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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 10:37 PM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample text comes from an August 25 NewYorker.com piece ("Inside the Fight Over Bitcoin's Future" by Maria Bustillos). Please note that we have italicized the words with 3+ syllables, per Fog-Gunning criteria, that we've included in our calculations. We will do this in future issues as well.

Here's the sample text:

"Prior to the release, a block-size debate had been blazing for months on Bitcoin forums. Opponents of an increase argued, for instance, that mining larger blocks would require more computing power, thereby discouraging small operators in favor of the massive mining farms that have gradually concentrated the network into fewer and fewer hands. It was widely feared, as well, that a serious disagreement among the core developers might further destabilize public faith in Bitcoin. Those in favor of an increase contended that "forking" -- creating a competing version of a program in response to diverging aims -- is the very essence of open-source software development."

--Word count: 103 words
--Average sentence length: 26 words (15, 38, 21, 29)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (11/103 words)
--Fog Index: (26+11)*.4 = 14 (14.8, no rounding)

We need to shave at least three points from the Fog score to fall within ideal Fog-Gunning range. With over 100 words split into just 4 sentences, we're left with a high average sentence length. Let's see if we can cut some of the Fog:

"Prior to the release, a block-size debate had been blazing for months on Bitcoin forums. Opponents of an increase argued that mining larger blocks would entail more computing power. This, in turn, would discourage small operators in favor of the massive mining farms that are consolidating the network into fewer and fewer hands. It was also widely feared that dissent among the core developers might further weaken public faith in Bitcoin. Those in favor of an increase contended that "forking"--creating a competing version of a program in response to diverging aims--is the very essence of open-source software progress."

--Word count: 100 words
--Average sentence length: 20 words (15, 14, 24, 18, 29)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/100 words)
--Fog Index: (20+5)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

The most powerful change we made was splitting the second sentence in two. However, equally important were recastings that removed longer words. We didn't have to do much to bring our average sentence length down by 5 points and our percentage of longer words down by over half.

Correction for the July issue: Last month, we featured an excerpt that required a single punctuation change (changing an en dash to a period) to bring down the Fog score by a few points. The excerpted text we ran at the beginning of the article was our corrected version, with the punctuation change already implemented. We apologize for this error.

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