Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity

It is important to understand how to use qualitative measures to evaluate how well reader needs match a specific text.

When we want to determine if a text is a “good fit” for our students, there are three measures that teachers need to consider.   These measures are: “qualitative measures,” “quantitative measures,” and “reader and task.” This post will examine the Qualitative Measures of text.

Qualitative measures focus specifically on the inherent complexity of the text itself. In this post, we will learn more about what to look for when using qualitative measures.

Qualitative measures include analyzing the levels of meaning found in the text, the structure of the text, the complexity and clarity of the language and the overall amount of background knowledge that a reader would need to understand this text.

One element to consider when reviewing the text complexity of a book is the richness of the plot and the levels of meaning found in the text.

Teen girl in a velvet hoodie reading a book.
Matching readers to Qualitative Measures improves comprehension

Judging the Match of a Text to Reader Needs

Texts that have a single level of meaning and purpose are easier to understand than texts that have multiple layers of meaning. A text containing a high level of satire would expect many assumptions and would be much more complex for readers to understand.

The presence of charts and/or graphs in the text may improve a readers ability to understand the text.

Texts that are written in a straightforward, chronological manner are easier to understand than texts that contain many flashbacks or unconventional structures such as stream of consciousness narration.

When texts are written using a clear, literal, conversational style, they are much easier to read. Texts that use figurative language, irony, unusual dialect, domain-specific language or archaic language are much more difficult to understand.

Some texts make assumptions about the reader’s background knowledge, cultural understandings, or content knowledge. When these elements are present in a text, it raises the level of reading difficulty.

Analyzing the Complexity of a Text Using Qualitative Measures

For example, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels could read at a simplistic level as a story about the travels of a guy who visited a strange land called Lilliput. 

However, Gulliver’s Travels – as it was originally written by Swift -rates as a complex text because of the parody and satire that it contains. Most unsophisticated readers would not understand the deeper meaning presented in these genres.

Since Gulliver’s Travels as an adult political satire, we would generally consider the content complex and reserve this book for high school students.

In order to fully understand the nuances in this book, students would need to know that the author’s intent of the story was to satirize English politics of the 1720s.

Students would most likely need the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher to grasp the complex content. This is the reason most teachers would reserve this novel for high school students.

The Lexile Level of Gulliver’s Travels would be 1300 or an ATOS reading level of 13.5. This book is advanced and is more appropriate for advanced high school students or even college students.

Analyzing Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity

An easy way to determine the qualitative measure match between a text and your readers is to create a simple rubric for each of the 4 main categories: Text Structure; Language Features; Purpose; and Knowledge Demands.

Rank each section on a 1-5 scale with 1 being basic to 5 being highly complex. Under text structure, consider the organization of the text, the features of the text itself and whether there are any graphics that could help the text be more clear.

When evaluating language features, consider the level of complexity ranging from 1- explicit and easy to understand, to 5 – dense and complex with a substantial amount of abstractness, irony or figurative language. Examine not only the writing and sentence structure but also the level of vocabulary used in the text for this element.

Evaluate the purpose of the text as well as the knowledge demands the text requires. Rank these elements with a 1 being minimally complicated to 5 being highly complex and demanding.

Achieve the Core has a good discussion of how to evaluate the qualitative elements of various texts that you can review. They also have a downloadable rubric that you might want to use to evaluate the 4 critical features of qualitative complexity. You can find their rubrics for informational text and literary texts here.

Learn more about Quantitative Measures of Text Complexity

Learn more about the impact of Reader and the Task on Text Complexity