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The Fog Index

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Assessing the readability of a NYTimes.com article.

This month, we assess the readability of an August 25, 2011, NYTimes.com article ("Vaccine Cleared Again as Autism Culprit," by Gardiner Harris):

For instance, recent studies have found that many of the children who suffered seizures and lifelong problems after receiving the whole-cell pertussis vaccine, which is no longer used but once routinely caused fevers in children, actually had Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. The flood of lawsuits over the effects of the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was the reason Congress created the national vaccine injury compensation program in the first place, and children who suffered seizures after getting this vaccine have been among the most well-compensated.

--Word count: 86
--Average sentence length: 43 words
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (8/86 words)
--Fog Index (43+9)*.4 = 20 (no rounding)

The clear culprit here is sentence length. Our 86-word sample consists of just two sentences that yield an average sentence length of 43 words. Let's see if we can break these sentences up to improve the Fog score.

For instance, the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was once blamed for seizures in children. Congress created the national vaccine injury compensation program in response to a flood of lawsuits involving the vaccine. These cases have been among the most well-compensated by the program. However, recent studies have shown that the seizures resulted from a form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.

--Word count: 59
--Average sentence length: 15 words
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (6/62 words)
--Fog Index (15 +10)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

Not only were we able to trim the word count by nearly one-third, but we also rearranged the elements of the sentence for improved clarity. Thus, we cut our Fog score in half.

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