What Make a Text Difficult?

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Reading is an interactive process which involves many factors like the text, the reader, fluency and strategies. In this process the readers have to combine the information from the text with their background knowledge to comprehend the content of the text. However the text sometimes is above the readers’ level, this makes them difficult to achieve its content. And so comprehension may be broken down. To help learners solve this problem during their learning process, the teacher should be careful in selecting a text so that he can create his learners’ interest to go through the text. As a teacher of English I recognize that one of the factors influencing the reading process is the text itself. Giving students reading material that is ‘too difficult’ is damaging to the learning process, and demotivating to the students. However, what may be a frustrational text for this person will be an independent text for another. Additionally, a text will also change categories for a student as he increases his reading ability. So it is difficult to say what a difficult text is. In my opinion to assess the difficulty of a text is not easy because it includes many factors which sometimes depend on the text itself but sometimes on both readers and the text. That is the reason why I choose the topic ‘What makes a text difficult?’ In this paper I will present some literature review relating to this topic and some application in teaching reading process to make the text less difficult.


In this part I will present a set of factors that makes a text difficult. These factors reflect the difficult that readers may have in comprehending a text. However, some of these factors may be largely inherent in the text itself and the others involve both the reader and the text. As Burmeister (1987, p31) noted that “there is a definite interaction between factors found in written materials and factors found within the person who is reading”. He suggests that apart from familiarity with content, knowledge of text construction, and possession of reading skills, there are certain features of a text and of the person reading it which facilitate understanding. These include: paragraph organization, word choice and sentence structure, interest in the text, presentation of the text (e.g. quality of illustrations, size of print etc.), and motivation for reading the text…

1. Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the first matter to consider because it is one of the most easily identifiable characteristics suggesting text difficulty and because it is a very influential factor. In fact, the words in the text reflect the difficulty of the topic. The harder the words are, the harder the text is; so texts containing a lot of difficult words are likely to be difficult texts. Moreover, multisyllable words add to difficulty; the longer and the more complex the words are, the more they make students confused. It appears that vocabulary is an excellent predictor of difficulty because vocabulary reflects difficulty; a difficult or unfamiliar topic frequently needs to be conveyed using the difficult and unfamiliar vocabulary that is inherent to the topic (Anderson & Freebody, 1981). And research has shown that it takes a substantial proportion of difficult words to affect students’ comprehension (Freebody & Anderson, 1983). In fact, if students read a text with many new and difficult words, they will get frustrated quickly and easily.

2. Sentence structure

Sentence structure is the second factor that reflects difficulty. In fact, structural difficulty is not only important but is also harder to assess. Very long, very complex, and certainly very convoluted sentences make texts more difficult to read. Obviously, new grammatical forms (tenses, structural words, etc.) may cause problems. But a more likely cause of structural difficulty beyond the elementary level is sentence length and complexity, which can make the...
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