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Readability:Why are polysyllabic words hard to read?

By Guðrún Unnur Gústafsdóttir

Siteimprove's Readability feature within Quality Assurance puts an emphasis on polysyllabic (also known as multisyllabic) words that weigh in the calculation of readability scores, depending on the chosen readability test.

The readability tests that include polysyllabic words in their algorithm are: Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease/Grade Level, SMOG and Gunning Fog.

A polysyllabic word is a word with more than three syllables. In general usage, a polysyllabic word is a word which is regarded as lengthy. Polysyllabic writing or speech is often regarded as elaborate, overly lengthy or excessively complex. 

Reasons why polysyllabic words are hard to read:

  • People with dyslexia and other learning disabilities have difficulties comprehending polysyllabic words
  • People with poor language understanding and/or processing may find it difficult to read and understand polysyllabic words
  • Polysyllabic words are likely to make the meaning of your content difficult to grasp
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