Title

A User-Study Measuring the Effects of Lexical Simplification and Coherence Enhancement on Perceived and Actual Text Difficulty

Document Type

Article

Department

Information Systems and Technology (CGU)

Publication Date

2013

Disciplines

Databases and Information Systems | Health Information Technology

Abstract

Purpose

Low patient health literacy has been associated with cost increases in medicine because it contributes to inadequate care. Providing explanatory text is a convenient approach to distribute medical information and increase health literacy. Unfortunately, writing text that is easily understood is challenging. This work tests two text features for their impact on understanding: lexical simplification and coherence enhancement.

Methods

A user study was conducted to test the features’ effect on perceived and actual text difficulty. Individual sentences were used to test perceived difficulty. Using a 5-point Likert scale, participants compared eight pairs of original and simplified sentences. Abstracts were used to test actual difficulty. For each abstract, four versions were created: original, lexically simplified, coherence enhanced, and lexically simplified and coherence enhanced. Using a mixed design, one group of participants worked with the original and lexically simplified documents (no coherence enhancement) while a second group worked with the coherence enhanced versions. Actual difficulty was measured using a Cloze measure and multiple-choice questions.

Results

Using Amazon's Mechanical Turk, 200 people participated of which 187 qualified based on our data qualification tests. A paired-samples t-test for the sentence ratings showed a significant reduction in difficulty after lexical simplification (p < .001). Results for actual difficulty are based on the abstracts and associated tasks. A two-way ANOVA for the Cloze test showed no effect of coherence enhancement but a main effect for lexical simplification, with the simplification leading to worse scores (p = .004). A follow-up ANOVA showed this effect exists only for function words when coherence was not enhanced (p = .008). In contrast, a two-way ANOVA for answering multiple-choice questions showed a significant beneficial effect of coherence enhancement (p = .003) but no effect of lexical simplification.

Conclusions

Lexical simplification reduced the perceived difficulty of texts. Coherence enhancement reduced the actual difficulty of text when measured using multiple-choice questions. However, the Cloze measure results showed that lexical simplification can negatively impact the flow of the text

Rights Information

© 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

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