Visual FOG: John Tierney vs. Arthur Conan Doyle

The bubbling batches of lines below capture the first thousand words of Tierney's article Engineer the Climate? (top) and the Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia. Width of each line indicates sentence length; bumps show words of three or more syllables. Which is the more difficult read?

The Tierney article is more difficult, at least by Gunning Fog Index, which suggests 18 years of education for Tierney (40% of 45: the words in the flattened sentence equivalent) and 12 years for Conan Doyle (40% of 30).

Visual FOG Explained

Gunning FOG Index scoring for the Sherlock Holmes tale Scandal in Bohemia.

Lines indicating the Gunning Fog Index score for the each of the first fifty sentences of Arthur Conan-Doyle's Scandal in Bohemia. Horizontal length of each line indicates sentence length. (Sentences are sorted by score.)
The Fog index bases its score on sentence length and the number of long words in a passage- more particularly, the percent of words of three or more syllables. The hills in Visual Fog are created by turning long words into their short-word equivalents.
These three sentences, for example, have the same Fog score, equivalent to that of a twenty-five word sentence without any long words:
His manner was not effusive.[5 words/1 word with more than two syllables]

He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. [20/1]

"How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girl?” [25/0]

Since these three sentences are Fog-equivalent*, the 3+ syllable word is equivalent to an additional twenty words for the five-word sentence, and to an additional five words for the twenty-word sentence.

*Fog equivalence would actually require each of these sentences to be the average, in terms of length and long words, for a larger passage.

Visual FOG: Writers Match Their Readers

Readers and writers post alike- at least for this selection of Times blogs. That is, those who read the long and complex sentences of Stanley Fish (far right) tend to comment with long and complex sentences; David Pogue (second from left) and readers use short, simple sentences.
More...Red triangles indicate the blog's main entry and black show reader comments. The top set of triangles indicates actual number and length of sentences, while the bottom set shows what the number and length of sentences might look like for same-length pieces.

Visual FOG: Times Blogs and the Classics

Writing patters (and suggested Gunning FOG Index grade level) for select Times blogs and classics.

Pairings highlight the match of writing style with subject matter: Pogue writes like the entertainer Dickens, Tierney like the scientist Darwin, and Stanley Fish like the academic Vitruvius.

Visual FOG: Tierney's Writing Getting More Complex

John Tierney's science articles remained the same length--about a thousand words--from 2007 to 2009 but the number of sentences in each has fallen significantly: from 40, or about 25 words per sentence, to 30, meaning over 30 words per sentence.