« Case Study: Adding Print to a Digital-Only Brand | Home | Sloppy Editing Makes National News »

The Fog Index

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 1:52 PM

Assessing the readability of a Newsweek.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample text comes from a May 24 article on Newsweek.com ("Learning to Read Can Dramatically Change the Adult Brain" by Jessica Wapner). Here's the excerpt, with longer words in italics:

"Scientists have long known that learning shapes the brain. Speaking multiple languages, accruing new skills or even just quitting a habit can forge new neural pathways. But a new study has brought a surprising twist to our understanding of how the brain molds itself to new abilities -- in particular, learning to read as an adult. Literacy, it turns out, changes ancient regions of the brain that researchers never suspected played a role in reading. The finding expands not only our understanding of reading but also disorders that impair it, namely dyslexia."

--Word count: 91 words
--Average sentence length: 18 words (9, 17, 29, 19, 17)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (10/91 words)
--Fog Index: (18+11)*.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

This sample falls within the ideal Fog-Gunning range (below 12), so we won't edit the text. Instead, we'll discuss what went right.

For starters, we have a low ratio of longer words-- just eleven, by our count. The author was able to discuss the science behind adult literacy without losing the layperson in dense lingo. We might swap out a few longer words to drive down the percentage further, but it isn't necessary here. We aren't inundated with highly technical language. It's used economically to drive home key concepts.

Sentence length is the crucial factor here, though. We have 91 words split into 5 sentences. This structure allows the author to deliver technical information in easy-to-read fragments. But note that despite the high number of sentences for a 91-word excerpt, sentence length varies. Rather than a series of short, staccato sentences, we have a mix, with sentences ranging from 9 to 29 words. This creates a nice rhythm without driving the Fog score over 12.

Add your comment.

« Case Study: Adding Print to a Digital-Only Brand | Top | Sloppy Editing Makes National News »