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The other day I came across this nice clean web-based tool which calculates the Gunning Fog readability score for a piece of text. Just for fun, I put a few sentences from a translation I was then doing (on VAT legislation!) into the tool. It came up with scores ranging between 23 and 29.4 depending on the sentences I chose.

Gunning Fog is not the only readability indicator – others include Flesch-Kincaid, SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook), and Coleman-Liau.  A comprehensive article by Ronald & Ruth Reck describes a number of them in detail. There are also lots of simple online tools available.

Typical Fog Index Scores

Fog Index Resources
6 TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain
8 Reader’s Digest
8 – 10 Most popular novels
10 Time, Newsweek
11 Wall Street Journal
14 The Times, The Guardian
15 – 20 Academic papers
Over 20 Only government sites can get away with this, because you can’t ignore them.
Over 30 The government is covering something up

Table reproduced with kind permission from Juicy Studio, a website promoting best practices for web developers.

You can see from the above how accessible my VAT legislation was… ;)

All this talk of text clarity reminded me of an interesting article published a couple of years ago in the Journal of Specialised Translation written by Yvonne Tsai at the National Taiwan University – “Text Analysis of Patent Abstracts“. Ms Tsai compared English and Chinese texts and part of her analysis included readability. Her conclusion was that a more consistent use of short sentences was displayed in the English translated texts than in the Chinese texts, and a common usage of shorter words was also evident in the translated texts. The Chinese texts demonstrated a more diversified use of punctuation marks, and the translated texts exhibited low variation yet high frequencies of word usage.

David Simpson posted an excellent article on his blog in 2009 about the readability of UK newspapers which may interest you too. He used some of the standard indexes, as well as his own online tool. The Sun ‘won’ – i.e. had the lowest scores (those from the UK will understand why…).

Going back to translation (and fog), in 2010 the European Commission published a really nicely laid out guide called “Writing for Translation” which translators should perhaps give to all their clients. :) There is also a guide called “How to write clearly” which succeeds the previous “Fight the Fog” initiative.

How about  a competition to see which reader of this blog has translated the ‘foggiest’ text? :)

I look forward to receiving your contributions!

You may also be interested in my post ‘Business-ese’ may be worse than legalese.