended effect), and then progresses in demonstrating the point through first, a comparison with a "normal" person, and then a description of the oversocialized person's tendancies; ending by describing how these tendancies are not so good for society.

The second paragraph is something obviously written here by an author I am familiar with. He is attempting to define a term. The first sentence is an end-around the topic; it introduces the subject of the paragraph by first describing part of the road. Then, in a sort of off handed way, introduces the term which he wants to use to describe this part of the road. The description is unclear, and, even in it's original edition, is shot through commentary, as though trying to preemptively defend against a counterargument (even though his paragraph is not arguing anything).

In defense of the author of the second paragraph, this is not his best work and was written on an internet forum, thus, it is difficult to compare styles or readability. The first paragraph represents a polished college level dissertation work which has probably gone through several editing stages. The latter: an attempt at dissertation which is basically freewritten in, perhaps, 10-20 minutes time.

The topics are different as well. The first paragraph is regarding a philosophical or sociological point, meaning that it is covering a topic area which is invented and propogated through the written word. The latter is a technical discussion such as that which would occur between two engineers, meaning that the ideas expressed are normally expressed in the form of drawings or pictures. Here, they are being shoehorned into the written word given the limits of the forum, and so comes out a bit choppy. I've had my moments where what I write is not terribly clear as well. I'm sure the author of the second paragraph could clean it up, given the time and the imperative.
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Old 10-15-07, 07:04 PM   #12
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@zeytoun
Clever "Good Will Hunting" stunt you've got going there.

Every extremist's writings makes sense at some level. It is the actions s/he takes in pursuit of those extremes which condemn him or her. I don't think the author of the second paragraph keeps the former paragraph's author's company.
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Old 10-15-07, 07:09 PM   #13
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Every extremist's writings makes sense at some level. It is the actions s/he takes in pursuit of those extremes which condemn him or her. I don't think the author of the second paragraph keeps the former paragraph's author's company.
100% agree. I personally see no comparison between the respective authors. In fact, the comparison of the writing comprehensibility of the two was made by one of the authors.... which got my hamster-wheel spinning...
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Old 10-15-07, 07:17 PM   #14
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^^^
Gotcha. Interesting, that.
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Old 10-15-07, 07:29 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff View Post
Readability is different from complexity. Both are complex in that they are talking about exact ideas which have to be explained very carefully. The second, though, is shot through with asides, distracting from the point.
That's the way I see them, too. Given a choice, I'll call the second one less easily understood. I'd have to cut & paste its sections to figure out what it's really saying, and I don't even know if I'd succeed.

The only issue I have with the first paragraph is that it's bordering on being overly verbose. Lots of specific terminology and even some field-specific jargon reduces it from a conversational piece to something you'd hear being recited by a fellow college student.

I've heard the idea that, "if you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't really understand it." My brother-in-law is doing subatomic research, and he's able to explain it to my mother; her ability to understand scientific discussions is only as good as what she can glean from watching Star Trek.

There's a line between writing a research paper or court motion and writing for the general public. Good newspaper writers can write in plain terms very well and are often able to get complex ideas across.

I'll use technical jargon if it's needed, but I usually try to write as simply as possible.
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Old 10-15-07, 07:30 PM   #16
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By the way, I don't know, nor do I care, who originally wrote those paragraphs. I'm only commenting on what I've read in the opening post.
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Old 10-16-07, 04:38 AM   #17
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This is a condensed version of the second paragraph, saying exactly the same thing:

Quote:
Roads have space towards the outside edge that is generally unused by through motor traffic. Let's call this space the road 'margin'.

The width of a margin varies widely from road to road. The margin of a given road can be identified by the following distinctive physical characteristics, even when no traffic is present:
* Stripe. A shoulder stripe, standard bike lane stripe, parking lane stripe, or 'fog line'.
I have only deleted words.

I can't find a superfluous word in the first.
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Old 10-16-07, 07:26 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Allister View Post
This is a condensed version of the second paragraph, saying exactly the same thing:



I have only deleted words.

I can't find a superfluous word in the first.
You deleted too many... the definition of a stripe in the end has lost its reference.
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Old 10-16-07, 07:53 AM   #19
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You deleted too many... the definition of a stripe in the end has lost its reference.
All the words after 'fog line' merely repeated the notion that a stripe defines the margin.
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Old 10-16-07, 05:51 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Allister View Post
I can't find a superfluous word in the first.
Right; but there are a lot of words, some repeated phrases (especially overuse of the word "they" in the middle), a little bit of missed and/or misapplied punctuation, and the sense that the author consulted a thesaurus to add more & larger words.

I could imagine somebody reciting it as a speech or presenting it in a research paper (hopefully with better execution), but it's not the style I'd use when writing for most people.
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Old 10-16-07, 06:29 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Allister View Post
All the words after 'fog line' merely repeated the notion that a stripe defines the margin.
Actually going back and rereading it, it is obvious that there is a discontinuous thought going on there... the asterisk doesn't refer back to a word in the paragraph, and the colon implies a list, which in this case, is only a single term, "stripe," with multiple examples of stripe types.

Not good writing at all... but then this was cut and pasted out of context, and it was probably written in a hurry.

Critique of internet blogs and forum responses as "good writing" is hardly a fair subject as that writing is often done in haste and to represent thoughts of the moment.

At least we haven't sunk to R U OK?
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Old 10-16-07, 10:50 PM   #22
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Critique of internet blogs and forum responses as "good writing" is hardly a fair subject as that writing is often done in haste and to represent thoughts of the moment.
I think it's very unfair myself. However one of the author's was certain that their writing would compare favorably to the other author's writing, in terms of understandability.
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Old 10-16-07, 11:27 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genec View Post
Actually going back and rereading it, it is obvious that there is a discontinuous thought going on there... the asterisk doesn't refer back to a word in the paragraph, and the colon implies a list, which in this case, is only a single term, "stripe," with multiple examples of stripe types.

Not good writing at all... but then this was cut and pasted out of context, and it was probably written in a hurry.

Critique of internet blogs and forum responses as "good writing" is hardly a fair subject as that writing is often done in haste and to represent thoughts of the moment.

At least we haven't sunk to R U OK?
I figured the asterisk denotes the first item on a list of things that define the 'margin', and the rest were trimmed from the quote.

But the specific details of the editing are kind of inconsequential. The point was to show that exactly the same thing could've been said with far fewer words and a far higher readability, not to mention far fewer points of possible contention.
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Old 10-18-07, 03:35 PM   #24
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Thanks, all for participating.

For those that were curious, the author of the first paragraph was Theodore John Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, while the author of the second paragraph as Serge *****, aka Helmet Head.

Certainly not a fair comparison, as the first probably spent more "alone time" revising his writing. Also, Helmet Head is not a threat to society, it's just that his posts here are often nonsensical.

For those wondering why I started this thread, well, once in another thread Helmet Head gloated that 30% of poll responders found his posts generally clear and understandable. He was certain that there would be no way that a "crazy" like the unabomber would have 30% of poll responders saying that his writings were understandable. So I thought I would test that notion.

So I made a selection of the first dozen longish posts of HH, and the first dozen longish paragraphs of the unabomber's manifesto, and randomly picked one from each.

Thanks again to everyone for participating.
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Old 10-18-07, 03:55 PM   #25
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At least we haven't sunk to R U OK?
O RLY?

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