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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:46 PM

Assessing the readability of a Gizmodo.com excerpt.

This week's Fog Index sample comes from a May 28 Gizmodo.com article ("Confronted by Drones, Monkeys Warn Comrades of Incoming 'Eagle'" by George Dvorsky)

"It didn't take long for the monkeys to identify an incoming drone by its sound alone. When a drone neared, the green monkeys emitted a vocalization the researchers had never heard before in the species. Analysis of the recordings, however, showed that the sounds were practically identical to the eagle warning calls produced by their cousins, the vervet monkeys. This similarity suggests green monkeys have retained this hard-wired warning message in their DNA over evolutionary time. Accordingly, it can be considered a vestigial trait, in that the eagle alarm call was acquired and used by a shared ancestor common to green and vervet monkeys."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 21 words (16, 19, 24, 17, 28)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (13/104 words)
--Fog Index (21+13)* .4 = 13 (13.6, no rounding)

How can we shave 2 points off the slightly elevated Fog Index of 13? Cutting through the Fog in scientific writing can be challenging. We need to trim language without trimming facts. We need to adjust wording without changing meaning. In this case, there isn't a glaring culprit, so we'll need to edit on multiple fronts.

"It didn't take long for the monkeys to detect an incoming drone by its sound alone. When a drone neared, the green monkeys emitted a vocalization the researchers had never heard before in the species. Analysis of the recordings, however, showed that the sounds were nearly identical to the eagle warning calls produced by their cousins, the vervet monkeys. This similarity suggests green monkeys have retained this hard-wired warning message in their DNA over evolutionary time. The eagle alarm call was acquired and used by a shared ancestor common to green and vervet monkeys. Therefore, it can be considered a vestigial trait."

--Word count: 102 words
--Average sentence length: 17 words (16, 19, 24, 17, 18, 8)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/102 words)
--Fog Index (17+10)* .4 = 10 (10.8, no rounding)

We were able to cut 3 longer words from the sample, which got us part of the way there. But we were still left with a Fog Index of 12 at that point in the editing. We turned our focus to sentence length and found that the last sentence could split into two if we rearranged the information for improved flow. The effort paid off. That minor recasting of copy cut the Fog by an additional 2 points and brought us well below the threshold of 12.

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