While most public services involve electronic communication, a significant number of adults cannot fully understand texts they read, for example on the Internet, Katarina Heimann Muhlenbock of the University of Gothenburg said.
"Modern life requires people to be good at navigating in society. This includes having to make many important decisions, for example when dealing with the bank or some state agency on the Internet," said Heimann Muhlenbock, a doctoral candidate. "In many of these situations, a person's success depends on his or her ability to read."
Since 1968 Sweden has relied on a readability index called LIX, based on the average sentence length and the proportion of the words that are longer than six letters.
Modern language technology and digital language resources are allowing for more precise readability analyses, Heimann Muhlenbock said.
An analysis of 23 linguistic variables was used to create a computer program called SVIT, designed to classify texts based on not only complexity but also genre, such as fiction, news and information.
SVIT yielded an accuracy of 84-100 percent, while the corresponding figure for LIX was 45-99.5 percent, Heimann Muhlenbock said.
"My results show that SVIT can be used both to customize texts to specific target groups and to find texts that suit a certain reader profile," she said. "This is very useful since individuals with different linguistic backgrounds need different types of texts."