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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 8:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from TheAtlantic.com.

This month’s Fog Index sample text comes from a December 26 article on TheAtlantic.com ("A Field Guide for the Entire 21st Century" by Robinson Meyer). Here’s the excerpt we’re analyzing, with longer words in italics:

"So it was distressing, this holiday season, to learn that the eastern goldfinch could soon depart the Garden State, at least for half the year. If global temperatures rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2080, the goldfinch’s summer range will no longer include any part of New Jersey, according to the National Audubon Society. So, too, will the goldfinch exit Iowa, where it is also the state bird. In fact, many state birds could soon fly their domiciles: the yellowhammer from Alabama, the purple finch from New Hampshire, the ruffled grouse from Pennsylvania. The official birds of Georgia, Idaho, and Utah will all see their ranges shrink dramatically in those states."

--Word count: 110 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (25, 28, 14, 25, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 6 percent (7/110 words)
--Fog Index (22+6) * .4 = 11 (11.2, no rounding)

The Fog Index of this sample is 11. An ideal Fog-Gunning score is below 12, so this sample falls within the desired range. As we’ve noted in previous issues, scientific writing is difficult to keep clear of fog. In a publication such as the Atlantic, science writers need to convey technical information so that it makes sense to lay readers. This piece gets the job done because it breaks often to let the reader digest information before continuing. It also keeps jargon to a minimum, which keeps the percentage of longer words low. Many of the longer words (i.e,. 3+ syllables) are proper nouns, which don’t factor into the Fog-Gunning longer word count.

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