Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fogged in

kw: musings, reading, measurements

In the former post I closed with the statement that Minders of Make-Believe is well written, just rather dense with facts. I am not satisfied with that statement. Reading other books goes smoother. I remembered noticing that the pages looked "more packed." So I did some measurements, including a Fog Index.

The Gunning Fog Index is a statistical measure of how hard it is to read a piece of text. One gathers three numbers and calculates from them a number that estimates the level of education needed to read the text. The three things are
  • W = The number of words in the selection; this should be at least 100.
  • S = The number of sentences.
  • C = The number of "complex words", meaning words of three syllables other than those formed by adding -er or -ing to two-syllable words.

These are combined according to this formula:
F = 0.4*((W/S)+100*(C/W))
This means, the average words per sentence plus the percent of complex words, all multiplied by 0.4. If the result is 12, one needs to graduate from high school to easily read the text. Few commercial publications have Fog Indices greater than 10. "Reader's Digest" scores a 9.

I tested Minders and a book I am currently reading which I'll here call simply Future, by analyzing a full page of each.

For Minders, W = 423, S = 14, and C = 48. W/S = 31.4 and 100*C/W = 11.4. This yields F = 17. Seventeen! That implies at least a Master's Degree!! The market for such a book is restricted indeed.

For Future, W = 349, S = 16, and C = 39. W/S = 22.8 and 100*C/W = 11.1. This yields F = 13.5. That implies a college sophomore. The market is much larger, but is still a small fraction of the U.S. populace.

The type face of the two books is the same, but Minders has tighter leading ("ledding"), the spacing between lines, so it has 37 lines per page, while Future has 31 lines per similarly-sized page. Both the word count and the line count indicate that the former book has 1.2 times as many words per page. They have nearly identical words per line of type. Since they both have about 350 pages, the one book is equivalent to a 420-page book, compared to the other.

Now, I have a 17-year or greater education (two years beyond my MS), but I found Minders hard to read for extended periods. It is interesting, but it simply requires a lot of work. So I revise my statement: Minders is well-written...for an ordinary soul with a PhD in history.

P.S. The Fog Index of this post is 9.6.

No comments: