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How to Make Your Content More Readable: The Gunning Fog Index

Is your web content readable?

It is one thing to bring your target audience to your web page, another thing to get them read what you want them to. Studies reveal that, an average person's attention span is 8 seconds and only 28% of words are read on an average Web page.

If your valuable audience do read more than 28%, what are the chances that they understand what they read? Does your information - the information about you, your business or services - really reach your readers? Does it create the required impression? Or does it get overlooked by impatient readers?

The Readability Factor

One of the primary reasons why your Web Content gets ignored is because it isn’t “readable”. No, readability is not about the “literary” quality of the content. It is the ease with which someone can understand a particular content. How long your visitors stay on your webpage depend not only on interesting content but also the ease with which they can understand it. If your content doesn’t make sense to the readers within the first few seconds they check into your web page, you are going to lose them.

For that, you need to keep in mind whom your content is meant for. Is it for CEOs, PhD holders or other highly qualified professionals? Is it for the common man or for youngsters? Who your target audience is will decide the style and ease-factor of your Webcontent!

In this blog we will talk a bit more on “readability” and then introduce you to a popular Readability Tool that helps you to assess the readability of your Webcontent.

Things You Should Know About Readability

Readability is not about identifying the words or letters or the sentences of a text. It depends on the complex words used in the sentence, and the syntax.

“Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text”.

Anyone can understand simple text. The more complicated your writing gets, the more difficult it is to convey the message of the content.

Why Your Web Content Needs To Be Readable?

If you want your Web Page visitors to turn into prospective customers, the text or the content on the web page must be easy and interesting to read. It must convey the message clearly. Hence it is necessary to know the readability level or expectations of your target audience and ensure that the content on your Webpage is easily understood by them.

You need to also check the intention of your content. Is it meant to be casual, highly technical, educational or research-oriented or purely informative? If you are clear-headed about the purpose of your content, you will be able to set the readability level for your Webpage.

Good readability scores indicate easy reading for the target audience. If your audience is a random mix of average to good readers, with varying comprehension levels, it is always better to keep a medium readability score.  

Now, there are a few factors that determine readability. 

The Length Of The Sentences And Paragraphs:

With the minimal attention span of the readers, most of them would skim over the content and pick up only the necessary information. To retain their interest longer, you need to keep your text short and simple.

For the web, optimal line length is between 50-60 characters. And paragraphs can be cut short to 3-4 sentences each. The breaking down of information into short and easy “packages” will  attract more attention and retention of readers on the web page.  

Crisp & Precise Information

Web content is not intended to be a literary piece. It serves a different purpose. The fundamental aim of any Web content is to convey a message to the readers, to create awareness about something and to instil in them an interest about the topic or the product. For the business websites, the content should also convert the readers into prospective customers.

Hence the primary features of online content are clarity and readability. If the reader is not able to follow what is conveyed, it fails the purpose of the message.

Too much content that is complex in structure and hard to understand will put the readers off. Nobody wants to wade through a sea of text to reach where they want to. If the information is lost among too many complex words, long sentences and flowery phrases, the information-seeker would feel disappointed and leave the page!

Simple Words & Text

Unless your Web page is intended for a niche group, avoid jargons in the text. For a common reader, too many technical terms could be a hurdle. No one likes a bumpy ride with too many hurdles to jump over!

Your readers, and at times potential customers, are likely to get disinterested easily and opt for other websites in the same category!

Bullet Points

Information that is conveyed as brief bullet points have greater potential to reach your audience effectively.

Bulleted lists are great examples of information delivered in crisp, clear and easy format.

  • They attract the attention of the readers

  • Highlight the necessary facts

  • Are easy to read and comprehend

  • Are great time-savers

  • Are great for quick reference

Now, even after taking these factors into consideration, how would you know your content meets the specific standards to qualify as “readable”?

Here is hope:

There are standardized tools to assess the ease of content and give you a score on how complicated the content is or how simple.

These readability tools calculate the complex structure and words of a sentence or paragraph. Most of the readability tools provide a precise calculation or formula to check readability and provide you with a numerical score or a grade level. 

As per the US standards, the average is a grade level of 7-8, which indicates that the content can be easily read and understood by those as young as 11 to 13 years.


The Fog Index, or the Gunning Fog Index Readability Formula, is a readability test for English writing. 

The tool assesses your Web content on the basis of formal education a reader needs to understand your content in the initial read. For instance, the readability levels of the Index ranges from school level to senior college level within a numerical score of 6 to 12 respectively.

As per the US customer standards, a fog index of 12 indicates an educational level of an 18 yr old high school senior while a grade of 6-8 shows the readability level of a junior.

Gunning’s Theory of the ‘Fog in Writing’

The Fog Index test was developed by an American businessman Robert Gunning in 1952.  With his experience in newspaper and textbook publishing Gunning noticed that most high school graduates of his time were poor in reading skills. He recognised the issue as a matter of writing, rather than reading.  According to him, the newspapers, magazines and business documents were full of “fog” or ‘unnecessary complexity’ that doesn’t deliver much.

He went on to resolve the matter by conducting readability research that finally consolidated into the easy-to-use readability test called FOG INDEX.

The fog index is widely used to confirm the readability of a text or content by its intended audience. Content that is generated for a wide audience would need a fog index of less than 12. If it is for any reader without a specific age criteria then the index needs to be less than 8. And any content aimed at a more educated group of professionals can have an index of 11-12.

How The Fog Index Is Calculated

The Gunning Fog Index follows a specific algorithm:  

1.Select a sample passage of minimum 100 words. 

2.Divide the number of words by the number of sentences to find ASL (Average Sentence Length). 

3.Now, count the "complex" words that have three or more syllables. 

Note: Eliminate proper nouns, combination of words or those with hyphen, any jargons, and  words with common suffixes  like -es, -ed, or –ing.

4.Now find PHW (Percentage of hard words). Divide the number of complex words by the total number of words in the passage. 

For eg., if there are 100 words in the passage and  the number of selected complex words is 25, then 25 divided by 100 would give you PHW.

5.Add ASL (average sentence length)  PHW (percentage of hard words) 

6.Multiply the result by 0.4.

The formula is: Grade Level = 0.4(ASL + PHW)

As per the formula, short sentences written in simple English score better than complicated text with complex words. 

The ideal score for Fog Index Readability Test is 7-8. Anything above a score of 12 is considered tough for the common reader.

To throw a few names for your clarification, Shakespeare and Mark Twain show Fog Index of around 6, while popular international magazines like Time Newsweek scores an average of 11. 

Applying a standard readability tool will always help you to keep a tab on the quality of your Web Content. You can be at ease knowing that all the traffic, whether organic or induced, that reaches your page, will not turn away or leave half way through due to the complexity of the language. You can be assured of good readership whether or not they materialise into immediate customers.

An easy webpage with “readable” content, attractive format and eloquent images is sure to make an impression in the minds of a visitor for a longer period. While dense content could repel prospective customers even if your business tops in its category, simple and readable content registers better with most readers. Chances are that even the casual or accidental visitor may get back for more information or services.

So, wait not. Get hold of the Fog Index Test and get your Web Content UNIGNORABLE!

All the content manufactured in our little factory now goes through the FOG INDEX. Your precious content is threshed to perfection at ThePendits to ensure great reading on your Web pages.


After all, perfection is the residue of refinement!  

PS. The readability score of this article is 10

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