« Shaking Up the Editorial Chain of Command | Home | Useful Set of Lessons in Print »

The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month, we assess the Fog Index of an excerpt from a November 23 NewYorker.com article ("Do People Notice Food Labels?" by Lauren Etter). Here's the sample:

"It's too early to know whether consumers' reactions to the new meat labels will resemble their reactions to other kinds of labels; there is, of course, a difference between touting that your coffee was grown by people who were fairly compensated and explaining that your American-seeming steak is really a Canadian citizen. But perhaps the meat industry should be less worried about how people will respond to origin labels. As much as we say we want more details about products, it seems that many of us care most of all about a kind of label that long preceded these newfangled ones: the price tag."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 35 words (52, 17, 35)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/104 words)
--Fog Index: (35+10)*.4 = 18 (no rounding)

Our Fog Index is quite high at 18. What might have inflated the score? At first glance, sentence length looks like the main culprit. The first sentence alone weighs in at 52 words, half the total word count. Let's see what we can do to cut down on the fog.

"Will consumers react to the new meat labels as they do to other kinds of labels? It's too early to know. There is, of course, a difference between touting that your coffee was grown by people who were paid fairly and explaining that your 'American' steak is really from Canada. But perhaps the meat industry should be less worried about how people will respond to source labels. As much as we say we want more details about products, many of us seem to care most about a different kind of label that has been around much longer than these newfangled ones: the price tag."

--Word count: 104 words
--Average sentence length: 21 words (16, 5, 29, 17, 37)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/104 words)
--Fog Index: (21+5)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We initially set out to break this down into smaller sentences. We achieved this by turning the hefty first sentence into a question, a short answer, and a longer third sentence. We also tightened syntax here and there to improve flow in our "newfangled" version. The result is a Fog score that has been reduced by 8 points.

Add your comment.

« Shaking Up the Editorial Chain of Command | Top | Useful Set of Lessons in Print »