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SMOG Readability Formula

The SMOG[1] formula is a recommended[2] and tested[3] method for grading the readability of written materials. The method is quick, simple to use and particularly useful for shorter materials, e.g., a study's information pamphlet or consent form. To calculate the SMOG reading level, begin with the entire written work being assessed and follow these steps:

  1. Count off 10 consecutive sentences near the beginning, in the middle, and near the end of the text. If the text has fewer than 30 sentences, use as many as are provided.
  2. Count the number of words containing 3 or more syllables (polysyllabic), including repetitions of the same word.
  3. Look up the approximate grade level on the SMOG conversion table below:
Total Polysyllabic
Word Count
Approximate Grade Level
(+1.5 Grades)
1-6
5
7-12
6
13-20
7
21-30
8
31-42
9
43-56
10
57-72
11
73-90
12
91-110
13
111-132
14
133-156
15
157-182
16
183-210
17
211-240
18

 

When using the SMOG formula:

  • A sentence is defined as a string of words punctuated with a period, an exclamation mark, or a question mark. Consider long sentences with a semi-colon as two sentences.
  • Hyphenated words are considered as one word.
  • Numbers which are written should be counted. If written in numeric form, they should be pronounced to determine if they are polysyllabic.
  • Proper nouns, if polysyllabic, should be counted.
  • Abbreviations should be read as though unabbreviated to determine if they are polysyllabic. However, abbreviations should be avoided unless commonly known.
  • If the written piece being graded is shorter than 30 sentences, approach it as follows:
    • Count all of the polysyllabic words in the test.
    • Count the number of sentences.
    • Find the average number of polysyllabic words per sentence, i.e.:
      Total # of polysyllabic words
      Average = Total # of sentences
    • Multiply that average by the average number of sentences short of 30.
    • Add that figure on to the total number of polysyllabic words.
    • Compare the number of polysyllabic words in the SMOG conversion table.


Spanish Readability Formulas

Crawford, A.N. (March 1984). A Spanish language Fry type readability procedure: Elementary level. Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Paper Series, Evaluation Dissemination and Assessment Center, California State University, Los Angeles, 7:1-17.

Garcia, W.F. (1976). Assessing readability for Spanish as a second language: The Fry graph and cloze procedure. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Gilliam, B., Pena, S.C., and Mountain, L. (1980). "The Fry graph applied to Spanish readability." The Reading Teacher, 33:426-430.

Spaulding, S. (1956). "A Spanish Readability formula." The Modern Language Journal. 40:433-441.

Spaulding, S. (1951). "Two formulas for estimating the reading difficulty of Spanish." Educational Research Bulletin, 30:117-124

Acknowledgment
Thanks to Dr. Mary S. Neumann, DHAP, NCHSTP, for her research of SMOG and her assistance based on her wide use of the method to improve the readability of materials produced by CDC or through CDC grant support. Thanks also for her research of the Spanish language formulas which appear in the guide "Developing Effective Educational Print Materials" which she authored with the TEB, DSTDP, NCHSTP.


Readable Replacement Words/Phrases for Polysyllabic Terms Common to CDC Consent Forms

Common Polysyllabic
Terms in CDC Consents
Possible Replacement
Words/Phrases
Additional information about
Other facts about/more facts about
Allowing
Letting
Blood will be collected
Blood will be taken
By agreeing
If you agree
By telephone
By phone
Comparison group
A group used to compare results
Commonly
Most often
Compensate
Repay
Confidential/Sensitive
Private
Consider
Think about
Continue/Continued
Keep on going/Kept on going
Convenient
Handy
Currently receiving
Now getting
Decision
Choice
Deleted
Erased
Description
A statement which describes
Determine whether
Learn if
Developed
Put in place
Directly
In a direct way
Discomfort
Worry/woe/aches/soreness
Discover/Discovered
Find/found
Educational background
Level of schooling
Enrolling
Joining/being in
Entitled to otherwise
Have a right to receive apart from this
Especially
Mainly
Evidence of
Signs of/proof of
Explanation
A statement which explains
Exposure to 
Risk of getting
For example
For instance
For study purposes
To carry out the study
However
But/yet
Implemented
Put in place
In addition
Also
Including
Along with
Infected with the
Having/with the
Information
Facts
Injury
Harm
Interested in
Would like to know about
In this community
Around here
Make it possible to
Allow us to
Medical record
Health record
Monitor
Check on
Participate/participating
Be in/being in
Participation in
Being part of
Permitted
Allowed
Physician
Doctor
Pregnancy outcomes
Birth outcomes
Previous studies
Studies done before
Previously unrecognized virus
Virus we did not know about
Recently discovered
Before now
Protected
Kept private
Provide explanations for
Explain why
Provided/providing
Given/giving
Questionnaire
Survey form
Ramifications
Problems/results/outcomes
Receive
Get
Regulations
Rules
Relevant
Tied in with
Researchers/scientists
People doing the study
Schedule an appointment
Set a time
Several
Some/a few/a number of
Specimens
Samples
Sexual behaviors
Types of sex
Sexually transmitted diseases
VD or STDs
Study Coordinator
The person who leads the study
Substantial
Large/big
Suggested
Pointed to
Thank you for volunteering to be in
Thank you, we are glad that you agreed to be in
The information we collect
What you tell us
To the extent legally permissible
To the extent allowed by law
Transmitted
Passed on to other people
Understand
Learn/see
Your understanding of
What you know about

 

1. Developed by Harold C. McGraw, Office of Educational Research, Baltimore County Schools, Towson, MD.

2. Doak, Cecilia C., Leonard G. Doak, and Jane H. Root (1995). Teaching Patients with Low Literacy Skills. New York: J.B. Lippincott Co. 36-59.

3. Ibid: page 59 cites a 1979-81 test of the method conducted by Patient Learning Associates, Inc., of Potomac, Maryland, in which the SMOG formula performed exceptionally when used to grade materials presented to 291 individuals graded by accepted methods as having reading levels between the 4th and 16th grades.

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