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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, December 29, 2018 at 12:08 AM

Assessing the readability of an NYTimes.com excerpt.

This month's sample text comes from a December 26 NYTimes.com essay ("One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine" by Steven Strogatz). Here's the excerpt, with longer words in italics:

"The details of AlphaZero's achievements and inner workings have now been formally peer-reviewed and published in the journal Science this month. The new paper addresses several serious criticisms of the original claim. (Among other things, it was hard to tell whether AlphaZero was playing its chosen opponent, a computational beast named Stockfish, with total fairness.) Consider those concerns dispelled. AlphaZero has not grown stronger in the past twelve months, but the evidence of its superiority has. It clearly displays a breed of intellect that humans have not seen before, and that we will be mulling over for a long time to come."

Word count: 102 words
Average sentence length: 17 words (21, 11, 23, 4, 17, 26)
Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (11/102 words)
Fog Index: (17+11) *.4 = 11 (11.2, no rounding)

This sample surprised us. Often when we have a sample that falls within ideal range, we know going in that our score will be below 12. The sentences tend to be short, and there are few longer words to skew the score upward. In this case, though, the writing has some heft. We have 6 sentences that vary considerably in length, from 4 to 26 words. This technique gives the writing a nice rhythm when read aloud. (See Peter Jacobi's column in this issue for more on reading your writing aloud.)

We also have a proportionate percentage of longer words. In many cases, samples with longer-word percentages greater than 10 land outside ideal Fog territory. Here the percentage is 11. This contributes to the ideal Fog Index of 11. We don't need to edit anything here for our purposes; there is no Fog to cut through.

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