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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:43 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from WashingtonPost.com.

In this issue, we'll analyze the Fog Index of a sample from a July 28 WashingtonPost.com article ("Microsoft Makes Amends for Past Mistakes with Windows 10" by Hayley Tsukayama). The sample text follows:

"The answer is yes, pretty much across the board. If you have Windows 8 and a case of buyer's remorse, the answer is definitely yes. If you've got Windows 7 and have been waiting to upgrade to a new system, this is the moment. There are enough new features to tempt you even if you aren't that into the fancy voice-controlled stuff, such as better search features and an overall better browser. If you want to wait a little while to see if new bugs pop up as Microsoft starts rolling the system out, you have some time. In most cases, Microsoft's giving customers a year from Wednesday's launch to take advantage of their free upgrade."

--Word count: 116 words
--Average sentence length: 23 words (9, 16, 19, 28, 44)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 3 percent (3/116 words)
--Fog Index: (23+3)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

The Fog Index falls well below the 12 threshold. The author does an excellent job of controlling sentence length. She also avoids muddying the text with dense language that can do real damage to an article's Fog-Gunning score.

We chose to feature this excerpt for two reasons: First, it is a great specimen of fairly fog-free writing. Second, and perhaps more important, a single punctuation change could improve the Fog Index by a few more points. Watch what happens when we change the en dash in the last sentence to a period:

--Word count: 116 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (9, 16, 19, 28, 26, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 3 percent (3/116 words)
--Fog Index: (19+3)*.4 = 8 (no rounding)

That's right. One punctuation swap, with no other edits to the text, cut the fog by two points. With that simple change, we've ended up with one of the lowest Fog-Gunning scores we've ever achieved in this column.

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