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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 9:42 AM

Assessing the readability of a Mediabistro.com article.

This month, we assess the Fog Index of a December 16 article from Mediabistro.com ("New Union-Tribune Owner Defends 'Cheerleader' Journalism" by Matthew Fleischer):

"The obvious distinction these two should have made, even it [sic] was only lip service, was that there is a difference between the paper's editorial pages and its news pages. News is news, editorial is for cheerleading. Manchester seemed like he was going to go there, but then backed off and spoke generically of news stories he remembers seeing that he thought should have taken different angles. The fact that this distinction was never clearly outlined last night tells us one of two things: either Manchester and Lynch have absolutely zero media savvy (as this is what every media watcher in Southern California has been waiting to hear) or they're so against the idea of newsroom independence they're willing to publicly torch the credibility of their paper."

--Word count: 126
--Average sentence length: 32 words (29, 7, 30, 60)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 15 percent (19/126 words)
--Fog Index: (32+15)*.4 = 18 (18.8, no rounding)

What weighs down this sample is sentence length. While we have a fairly modest percentage of longer words, the mean sentence length is 32 words. Let's see if we can bring our score below 12:

"These two should have made it clear that the paper's editorial and news pages differ. News is news; editorial is for cheerleading. It seemed like Manchester was going to make this distinction last night, but he backed off. Instead, he spoke vaguely of stories he thought should have taken different angles. Either Manchester and Lynch have zero media savvy (as this is what every media watcher in southern California has been waiting to hear), or they're so opposed to newsroom freedom they're willing to damage their own paper's credibility."

--Word count: 89
--Average sentence length: 18 words (15, 7, 16, 13, 38)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (8/89 words)
--Fog Index: (18+9)*.4 = 10 (10.8, no rounding)

The bulk of our work involved trimming word count (from 126 to 89) and dividing longer sentences. We were able to cut the mean sentence length nearly in half, and we were able to reduce the percentage of longer words by one-third. These edits reduced the Fog Index from 18.8 to 10.8, a full eight points.

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