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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crossley ID Guide: Text Too Short?

So in my initial review of the Crossley ID Guide, I mentioned that the text for each species account seems shorter than found in most field guides. But the more I read, the more I wondered. There seemed to be a lot more there than I had originally thought. So I had to break out some other guides and do a comparison. As I suspected, there was a lot more in the Crossley ID Guide than I had originally given it credit for. Here's a comparison word count for each species account in Crossley ID and several recent field guides, including the new Stokes guide, the original Big Sibley, Kaufman's guide, the Smithsonian guide, NWF guide, and 5th edition National Geographic Society guide.

As this comparison should make it clear, the Crossley ID guide holds its own against the other guides, with only the Stokes guide coming in with a consistently higher word count per species, and Kaufman coming in almost always below Crossley ID in word count.

Here are the rankings by total word count for these hopefully representative species accounts:

Stokes 2811
Big Sibley 1591
NWF 1191
Nat Geo 1141
Smithsonian 1093
Crossley ID 1014
Kaufman 611

So while Crossley ID does come in below most of the other guides, the text isn't that much shorter. And since Crossley ID spends almost no words on descriptions of vocalizations, the amount of words spent describing the behavior and plumage of each birds is very similar to that found in most of the other guides. Note that though this count is skewed by the Red-tailed Hawk account, which is probably the longest in the Stokes guide, even without it the rankings remain about the same.

One finding of this quick comparison that shocked me was how much text is actually in Big Sibley--which I've also thought in the past was a bit spare on text. Turns out it has more text per species than almost all the other guides. Of course, the new Stokes guide is the most wordy. And I have to say, actually counting the words in the Kaufman guide made me like that guide even more--nothing like a spare, beautifully executed format and design to warm the heart--at least the part of my heart that I inherited from several Danish ancestral lines :-)


Birder's Library said...

Great work! I'm glad to find that my general impression wasn't off base. General impression, now where have I heard that phrase before? :)

But I too am shocked about the big Sibley score. I assume you included the arrow annotations? I guess it adds up more than I gave it credit for.

birdchaser said...

Yes, I included all words associated with each species except for the original name heading, scientific name, and measurements. A large proportion of the Sibley text ends up being descriptions of vocalizations, which are mostly missing from Crossley ID. But all those annotations on the illustrations do add up to a lot of text per species.

Jessica said...

Nice evaluation and unique perspective on field guides.

Most of my ancestry is Danish too, having come to America in the 1860's mostly.

Unknown said...

That last comment was from me, but I was on my wife's computer. Sorry.

birdchaser said...

Most of my Danish lines went from windswept and wet northern Jutland to the windsept cold and dry northern Utah. But I guess they got some nice mountain scenery up there in Brigham City and Snowville, UT.

Anne McCormack said...

Crossley says in the intro that he doesn't like text, but your analysis shows that he actually provides quite a lot. I like the book, and wrote more about it at Gardening with Binoculars

Kenn Kaufman said...

Hi Rob,
Thanks for the kind comments that you included about my guide (Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America). One thing I would point out is that all of the other books in your comparison are larger than mine -- all have a larger page size, and all are over 500 pages (sometimes well over), while the Kaufman guide is under 400 pages. The publisher and I had decided ahead of time to make it a compact, portable book, so the exact number of pages was established before I started, and it was a terrific challenge to fit in just the most essential material. I LIKE text, and would have been glad to include more, if there had been room for it! But the aims of these books are different -- Crossley looks excellent for studying at home, while the Kaufman guide was intended to be carried along and consulted on the spot.

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