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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 8:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from The Atlantic.com.

This month's Fog Index sample comes from a May 27 TheAtlantic.com article ("Inbox Zero vs. Inbox 5,000: A Unified Theory" by Joe Pinsker"). Here's the text we'll be analyzing:

"When someone drops everything just to get an unread count back to zero, productivity might be taking a hit. 'It takes people on average about 25 minutes to reorient back to a task when they get interrupted,' she says. Yes, that includes even brief interruptions, like dashing off a quick response to an email, and it often takes so long to get back on task because the project you start doing after handling an email often isn't the same as the one you were already doing. (These interruptions are so integral to modern workflows, Mark says, that when people lack external interruptions, such as a coworker striking up a conversation, they voluntarily interrupt themselves -- sometimes by checking email.)"

--Word count: 118 words
--Average sentence length: 30 words (19, 20, 47, 32)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 12 percent (14/118 words)
--Fog Index: (30+12)*.4 = 16 (no rounding)

Sentence length is the main factor that drives the Fog score above 12. In 118 words, we have just our sentences, one of which weighs in at 47 words. Let's see where this excerpt takes us:

"When someone drops everything just to get an unread count back to zero, productivity might be taking a hit. 'It takes most people about 25 minutes to return to a task when they get interrupted,' she says. Yes, that includes even brief interruptions, like dashing off a quick response to an email. In many cases getting back on task takes so long because the project they start after handling an email often isn't the same one they were doing before. (These interruptions are so central to modern workflows, Mark says, that when people lack outside interruptions, such as a colleague striking up a conversation, they voluntarily interrupt themselves -- sometimes by checking email.)"

--Word count: 112 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (19, 18, 15, 28, 32)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (8/112 words)
--Fog Index: (22+7)*.4 = 11 (no rounding)

We went into this sample expecting to split up the two longer sentences. We were halfway successful. The 47-word sentence easily became two sentences. However, the 32-word sentence proved more difficult, and we ended up leaving it alone. Instead, we were able to cut 6 longer words to make up the difference. In the end, we shed 5 points by making smaller changes on three levels: 1) trimming total word count, 2) turning 4 sentences into 5, and 3) cutting the number of longer words nearly in half.

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