William Shakespeare, Mark Twain and The Gunning Fog Index

In this article I would like to introduce you to the Gunning Fog index, which you might find helpful in your speech writing.

What do William Shakespeare and Mark Twain have in common with simple speech writing?

The answer is that they wrote in language that people in the street understand.

Too often, people write speeches that grandstand their knowledge of the English language or of their chosen topic rather than thinking about their audience. And the simple truth is that most audiences are not filled to the seams with English literature post graduates or people who know your chosen field in the depth that you do.

The purpose of public speaking (& report writing) is to impart information and (although not always the case) to persuade your audience to take some sort of action. Whether this is a lecture, a church sermon, a sales pitch, an inspirational or motivational speech or a political manifesto.

If that is your purpose then you must communicate with your audience in language that they understand. That means no jargon, no abbreviations, and simple language.

The Gunning Fog Index was developed by Robert Gunning in 1952.

• It gives the number of years of education that your reader hypothetically needs to understand the paragraph or text.

The Gunning Fog Index formula implies that short sentences written in plain English achieve a better score than long sentences written in complicated language.

Calculating Your Fog Index


“SINCE John Snow, a rail-company boss, was picked this week to replace Paul O’Neill as America’s treasury secretary, the talk in economic and financial circles has been all about the effect his appointment might have on economic policymaking. Among staffers at the Federal Reserve, though, much of the gossip continues to be about when-and whether-they themselves will get a new boss. The central bank’s current chairman, Alan Greenspan, has been in the job since 1987; his current term expires in 2004. So, along with many Fed-watchers, insiders want to know whether Mr Greenspan will, if he seeks to, be reappointed.”


• Number of words = 102

• Number of sentences = 4

• Average sentence length = 102/4 = 25 words

• Number of “big words” = 9 /102 = 9%

• Fog Index = (25 + 9) * 0.4 = 13.6

• The ideal score for readability with the Fog index is 7 or 8.

• Anything above 12 is too hard for most people to read.

• For instance, The Bible, Shakespeare and Mark Twain have Fog Indexes of around 6.

• The leading magazines, like Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal average around 11.

The underlying message of The Gunning Fog Index formula is that short sentences written in Plain English achieve a better score than long sentences written in complicated language.

Remember that speech writing, business communication and report writing is all about imparting information and getting action. If you use plain English your audience will understand what you are about and your message is more likely to get the results you want.

Source by Christopher John Green

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