Last year, with the support of VegFund and Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), HRC conducted a study on the readability of vegan outreach literature. Readability is a basic measure of how difficult it is for a person to understand a text. Examining this angle of the movement's materials is important given that the purpose is to educate in an effort to change behavior, and one fundamental aspect of doing so is having easily understandable messages.
In our study, HRC evaluated the reading level of 11 different pamphlets commonly used by vegan advocates, using six different readability tests. The literature was sourced from nine animal protection organizations: Compassion Over Killing, FARM, Friends of Animals, Humane Myth, Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Vegan Outreach.
The study's findings showed that all of these materials were written at an 11th grade reading level or higher, while the average U.S. adult only reads at a 9th or 10th grade level.
As a result, HRC recommended that vegan advocacy materials geared toward the general population be written at a 7th or 8th grade level in order to ensure comprehensibility for a large proportion of the target audience. Materials aimed at specific demographics can have other thresholds—e.g., literature at a 12th grade reading level is acceptable for college students. HRC urged advocates to design materials with the lowest common denominator in mind to ensure text is understandable to those in the target audience who have the greatest limitations on comprehension.
Following our recommendation, the Animal Rights Coalition (ARC)—a recipient of HRC's Grassroots Research Fund—used the readability study as a guide for redesigning their brochure on speciesism. As ARC’s Executive Director Dallas Rising explains: “We actually developed an entirely new brochure based on our need for something more general that addresses the overarching problem of speciesism and thought we would do that using the readability study to make it accessible to more readers.” ARC also found that having a study to guide the process of reworking the brochure helped ensure its collaborators were all on the same page and provided a clear path for making the brochure as readable as possible.
The initial aim was to redesign the brochure to be at a 4th grade reading level, but ARC soon determined it was going to be too challenging to address speciesism while adhering to those restrictions and so tailored the pamphlet to a 7th grade level instead. To meet this target, ARC focused on keeping sentences short, and choosing simple and direct words rather than making the prose “sound pretty.” As Dallas explains, “In crafting the text for the brochure we wrestled with various ways to present that message, but the readability of the brochure was paramount and often helped us eliminate ideas if they wouldn't work within that 7th grade literacy framework.” ARC also intentionally avoided using violent images and referenced Spider-Man to make the material more accessible to a younger audience.
During the redesign, ARC made use of a number of online readability websites to ensure they were meeting their target. “There are a number of sites out there, so I recommend picking three of your favorites and continuing to submit your text until all three match your highest acceptable reading level,” say Dallas.
The brochure will soon be available for purchase on ARC's website, at which point it will be approved for use at VegFund sponsored events.