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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 10:44 PM

Assessing the readability of a TheAtlantic.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index text comes from an article in the October 2019 issue of The Atlantic ("Whale Songs Are Getting Deeper" by Rebecca Giggs).

"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, meanwhile, may indirectly influence whale voices in other ways. Recent monitoring of Antarctic blue whales shows that, during the austral summer, their pitch rises. Researchers have hypothesized that in warmer months, the whales must use their forte volume to be heard amid the cracking ice -- a natural sound amplified by unnatural processes, as rising temperatures exacerbate ice-melt. So the impacts of a warming planet may modulate animal sounds even in remote places with barely any humans, and where the most thunderous notes come not from ships, but from the clatter of breaking ice."

--Word count: 98 words
--Average sentence length: 25 words (14, 15, 33, 36)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 15 percent (15/98 words)
--Fog Index (25+15)* .4 = 16 (16.0, no rounding)

We need to cut 5 points' worth of Fog from this paragraph. But we also don't want to cull any information that is essential to the reader's understanding. A quick glance at the numbers tells us that we have a lot of words in just a few sentences, and 15 percent of the words contain 3 or more syllables. Let's get to editing:

"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, meanwhile, may indirectly affect whale voices in other ways. Recent monitoring of Antarctic blue whales shows that, during the austral summer, their pitch rises. Researchers think that in warmer months the whales must use their forte volume to be heard amid the cracking ice. This natural sound is amplified by unnatural processes, as rising temperatures heighten ice-melt. So the impacts of a warming planet may alter animal sounds even in remote places with barely any humans, where the most booming notes come not from ships but from the clatter of breaking ice."

--Word count: 97 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (14, 15, 20, 13, 35)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/97 words)
--Fog Index (19+10)* .4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

It didn't take much, but we got there. We ran into two challenges of note while editing: (1) We could not change the longer words "natural" and "unnatural" in what became the fourth sentence. The juxtaposition between the two is the heart of the sentence. (2) We couldn't split up the last sentence, a hefty 35 words even after our edit. The two clauses are too closely linked to separate. So that left us to substitute longer words where we could and divide the original third sentence (33 words) into two (20 and 13). Those modest changes brought the Fog Index down from 16 to 11.

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