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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Assessing the readability of a Forbes.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of an excerpt from an August 29 Forbes.com piece ("Five Reasons Why Millenials Love Listicles" by Stephanie Denning). Here's the sample text:

"Learning how to use inspectional reading to our advantage is critical. We can use it to understand complex ideas more quickly. Inspectional reading transformed my relationship with reading, thanks to one big 'aha!' It's ok to stop reading. I had to draw on the theory that sunk costs are indeed sunk. We may have already spent however much time on reading an article or a book and we're still not finished and we're tempted to think, 'Having invested so much time in it so far, I have to go on.' No! I had to realize that I shouldn't let the amount of time already spent affect my decision of whether or not to keep reading."

--Word count: 115
--Average sentence length: 14 words (11, 10, 12, 5, 13, 39, 1, 24)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (13/115 words)
--Fog Index (14+11)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

This is a perfect example of how to keep our Fog Index below 12. By limiting her use of longer words and breaking up sentences often, she weighs in at an ideal score of 10.

This month, we won't revise the sample because it has already achieved its objective (for our purposes). Sure, we could smooth out the writing a bit here and there. But the text is readable in the ways that count in the Fog-Gunning arena. It is concise, it is broken up into easy-to-digest pieces, and it is straightforward.

When we dress up our writing with needless bells and whistles, our Fog score suffers. It can be tempting to drag out a sentence or dazzle with a fancy word, but we should always weigh these choices with care. Mastering the Fog Index can sometimes mean striking a compromise between personal style and reader needs.

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