(Originally posted June 20, 2013)
This blog consists of questions brought about by my previous Fog Index blogs. My hope with this blog is to open you up to the vast cosmos of readability. This is a world where we understand one another because we are aware of what is being said or written.
Is the Gunning Fog Index the only readability tool available?
No, there are quite a few. I only settled on the Fog Index because this program is the one I use the most. The Pentagon several years back via Columbia University developed an excellent readability program. Their object was to streamline military messaging which had become bloated and confusion laden. Needless to say once the new program was put into practice, the results were like night and day. All of a sudden people at the Pentagon could actually understand what was going on.
- Linsear Write Formula is a readability program the United States Air Force developed so their technical manuals could be more easily read.
- China: Up until about four years ago, all manuals or instruction sheets that came out of China (with all the stuff they manufacture) read like bricks falling on the brain. The powers that be in China finally wised up and re- graded all specialized writing to the 7th grade level. Nowadays, manuals and technical writing from China won’t terrify you.
Here are some other readability programs:
- Coleman-Liau Index
- Automated Readability Index
- Flesch-Kincaid Index
- Flesch Reading Ease Formula
- The Smog Index.
The beauty part of all this is Google. Go there and you can find out all about these readability systems. If you like, you can go directly to http://gunning-fog-index.com. There you can cut and paste your passage and have an immediate readout of your level. You might be surprised at the rank of your writing.
Are we promoting dumbness by the use of such programs as The Fog Index?
Yes, in a way, but it’s due to Capitalism. You see, we live in a system that declares MONEY is the root of EVERYTHING. We teach many of our citizens to read just enough to part them from their money. During slavery times in the USA, it was against the law to teach a Black person to read. The logic was that slaves were born to work—not share in the Capitalistic/Free Market system. After slavery, the floodgates were opened and these “free” people were soon welcomed into the world of money. The Free Market readily embraced them for their potential purchasing power. Society didn’t give them much education—just enough to make them able to sign for credit. This has continued down to the present day where many people are educated just enough to sign for a credit card purchase (If such intrigues you, I suggest you read my book VIVA LA EVOLUCION. It delves into all this sort of stuff.) So, yes, bottom line—ignorance is bliss in the capitalistic world. Hence, dumbing down our writing so you can reach the most people and make the most money is the name of the game.
What about religion? Does The Fog Index fit in there somewhere?
Yes, absolutely. I have it on good authority from a retired minister that for a while, he didn’t enjoy much success with his sermons. He lowered his Fog Index to the 5th grade level and his church newsletter to the 7th grade level. He was amazed at how well both all of a sudden went over with his congregation. He quickly added that his parishioners were made up of well educated people. Then think of the TV evangelists. Their rants are probably at the fourth grade level and they’re swimming in money. Remember, Jesus is only a two-syllable word.
What about TV sit-coms and movies and Hollywood films? What level would you say they are?
First of all, most readability programs affirm that oral delivery has to be below the written. Mass appeal for the written is generally between the 7th and 8th grade levels. Action movies and sit-coms would have to be around the 5th grade level or they would have no audience at all. (I just saw yesterday a film entitled THIS IS THE END and in its first weekend of showing, it has recouped all of its production money. I am totally convinced this film is on the 3rd or 4th grade level. It has adults acting as though they are children—and naughty children at that. Well SUPERMAN in its first weekend brought in over a hundred million dollars. Go figure up The Fog Index!
Films that are talky and actually engage in social issues would hang out in the 9th grade level. That is flirting with disaster. At this level you have very little audience and only a trickle of money coming in at the box office. If you’re living in the world of aliens, zombies, vampires, adults acting like children and teen-agers getting it on for the first time, then it’s the 4th grade level for you for sure.
Why can’t we understand all words alike?
You would ask a technical question and make me have to move up to the 10th grade level. So here goes, Brainy. In applying communication practices, one basic principle is very important. You must adapt your exchange of ideas to the receivers of your writing. This is done though the mind’s filters. (Notice how much harder the 10th grade level is to read and understand in comparison to the 7th grade level of the other answers in this blog.)
Filters include everything the mind has retained from all the perceptions that have passed through it. No two minds have had the exact same experiences. Some have more education, some have more experience, some have both. Therefore, no two mind-filters are identical. When you engage in general-population correspondence, you must write to the filters that cover the largest percentage of people. That would fall between the 7th to 8th grades for reading and the 5th grade for oral. The chances are that the filters of your mind as a writer are more developed than the ordinary person’s. Don’t let your audience find that out the hard way or you’re lost in your quest to turn a buck out of them.
Therefore, the writer should for the sake of good communication present the message in elementary words and concepts. That will cause the filters of experience of your audience to kick in and make reading or listening an enjoyable and effortless task. (See, this answer is neither enjoyable nor effortless because it has too many three-syllable words and the sentences are longer. You’re going to have to read this answer TWICE to get any meaning out it.)
Proper readability results in a more positive attitude on the reader or listener’s part. Just bring on the sex filter and you’ll easily match the filters of most people alive. Perhaps you have been to Timbuktu. You loved the native food there with all the quaint names and exotic ingredients. You write an article covering such issues. Whoops, you just mismatched your filters with your audience. The chance is only one in a hundred that any of your audience has ever heard of Timbuktu, much less know where it is. So, match filters or lose your audience.
Now you’re all set to begin thinking about the writing process itself. We’ll explore that in the next blog. In the meantime, work on those filter levels.