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A foggy solution to academic writing

by: (Research & Development Manager) on

Hands up if you’ve ever tried to read a wordy or complicated article or business document and found it too difficult to understand or just simply lost interest in it because it took up too much concentration?  It’s happened to me, many times, and I’m sure it’s happened to you too.  So what’s the problem here?  Reading is an extremely popular pastime, many of us do it for pleasure, we enjoy it.  So why do some articles make us suffer so much? 

It’s all about readability.  Some writers do not take into account who the readers of their work will be.  But, if you know your audience, there is a way you can increase the readability factor, indeed, to help clear the fog that may be making your writing unnecessarily complicated.

 

Fog

 

 

The Fog Index is particularly useful for academic writers.  It was first developed by Robert Gunning in The Technique of Clear Writing, published in 1952, and itprovides a simple formula to generate a readability score for written English.  The formula is as follows;

 

A = average number of words per sentence

 

+B = % of long words (3 or more syllables, not counting proper nouns or words whose third syllable is –ed, -ing or –ly)

                _________

                Cx0.4 = Fog Index value (ideally 7 – 12)

 

The score roughly equates to the number of years of education the reader needs to understand the passage quickly and easily.  So a score of 12 would be suitable for someone with the education of an 18 year old.  The average reading level of the general population is around 9-12, this represents the reading level they feel most comfortable with.  I’ve listed below the scores of some well-known publications as a point of reference;

 The Times – 14

The Guardian – 14

Financial Times – 13

New York Times – 12

The Economist – 11

Wall Street Journal - 11

Time Magazine - 11

The Sun – 10

Popular Novels – 8-10

 A writer should only use the score as a guide though, as it can’t be relied upon to provide a perfect indication of the reading level of a piece of writing.  For example, the formula will regard electrician as difficult as accentuate in its calculation.  Depending on what you’re writing about, using such words might be unavoidable.

For academics, the Fog Index can help you to produce a more appropriate piece of work by giving you the ability to assess whether it has been oversimplified (if the score is below 10) or overly complex (if the score is over 15).  This will allow you to use your own judgement on whether any changes are needed.

The Gunning Fog Index generator is available here or you can work it out manually using the above formula.

By the way, the fog index for this blog is 9.65.  I hope this helped make the reading of it a little more enjoyable!

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