How to write simply and effectively
The authors of the world's top-selling nonfiction book of 1999, The Learning Revolution, say new learning ideas are
being held back by sloppy writing.
And co-authors Gordon Dryden and Dr. Jeannette Vos show readers
how to write anything much more effectively and simply. They say the
simplest way is to use small words instead of big ones (cuts,
bruises and scratches instead of lacerations, contusions and
abrasions), to reduce the length of sentences and to write in the
They summarize this method of checking your fog index:
Reader's Digest, has a fog index of between 8 and 9. Time magazine's
fog index is 11. If yours is over 13, you are hard to read.
- Count how many words you use in an average sentence.
- To do that, check any 100 words you have written – in a
report or letter.
- Divide that 100 by the number of sentences used.
- Then count how many "complex" words you use for
every 100 words you have written (a "complex" word is
one with three syllables or more – not counting words with
- Add the two totals together, and then take four-tenths of the
total. That is your "fog index".
- For example, if you average 20 words to each sentence, and ten
complex words in each 100, your total is 30. Four-tenths of that
is 12. That is your fog index.
The Learning Revolution's fog index is generally between 8 and 10.
The co-authors cite former British Prime Winston Churchill as a
model. He "hurled words into battle": "We shall go on
to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight in the seas and
oceans. We shall fight on the beaches, in the fields, in the
streets, and in the hills. We shall never surrender." That has
a fog index of 3.2.
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