Archive for August, 2011

How’s your gobbledygook?

Ever wondered how readable your incredible, superhuman writing is to an average human being? Well there is a formula which should leave you wondering no more.

The SMOG readability formula which was created by writer, journalist and psychologist Harry McLaughlin in 1969 (so it’s been around for some time) estimates a piece of writing’s readability level. There are many other readability formulas out there that are used by some advertising companies and other businesses, but the SMOG formula has been proven to be one of the most accurate. A more recent adaption of the SMOG formula goes like this:

Step 1: From your text, count 10 sentences in a row at the beginning, 10 sentences in the middle and 10 at the end. Yes that’s 30 sentences you superhuman writer.

 Step 2: From your 30 sentences, count how many words there are with 3 or more syllables. These words are called polysyllables. If you haven’t got 30 sentences, count the polysyllables in 10 sentences and multiply by 3.

 Step 3: Calculators out (we’re writers, not mathematicians), find the square root of this number.

 Step 4: Add 8 and you’re done. You have your readability level.

 A readability of less than 10 would be understood by most people.


Whilst the SMOG formula may not account for other factors that might affect your text’s readability such as the size and type of font, text layout and the reader’s previous knowledge of the subject, it still remains a useful tool. It probably works best when comparing two pieces of writing.

For example:

I compared the readability levels of a speech transcript from Barack Obama and a speech transcript from David Cameron who both addressed their nations not so long ago on a similar subject. Obama’s speech readability level was far higher at nearly 14 whereas Cameron’s was around 10.5. That’s not to say that our Prime Minister lacks on the vocabulary front. Some might say Obama used complex lexis to portray himself as a highly educated gentleman to his nation. Some might suggest otherwise. It’s all about language and power. Interesting.

If you’re not so enthralled by the subject of language and power, you could use the SMOG formula to tell your arch nemesis the readability level of their work. Simply comment below one of their blogs, ‘Your readability level is __’ as if to suggest that their work is simply not adequate enough for your omnipotent eyes. That’ll show them.

Be lazy and use this SMOG calculator for your writing: http://www.niace.org.uk/misc/SMOG-calculator/smogcalc.php

Robert x

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