Bank of England speeches and reports from the financial industry are too complicated to be understood by a broad audience, according to a study of their reading-grade level.
No surprise there, says anyone who’s had to wade through any of them. Even the BOE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, has remarked there’s too much complexity in the central bank’s communications, admitting this year that his speeches are “likely to be impenetrable to most.”
In a BOE staff blog published on Tuesday, Jonathan Fullwood in the institution’s Advanced Analytics Division — who cites the simplicity of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” — explains the reason:
“Those writing in the financial industry tend to use long words. They put those long words in long sentences. And those long sentences in long paragraphs.”
Working on the assumption that a grade 8 or 9 reading level based on Flesch-Kincaid tests is a “good starting point” for a wide audience, he notes out that BOE communications are at grade 14 and private-sector bank reports around 12.
In response to the argument that more complex language is needed to keep things interesting and avoid dumbing down technical issues, Fullwood turns to the literary greats. Most of the writings of Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Emily Bronte and F. Scott Fitzgerald are no higher than level 8.
While he notes that clarity, style and layout also affect readability, the BOE analyst offers one simple starting suggestion: activate the readability measures in your word processor.
Both the BOE and broader financial industry “must try harder if claims of accessibility are to be meaningful,” he said. “The good news is that, in my experience, improvements in readability could be made with relatively little effort.”
Or as Dr. Seuss might have put it: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”