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The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com article.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a September 24, 2012 Time.com article ("Why PC Companies Fear Amazon" by Tim Bajarin). Let's take a look:

"By the way, PC companies are not the only ones who fear Amazon. This week, Walmart stopped carrying all Amazon Kindle devices. Walmart finally woke up and realized that the Kindle tablets were actually competitive to its own business. Walmart served as a showroom for Amazon products. Walmart found that people would go to its stores to check out a product they wanted in a physical form, and if it was cheaper on Amazon, they would buy it there. This is especially true if they were Amazon Prime customers, which meant they paid no shipping fees and got the product cheaper. Earlier in the year, Target stopped selling Kindles for the same reason."

Word count: 113 words
--Average sentence length: 16 words (13, 9, 17, 8, 32, 22, 12)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (10/113 words)
--Fog Index: (16+9)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

This is a rare event for us. We've stumbled upon a longer paragraph that already has an ideal Fog score (i.e., a score below 12). There isn't much we can do with this sample to reduce the Fog score. So what did Time.com get right with this except?

First, the author kept the average sentence length fairly low. He opted for shorter sentences instead of longer ones that would might "fog" up his writing. He cemented the low Fog score with a low percentage of words with three or more syllables.

We could shave off a point or two by replacing a few longer words, but it's hardly necessary in this case. We could make two sentences out of the fifth sentence, but this would disrupt the natural rhythm of the writing. So, in this case, it's best not to mess with a good thing.

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