Original Publication May 30, 2013
The art of WRITING means getting something from your brain onto a piece of paper or, in these present times, onto a computer screen. Even so, the printed page is still king. Screenplays may be written on a computer but when they are given to actors, they come in manuscript form. Novels for the most part these days are written on a computer but their sales are in paper back, hard back and e-book forms. Kindle and Nook are doing quite a business in screening books these days.
The heart of WRITING is READABILITY. This means your job as an author is to provide writing that can be easily followed by a reader or an actor. Readers want to progress fairly quickly through what you have written and actors must be able to instantly translate what you have written into spoken speech. This demands that you have good readability.
Therefore, the most important part of writing is its readability. You may wonder if this is a god-given talent or if there is someway you can control it. The answer is the latter.
This brings us to something called THE GUNNING FOG INDEX. This is a test that will tell you at what level you are writing. Are you writing at the fourth grade level, the eighth grade, the tenth grade, a senior in high school or at the university level? With the Fog Index, you can find out the level of your writing and adjust it. Sounds neat, huh?
First of all, let’s look at some readability levels. Such magazines as Reader’s Digest are written at the eighth grade level. Time magazine is at the freshman college level. Most college text books are written at the senior high school level with a Fog Index of 12. Some are written at level 10.
Your target audience shows the level of the Fog Index you want to achieve. For the general public to be your goal, you have to be below the eighth grade level. That means most popular fiction is written at that level so it is very easy to read. Most sit-coms, movies and TV shows are for sure below the eighth grade level. The Fog Index is highly used in the publishing business and Hollywood.
This week you will learn how to use The Fog Index. You will quickly learn if your writing is matching or not matching your intended target audience.
HERE IS HOW THE FOG INDEX WORKS:
- Select a passage of around 100 words that you have written.
- Model: In this blog, I took the first 116 words, which includes the first paragraph and two sentences of the second paragraph.
- Find out the average length of your sentences. You do this by counting the number of sentences in your passage and dividing it into 100 (or the exact number of words of your selected passage). The result is the Average Sentence Length.
- Model: I have 7 sentences in the 116 word passage I selected. I divide 116 by 7 to get the average length of my sentences. The result is 17, the average length of my sentences.
- Count the number of Complex Words in your passage. These are words of three or more syllables. (Note that you do not count the following: proper names, common slang words, or –es, -ed, -ly or –ing. Count each complex word only once even though you may have used it several times.)
- Model: In my selected passage I have 3 complex words.
- Add the Average Sentence Length with the number of Complex Words.
- Model: Add 16 plus 3 which equals 19.
- Multiply the total by 0.4. This will give you the Fog Index of your passage.
- Model: Multiply 19 by 0.4. This will equal 7.6. This means that I am writing my blogs at the high seventh grade level. I am writing for the general public and not a special audience.
You will now be able to know your writing level. Most of us want to hit that eighth grade level or seventh grade level if we want to have a wide group of people in our audience. IMPORTANT: Remember, easy readability is the goal if you’re writing to the broad public. For them, you write to express—not impress!
The Fog Index was developed by Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952.
In the next blog you will learn how to adjust your Fog Index to your needs as a writer. Begin right now checking all of your writing with the Fog Index. Most publishers and Hollywood people do, so be on their same playing field. Good writing.