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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Assessing the readability of a Time.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a Time.com excerpt (adapted from a Harvard Business Review article). Here's the sample:

"Happy, engaged employees are good for an organization. Research shows they are more creative, produce better results, and are willing to go the extra mile. What's more, happiness is contagious; it creates a virtuous cycle that leads to further engagement. To bring more of that into your team, focus on what psychologists have identified as the three pathways to happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Consider whether you are actively encouraging these things in your people. Do they enjoy their relationships and their environment at work? Do they laugh? Do they fill roles that fit their skill sets and offer appropriate challenges? Do they feel they're a part of something that matters? If the answer is no to any of these questions, brainstorm how you can adjust the team environment to bring more happiness in."

--Word count: 134 words
--Average sentence length: 13 words (8, 17, 15, 24, 11, 10, 3, 13, 10, 23)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 14 percent (19/134 words)
--Fog Index: (13+14)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

This excerpt weighs in with an ideal Fog score of 10. The average sentence length is quite low at 13 words, thanks in large part to the string of questions near the end. Also low is the number of words with more than three syllables (per the Fog-Gunning guidelines).

Is there anything we can do to improve this sample? Let's take a look:

"Happy, engaged employees are good for a company. Research shows they are more creative, produce better results, and are willing to go the extra mile. What's more, happiness is contagious. It leads people to engage more. To bring more of that to your team, focus on what psychologists have dubbed the three pathways to happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Consider whether you are actively promoting these things in your workers. Do they enjoy their relationships and their work environment? Do they laugh? Do their roles fit their skill sets and offer appropriate challenges? Do they feel they're a part of something that matters? If the answer to any of these questions is no, brainstorm what you can change to make people happy."

--Word count: 122 words
--Average sentence length: 11 words (8, 17, 5, 6, 23, 11, 9, 3, 11, 10, 19)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (13/122 words)
--Fog Index: (11+11)*.4 = 8 (no rounding)

Most of our changes are pretty minor. There were a few places where we might have used the thesaurus to find a shorter version of a longer word, but the word in place simply worked better (e.g., "contagious" versus "catching"). We trimmed ten words and split one sentence in two, which helped bring down our average sentence length to 11. We eliminated 6 longer words to bring the percentage down from 13 to 11. These changes improved the Fog index by two points.

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