The Legacy of Upton Sinclair
of the most remarkable literary figures of the 20th century was
American writer Upton Sinclair (1878-1968). He wrote over 90 books
and was a tireless and effective campaigner for social justice.
He ran for public office several times. In 1934, he almost won
the governorship of California, campaigning on a platform to End
Poverty in California (EPIC). He lost by by only three percent.
The press, the movie studios, and other corporations threw everything
they had at him, even using the newsreels. It was the first use
of movies in a political campaign.
Upton Sinclair: an unflinching view of tough and turbulent
Sinclair wrote his novels of social protest at an easy 8th-grade level,
enabling millions of readers throughout the world to enjoy them in many
languages. His best works have never been out of print.
The Jungle: a defining novel of the 20th century.
Sinclair first came to prominence in 1906 with the publication of
The Jungle, which had a startling effect on the country.
An exposè of the American meat-packing industry, it caused
a national uproar. President Theodore Rooseveldt quoted from it
and called Sinclair to Washington for a briefing.
Congress rushed through the Pure Food and Drug Act and
the National Meat Inspection Act, both with consequences
to this day.
These acts were the first federal laws safeguarding
food and would eventually give citizens the right to know what is in their
food and how it is produced.
The California Oil Rush
The U.S. is the only country in which private citizens can own
the minerals beneath their property. The discovery of oil by Edward
Doheny and Charles Canfield in Los Angeles in 1893 created a real-estate
Hordes of developers and land speculators flooded the land. Neighbors
fought over oil rights. Home owners gave up their gardens and
yards to make room for drilling rigs, oil derricks, trucks, and
tanks. The air was filled with the roar of machinery and the
black smoke of gushers and fires. The oil rush not only changed
the landscape of southern California. It also changed the course
Signal Hill, California, in 1923: a landscape changed by oil.
Movie poster for There Will Be Blood. Loosely based
on Sinclair's Oil!, it omits the social conflicts.
Sinclair's expansive 1927 epic, Oil! captured the
tough and turbulent birth of the oil era we live in. It also gave
us an unflinching view of life in Southern California and its
bitter social and political conflicts.
The 550-page work focuses on J. Arnold "Bunny" Ross
and his father, an independent oil developer (modeled after the
real Edward Doheny). The young man's sympathies are with the oilworkers
and their unions. The tensions between him and his father drive
The novel follows Bunny and his friends from the oil fields
of California through college, World War I, the U.S. intervention
in the Russian Civil War, and the Teapot Dome scandal. The story
is still fresh and engaging. It also includes best look we have
into the mind of Edward Doheny.
While there has been no lack of writers and filmmakers to cover corruption
and class struggles, Sinclair's novels crossed over into literary greatness.
Along with the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Helen Hunt Jackson, and
Harper Lee, they show the enduring power of great fiction.
Regarding these figures, the report states:
U.S. Government Web Sites
Still Too Difficult to Read
of last year, Brown University released its 7th annual review
of the efficiency of government Web sites in the U.S.
Authored by Darrell West, the report scores each site based on
a range of features including online publications and services,
foreign languages, translation services, disability access, privacy
policies, e-mail addresses, comment forms, e-mail updates, PDA
accessibility and readability.
The report showed that the average readability level of
American state and federal websites is at the 11.6th grade, up
from the 10.8th grade last year.
Detail of the re-designed FDA site: at the 13th-grade level,
it addresses the wrong audience.
Both numbers are well above the comprehension
of the typical American. Fifty-six percent of sites read at the
12th grade level, down from 64 percent last year. Only 18 percent
fell at the eighth grade level or below, which is the reading
level of half the American public, compared to 14 percent last
For the full report: http://www.insidepolitics.org/egovt07us.pdf
See Oregon's new plain-language Web site: http://plainlanguage.oregon.gov/
The FDA Web-Site Redesign
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently touted their redesigned
Web site. See http://www.fda.gov
The press release claimed that new design was the result of usability
tests involving "188 consumers, health care professionals, and
industry representatives and other audiences."
While the new design resulted in more structured content and a pleasing
appearance, it fails to address readability. The Dale-Chall and Flesch-Kincaid
formulas reported an average 13th-grade reading level for materials
randomly selected from the FDA site.
While that level is appropriate for professionals, materials on the
site designated as "Consumer Health Information" are also written at
the 13th-grade level or higher. The style is often stilted and officious.
Consider this introduction to a consumer-health page for menopause:
Working in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and
other Department of Health and Human Services agencies, FDA has developed
science-based informational materials on its latest guidance on menopausal
hormone therapies (estrogens and estrogens with progestins), and is
working closely with women's health organizations, community-based organizations,
and other experts to get this information out to women and health-care
One wonders for whom this paragraph (at the 32-grade of difficulty)
was written. It contains a hodgepodge of vague information about possible
therapies and the source of the material and its distribution. It ignores
the needs of readers coming to the Web site looking for information.
Why not something like:
If you are looking for up-to-date information on menopause, you have come to the right place!
The FDA Kid's Page has some attractive and well-designed materials
written at the 7th-grade level. The teen pages, however, are written
at the 10th-to-13th grade level, too difficult for most adults and even
more so for teens.
Web designers and consultants who fail to address the reading skills
of their audience and the readability of their Web sites are wasting
a great deal of their clients' money. Research has shown that even small
improvements in matching the text with the audience produces great results
over the long run.
Fifteen years in the making
New Zealand's Plain-Language Tax Bill
Saving $millions: the new easy tax law is a boon for both government
and taxpayers of New Zealand.
of 2007, the Parliament of New Zealand passed the Income Tax
Act, a plain-language re-write of 3,000 pages of legislation.
The new law was an enormous accomplishment, representing 15 years
of work. A small team of public and private sector drafters and
analysts carried out the work, which was overseen by a panel of
accountants and attorneys.
The new law has a 9th-grade reading level as measured by the Dale-Chall,
Fog, and SMOG readability formulas. This jump in readability over time
will bring great benefits to both the taxpayers and government of New
In a statement welcoming the new law, a government press release stated:
The purpose of rewriting the Income Tax
Act was to produce tax law that is clear, written in plain language
and is structurally consistent. That makes it easier for users to find
what they need, to understand it, and to apply it, which in turn helps
them to comply with the law.
Where possible, the language of the law
has been made more concise, legalese has been avoided, and archaic terms
have been removed or replaced. For example, a 14-line sentence has been
broken up into three easily understandable subsections, and terms like
'hereinbefore' and 'hereinafter' have been rightly culled or replaced
with modern language.
For the full release: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0710/S00482.htm
For a copy of the New Zealand 2007 Income Tax Act:
Plain Language in the News
New Jersey Board of Education requires plain-language school budgets:
Bruce Baley's plain-language bill passes the U.S. House:
Can You Read Me Now? New online guide for using readability formulas:
the readability formulas work?
epidemic of medical jargon:
mortgage disclosures proposed:
tips for managers:
your way to better health:
blooming of business jargon:
For a free consultation, call today:
William H. DuBay
126 E. 18th Street #C204
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Phone: (949) 631-3309
© 2007 William H. DuBay