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Forensic scientists' conclusions: How readable are they for non-scientist report-users?


Howes, LM and Kirkbride, KP and Kelty, SF and Julian, RD and Kemp, NM, Forensic scientists' conclusions: How readable are they for non-scientist report-users?, Forensic Science International: An International Journal Dedicated to The Applications of Science to The Administration of Justice, 231, (1-3) pp. 102-112. ISSN 0379-0738 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.04.026


Scientists have an ethical responsibility to assist non-scientists to understand their findings and expert opinions before they are used as decision-aids within the criminal justice system. The communication of scientific expert opinion to non-scientist audiences (e.g., police, lawyers, and judges) through expert reports is an important but under-researched issue. Readability statistics were used to assess 111 conclusions from a proficiency test in forensic glass analysis. The conclusions were written using an average of 23 words per sentence, and approximately half of the conclusions were expressed using the active voice. At an average Flesch–Kincaid Grade level of university undergraduate (Grade 13), and Flesch Reading Ease score of difficult (42), the conclusions were written at a level suitable for people with some tertiary education in science, suggesting that the intended non-scientist readers would find them difficult to read. To further analyse the readability of conclusions, descriptive features of text were used: text structure; sentence structure; vocabulary; elaboration; and coherence and unity. Descriptive analysis supported the finding that texts were written at a level difficult for non-scientists to read. Specific aspects of conclusions that may pose difficulties for non-scientists were located. Suggestions are included to assist scientists to write conclusions with increased readability for non-scientist readers, while retaining scientific integrity. In the next stage of research, the readability of expert reports in their entirety is to be explored.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Readability; Glass analysis; Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level; Flesch Reading Ease; Readability statistics; Forensic science; Descriptive features of text
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Criminology
Research Field:Police administration, procedures and practice
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Justice and the law
Objective Field:Criminal justice
UTAS Author:Howes, LM (Dr Loene Howes)
UTAS Author:Kelty, SF (Dr Sally Kelty)
UTAS Author:Julian, RD (Professor Roberta Julian)
UTAS Author:Kemp, NM (Associate Professor Nenagh Kemp)
ID Code:84863
Year Published:2013
Web of Science® Times Cited:16
Deposited By:School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2013-06-04
Last Modified:2017-12-14

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