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Are You Failing the Readability Test?

A top city law firm recently conducted a customer satisfaction survey asking clients to comment on the quality of their contract drafting service. Not surprisingly, the general consensus was that the contracts were overly wordy and too complex for a layperson to read.  

Evidence points to the fact that this is all too often the case and if you have ever read and reread a contract in an effort to understand what your legal rights and obligations actually are, perhaps you should try applying the Fog Index.
The Gunning Fog Index Readability Formula was devised by Robert Gunning, an American textbook publisher. Gunning was of the opinion that business documents were full of “fog” and unnecessary complexity, and in 1944 he founded a consulting firm specialising in readability. In 1952 he published his book, The Technique of Clear Writing and devised a simple formula to measure the readability of text – the Fog Index. It works like this:
  1. Choose a passage or clause of 100 to 200 words from one of your contracts
  2. Find the average number of words per sentence (divide the number of words by the number of sentences
  3. Find the percentage of words with three syllables or more, ignoring names and words ending in –es, -ed, -ing or –ly
  4. Add the results from steps 2 and 3 and multiply the sum by 0.4
The resulting number indicates the number of year’s education you would need to understand the written passage! Professional writers aim for a reading range of 7 to 12 – higher than this and the readability is likely to be poor. 
Try running some of your standard documentation through the Fog Index – if the result is high, perhaps it’s time you reviewed your contracts to ensure that their meaning is clear and concise and, more importantly, says what you think it says. 
In a dispute, ambiguous contract wording will almost always be held against the writer.


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