Have you ever had to read the same paragraph more than once – sometimes maybe even over and over again? If you have, several things could be happening, not least the author might be writing for someone other than you. By this I mean that you could be a practitioner reading an academic journal; a member of the public trying to get their heads around a highly technical business document; or even a University Professor trying to de-cypher a young persons text speak. Perhaps you spend hours on end writing a beautifully crafted committee report which doesn’t receive the level of engagement you expected or needed?
The thing is – not everyone who reads your work or listens to your words, lives in your world. By that I mean they don’t eat, sleep and breathe the language, jargon, terminology etc which occupies over 90% of your day. If you have to present to public audiences, this is especially true with much more care needed in these forums, or else your audience will noticeably doze off!
Been there, seen that happening? Well, it could be because you (or someone you are watching) don’t understand how the Gunning-Meuller Fog Index works. Robert Gunning worked with the most popular newspapers and magazines. His mission? To improve readability (and therefore circulation!). The result was the Fog Index. So I will give a brief explanation of it but first, please do this:
- select a random sample of your writing that consists of 100 words
- work out the average sentence length, i.e. divide the number of word in the sample by the number of sentences
- count the number of long words in your sample. A long word has three or more syllables
- Add the average sentence length (from step 2) and the number of long words (from step 3)
- Multiply the sum by 0.4 to find your fog index
If, instead of the paragraph above, I had just presented the formula for doing this, I know instantly that many of my readers would now start flicking over to other blogs, because many of them might find formulas an instant barrier, turn off, etc. But it looks like this for those who particularly like formulas 🙂
0.4* ((words/sentence) +100 (complex words/words))
But we don’t need to know the formula, or get frightened by the sight of it, we just need to do the 5 simple steps above or even visit http://www.joeswebtools.com/text/readability-tests/ and it will do it for you via a cut and paste!
So lets assume you now have your results from the above …. You need to know what it’s telling you.
The index represents the number of years of education needed to understand your writing easily. An index of 13, for example, would mean that the writing is appropriate for a reader with 13 years of school (i.e. an 18 year old = “A” level standard).
Most newspapers are written at a reading level for 13-17 year olds, which is a fog index of 8-12. That’s generally a safe index as its accessible to a wide range of audience. Less than 8 gives you near universal readability. If you write too high, or too low, your readers may find your writing either difficult to understand (have to re-read several times), or even insulting (and stop reading completely). Same goes for listening to presentations for that matter – a lesson which isn’t nice to learn in front of the public or your colleagues.
The best way to reduce your Fog Factor is to use simple words when simple words will do! Easily said, hard to do on a daily basis!
So …. “whats your fog factor and what are you doing to reduce it?”