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The Fog Index

Posted on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorkTimes.com excerpt.

This month, we assess the readability of an excerpt from the December 14, 2009, online edition of the New York Times ("Citigroup Reaches Deal to Repay Bailout Billions," by Eric Dash and Jeff Zeleny):

"To help replenish its coffers, Citigroup expects to raise about $17 billion by selling stock as early as this week and issue up to $7.2 billion in other capital by the first quarter of next year. The moves will leave the bank with one of the largest capital cushions of the major banks, assuaging regulators' concerns about its ability to weather another severe downturn without returning to the government for help. The plan also should help Citigroup shed the stigma that came with accepting bailout money and remove the harsh compensation restrictions imposed on banks that received multiple bailouts."

The sample in question contains 99 words. The average sentence length is 33 words. The percentage of words three syllables or greater is 12 (after omitting the exceptions: capitalized words, combinations of short words like "wrongdoing" and "buttermilk," and verbs that have three syllables because of an "-es" or "-ed" ending). Adding 33 and 12 gives us 45. Multiply 45 by 0.4 to arrive at a Fog Index of 18 (no rounding).

If you remember our past Fog Index calculations, you'll know that the ideal excerpt has a Fog Index of less than 12. So why did this excerpt yield such a high number? In this case, the average sentence length, 33 words, is quite high. Trimming these sentences, or perhaps even splitting up some of them, would yield a lower average sentence length and, therefore, a lower Fog score.

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