The first year I began writing this blog, I authored two articles concerning The Fog Index. In them I described what The Fog Index was and how to use it effectively to your advantage.
The Fog Index (in case you weren’t with us in those early days of this blog or you don’t remember) is a way of measuring the intellectual level of what you have to say. Yes, a formula does exist for doing this. As I pointed out in those two earlier blogs, the normal level for successful communication is at the7th to 8th grade level. Even many college texts are only written at the 10th or 11th grade level. Very, very little contact between people these days is written or spoken at the 12th grade or college level.
Most sit coms on TV are written at the 5th or 6th grade level and most contact between people takes place at about the 6th or 7th grade level at best.
My goodness but after my two blogs appeared a year or so ago, I found I had opened a can of worms. Quite a few jaded comments came my way. People simply would not believe me. They thought they were quite in the right by composing cold and formal letters, books, articles and screenplays. They thought themselves brainy even though their writing output received very little profit or notice.
Most people acted as though I had made all of this up and that I was trying to put them down. I can assure you both are not true. I am merely the servant carrying the unwanted message. You can Google “Fog Index” and find all the facts about skillful communication.
Before you Google, let me basically refresh your memory. The core of the Fog Index depends on two things: how many three-or-more syllable words you use and the length of your sentences. From these two items, you can find out the level of your writing or speaking. (You should attempt to use very few three or more syllable words and the length of your sentence should only rarely exceed 16 words.)
The Gunning Fog Index Readability Formula, or simply called THE FOG INDEX, was devised by an American textbook publisher, Robert Gunning. He observed that most high school graduates were not able to read. Much of this reading crisis was due to how something was written.. His belief was that newspapers and business texts were full of “fog” and hard words.
How to judge the level of your writing:
- Take a sample of 100 words or so of your writing.
- Count the number of sentences.
- Divide the number of words by the number of sentences to get the average sentence length.
- Count the number of three or more syllable words (i.e. Fog words.) Do not count names of people or places or hyphenated words or words that become three syllable by the addition of –es, –ed or -ing.
- Divide the number of Fog words by the number of words in your passage, which will give you the percentage of Fog words.
- Add the average sentence length and the percentage of Fog words.
- Multiply the result by 0.4.
- The result is the grade level of your passage.
For the best writing or speaking, the Fog Index (grade level) should be grade 7 or 8. Anything at level 11 or above would be thought of as difficult for most people to read or understand or easily process.
The Bible, Shakespeare. Mark Twain, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine have a sixth grade level Fog Index. Time Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek have about an 11th grade Fog Index.
Most of my blogs as well as this one are written at the 7th grade level, which means they are fairly easy to read. Popular books are written at the 7th or 8th grade level. Most movies are written at the 6th to 8th grade level. Otherwise, people would drop off to sleep while watching them. Certain youth market films, sit coms and TV ads are written at the 6th grade level—and sit-coms many times will even instruct you when to laugh.
The Fog Index is an outgrowth of the work of Edward Bernays, who was an Austrian-American pioneer in the fields of public relations, propaganda, hype and the human herd instinct. One of his protégés was Dale Carnegie, the author of “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for Nazi Germany, stated that he used Bernays’ book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” as his basis for controlling the thinking of the German population.
Bernays combined the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Frenchman Gustave Le Bon and Brit Wilfred Trotter to come up with ways to control a crowd’s behavior. He felt such manipulation was not only possible but necessary in society. He therefore became the father of what is known today as Public Relations or how to manage the human herd instinct and group mind of a set of people.
Bernays during his lifetime helped industrialists sell their goods, helped politicians get elected and even helped change public opinion on political matters both nationally and internationally. One of his greatest accomplishments was in convincing the American public that it was okay for The United Fruit Company in tandem with the U. S. Government to overthrow the ruler of Guatemala to gain control of their banana market. It was he who coined the phrase “Banana Republic.” This brings us to the national election of 2016 in which we are presently embedded. Of all the people running for the office of president, only two seems to know of Bernays’ ideas and are practicing them.
The first person is Donald Trump. So many people at the moment are puzzled as to why he is so well-liked. It’s simple. He is in total charge of our “herd instinct” as crafted by Bernays. His Fog Index when speaking is never above grade 7. His sentences are short and he rarely uses three or more syllable words. Thus, even the totally uneducated (which he says he loves) can clearly understand him and thus enjoy him. He is at the moment the king of the human heard instinct.
The second is Hillary Clinton, She uses Bernays’ methods a lot but not to the extent Trump does. The reason she generally comes off better in debates and town halls is because she practices many of Bernays’ beliefs about expressing yourself. She generally speaks at a grade 8 to 9 level by making sure her sentences are not too long and watching her use of three-or-more syllable words.
Bernie Sanders apparently hasn’t heard of Bernays. He generally stays at about grade level 10 or 11. This means he is in danger of putting people to sleep or causing his listeners’ minds to wander. He has managed to gather large crowds but that is mainly due to a curiosity of his being a Socialist, playing Santa Claus and running Spring Break type meetings.
Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are at grade 9 to 11 and portray very little of Bernays. Most of their sentences are too long and peppered with too many three-syllable words. They definitely are not as easily understood as Trump or Hillary.
So, if you want more success in your writing or oral skills, you’d do well to make sure you are easily understood. To do that, you must conquer the Fog Index and follow as many of Bernays’ practices as possible.