The readability of Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws
12.20.2018

Attending the annual Society of American Foresters National Convention is always one of the high points of my year. One of the ways I participate is by volunteering to moderate a few technical sessions. I choose sessions that pique my interest. They’re usually related to forestry education, forest policy, private forestry or silviculture.

When the convention was held in Portland in October I had the chance to moderate an excellent session on education, extension and communication. One of the talks during the session was perhaps the best I listened to at this year’s convention. It was titled “Best Management Practices Field Guides: Are they at Optimum Readability for Effective Implementation?” The talk was given by Emily Paye, a graduate student from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY.

As indicated by the title of her talk, Emily’s research used standard readability indices to evaluate best-management-practices field manuals from various states. In her introduction, Emily pointed out that the average American reads at about a seventh-grade level. The purpose of her research was to find out if the average American reader would be able to understand the field guides written to educate landowners on the best forest management practices to protect water, soil and wildlife in their states.

Emily evaluated all the field guides she could find online, and used three different indices. Here is what she found as the average for each index for the Western states:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Index: 12.19

Gunning-Fog Index: 14.14

Coleman-Liau Index: 12.12

What this means is that to read and understand these field guides you should be able to read at a 12th- to 14th-grade reading level. This, of course, is much higher than the average American’s seventh-grade reading level.

I was disappointed to see that the OFRI publication Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual was not included in the list of field guides Emily reviewed. When I brought this to her attention she said she assumed the manual was aimed at regulators, not landowners. I told her it actually is very much a field guide for forest landowners and loggers.

Emily volunteered to evaluate the readability of Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws and followed up with me after the convention to get an electronic version. I sent one to her, and here’s what her analysis showed:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Index: 9.3

Gunning-Fog Index: 11.58

Coleman-Liau Index: 7.86

While we didn’t quite match the reading level of the average American with Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws, we did better than the field guides Emily evaluated from other Western states.

We apparently have some work to do – but I want to point out that grade-level readability was not explicitly used as a tool when we wrote Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws. It will be next time.

In the meantime, if you want to see if your reading level is high enough to grasp the material in the newly revised third edition of Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws, check it out online or order a copy here.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry        

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