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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a NewYorker.com article ("Stargazing" by Richard Brody). Here's the excerpt:

"Anyone who has ever had the privilege of spending even a little time with notable actors (a frequent element of journalism) sees them being approached by strangers, noticed by strangers, or very deferentially yet conspicuously not noticed by strangers. Life in the spotlight is inseparable from the mere fact of being recognized -- and, all the more, for being recognized with adulation and fascination. Yet the intrusion of paparazzi raises the distortion to another level -- we know, from ordinary snapshots, that anyone can come out looking insane or foolish or menacing at offhand instants in daily life, but only the star, whose livelihood depends on public opinion, risks being harmed by the exposure and publication of their unguarded moments."

Word count: 120 words
--Average sentence length: 40 words (39, 25, 56)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 17 percent (20/120 words)
--Fog Index: (40+17)*.4 = 22 (no rounding)

While the number of longer words is on the high side, it's the average sentence length that's really weighing down this sample. Can we split up some of the longer ones? Let's find out:

"Anyone who has ever spent time with famous actors (a frequent part of journalism) sees how the public treats them. Strangers approach them, notice them, or try not to look like they're noticing them. Fan recognition and fascination are a given for stars in the spotlight, but the paparazzi distorts them. We know from photos that anyone can come out looking crazy or menacing at offhand times in daily life. But only stars, whose success depends on public opinion, risk harm from the exposure of their unguarded moments."

Word count: 88 words
--Average sentence length: 18 words (20, 14, 17, 19, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (6/88 words)
--Fog Index: (18+7)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We edited this sample rather heavily to bring down the Fog score. We trimmed the total word count by 25 percent (from 120 to 90). We also reduced the average sentence length and number of longer words by more than half.

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