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Basic English Explanations (BeX)

A text editor that calculates the readability of a piece of written content.

Hypothesis

How can we help BBC journalists write news stories in ways that are more accessible for underserved audiences?

Basic English Explanations (BeX) is an experimental text editor that calculates the readability of online news articles.

Bex 1.0

Screenshot of a text editor with metrics on the right-hand side

Bex 1.0 assigned grade-level metrics to paragraphs in BBC News articles.

Completed in 2019, the first iteration of BeX applied a selection of readability formulas to online news stories. The team built an API to analyse text content, as well as a tool for displaying metrics to journalists and sub-editors.

The ultimate goal for the project was returning metrics to help us:

  • Perform corpus analysis to get a better understanding of how readable BBC reporting is
  • Make suggestions to journalists about how to correct their text before publishing to make it more accessible

Bex 2.0

Completed in 2021, BeX 2.0 is a collaboration with the Optimo team, who look after the BBC's new digital publishing tool. It leverages more sophisticated metrics to help journalists improve their text.

After piloting BeX 1.0 with a team of sub-editors in BBC News, and running an eye-tracking study with the University of Nottingham, we knew we needed to give writers more concrete feedback for improving their text.

Rather than relying on older "counting metrics" — such as the number of letters or syllables per word — BeX 2.0 makes use of more cutting-edge research to point to potentially challenging parts of text articles. We look at features such as:

  • Word complexity
  • Discourse and coherence
  • Passive vs active voice
  • Cliches
  • Sentence length and variance

The Optimo team will use BeX 2.0 to provide feedback to journalists within the BBC's new digital publishing tool.

Results

  • The Optimo team will work to incorporate BeX into the BBC's publishing system.

Careers

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