Perceptual and Motor Skills

Big Book Reviews

Perceptual and Motor Skills

Vol. 69,258, 1989



Kenneth, R. Mills

Iowa State University

The book Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A. World Services,1976), popularly referred to as the "Big Book," presents the A.A. 12-step plan of recovery from addiction through several autobiographical case histories. This book is often used as the central element of bibliotherapy in drug and alcohol treatment programs. For this to be an effective component of treatment, however, it must be comprehensible by the client. Readability becomes an especially salient issue for treatment programs in which a significant number of patients manifest borderline literacy. A review of the literature yielded no previous studies of the readability of any edition of the "Big Book." The purpose of this study was to determine the readability and difficulty level of the most current edition of this widely used component of addiction treatment.

A readability formula developed by Flesch (1974) was used. The Flesch formula involves a weighted combination of average sentence length and number of syllables per 100 words to arrive at a reading ease (RE) score, which may be converted to reading difficulty by grade level. Thirty page numbers were randomly generated by computer. A 100-word sample, beginning with the second paragraph, was taken from each selected page; however, paragraphs of editorial, italicized, or introductory content were not included. Average sentence and total syllable count were determined for each of the 30 samples. A Flesch reading ease score was then calculated.

RE scores range from 0 to 100, with reading difficulty diminishing as scores increase. The resultant RE score for Alcoholics Anonymous was 70. 60, which rests at the division between the categories of "standard difficulty" and "fairly easy." The grade level corresponding to this RE score is 7.1, so an individual who reads at the level of the average beginning seventh grader would be expected to be able to read this material adequately.

These results indicate the "Big Book" to be a readable text. Care should be exercised, however, in the prescription of any bibliotherapy to assure that the reading assignment is within the capability of the client. While the material in this text appears to be within the reading proficiency of most clients, it would be an inappropriate assignment for those individuals who read at levels significantly below seventh grade. For such clients, use of audio tapes of the text could be considered.


A.A. World Services. (1976) Alcoholics Anonymous. (3rd ed.) N.Y.

Flesch, R.F. (1974) The Art of Readable Writing (25th anniv. ed.)

New York: Harper & Row.


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