The relationship among eleven structural variables and the readability of advanced algebra textbooks

William A Wanserski, Marquette University


Very little research has been directed toward the readability of mathematical material, especially in the secondary math curriculum. This study investigated the relationship between the readability of advanced algebra textbooks and eleven structural variables--prepositions, conjunctions, sentence length, symbols, math terminology, adjectives, word/symbol alternation, textual highlighting, verbs, phrase qualifiers, and gender words. Cloze reading tests were constructed from one-hundred passages randomly drawn from ten textbooks. 728 advanced math students from 13 high schools in Milwaukee Wisconsin, completed the Cloze reading tests. Regression analysis, t-tests, AOV, and correlation analysis were applied to the data. Independent readers experienced significantly higher success on illustrative excerpts (p $<$.01) while less-capable readers performed significantly poorer (p $<$.01) on illustrative passages. The continual change between words and symbols was the best predictor (p $<$.001) of explanatory readability and was positively correlated to readability. Although sentence length adversely affected readability, it accounted for less than one percent of the total reading variance. Textual highlighting enhanced the readability of explanatory excerpts. The presence of prepositions, in illustrative passages, was the most significant predictor (p $<$.001). While prepositions and math terminology reduced readability, textual highlighting and mathematical verbs improved the illustrative readability. Although conventional reading formulas utilize sentence length, this practice appears to be inappropriate for advanced math textbooks in light of the sentence length's negligible impact on the reading data. Since less than five percent of the reading variance can be attributed to the combined effect of the variables, other factors may possibly affect the adolescent's ability to read textual material in secondary mathematics. Future readability research should consider the subject's attitude, interest level, abstract reasoning ability, motivation, and the cumulative math skills.

Recommended Citation

Wanserski, William A, "The relationship among eleven structural variables and the readability of advanced algebra textbooks" (1989). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9014066.