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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a March 20th Harvard Business Review excerpt on the Time.com website ("Welcome Edits on Your Writing"). Here's the sample text:

"A good writer welcomes good edits. A bad writer resents them, seeing them only as personal attacks. Share your material while it's still rough -- the feedback will help you improve it much faster than if you were toiling in isolation. Routinely ask your colleagues, including those you supervise, to read your drafts and suggest changes. Have them mark up the document and submit their revisions in writing, rather than in person where you might react defensively. Always thank them for their help. Encourage others on your team to seek out edits and offer them. Having room to improve should be the norm, not a sign of weakness."

--Word count: 107 words
--Average sentence length: 15 words (17, 23, 15, 21, 6, 12, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 8 percent (9/107 words)
--Fog Index: (15+8)*.4 = 9 (no rounding)

Once again, we have a sample that falls well below the 12 mark. The writing is quite clear, and there are few long words. Still, we can make small tweaks to make this passage read more clearly. Here's our version:

"Good writers welcome good edits. Bad writers resent them, seeing them only as personal attacks. Share your writing while it's still rough -- the feedback will help you improve it much faster than if you were working alone. Routinely ask your colleagues, including those you manage, to read your drafts and suggest changes. Have them mark up the document and submit those changes in writing rather than in person, so that you don't react defensively. Always thank them for their help. Encourage others on your team to seek out edits, and offer them yourself. Having room to improve should be the norm, not a sign of weakness."

--Word count: 106 words
--Average sentence length: 15 words (15, 22, 15, 22, 6, 13, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/106 words)
--Fog Index: (15+5)*.4 = 8 (no rounding)

Our edits didn't affect word count much, but they did reduce the number of longer words. Thus, we were able to reduce the Fog Index by one point.

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