Plain Words
Training Bulletin
issue 8

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Editor Recommends:

The Techniques of Clear Writing by Robert Gunning

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Training Bulletin Issue 8

Welcome to the eighth issue of The Training Bulletin. In this issue, we talk about fog. No, not that stuff that’s outside the window at this time of year but the ‘fog’ in our writing. Check out Editor Recommends at the foot of this email for more information on how to ‘de-mist’ your prose.

Is Your Writing Foggy?

Your prose might be grammatically correct, but how readable is it?

Determining the readability of a piece of writing is usually an entirely subjective assessment – what one person regards as being easy to read could be totally incomprehensible to someone else.

One man, however, was convinced that there was a better, more objective approach to assessing readability. His name was Robert Gunning and he is widely regarded as the world’s first ‘Readability Consultant’.

Bemused by the inability of American high school students to even read the newspapers, Gunning took the view that it was the newspapers that needed educating. In his opinion, too many of them used complex, “hi falutin’” language which alienated their less well-educated readers. He wrote: “The problem was grave indeed, but it was apparent to me that much of the reading problem was a writing problem. The writing in newspapers and daily business was full of fog and unnecessary complexity. No wonder it gave the average reader trouble.”

So, Gunning devised the ‘Fog Index’, a simple points-based system to measure readability. He used it to advise the editorial staff at some of America’s most prestigious publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

The Fog Index is a score that represents the educational grade of reading skill that a passage or document requires to be understood easily. For example:

Is it possible to measure the ‘readability’ of a document using points-based systems like Gunning’s Fog index? Opinions differ! Some establishments swear by them. Others say that it is impossible to rate a document in this way and that the only sensible way to evaluate a document for readability is to test it on real people.

We believe that both automated scores and ‘real’ people tests have their place. That’s why we have developed a standard scoring method that uses both. We evaluate a document for 10 key writing skills. Some are automatically gathered by analysing word length, sentence length, etc. The remainder are assessed by an experienced writer, bearing in mind the purpose of the document and its intended readership. We use this method to compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ samples to show the effectiveness of writing skills training. As each key skill is graded separately as well as an overall grading, both the delegates and the trainer can see which skills the training needs to focus on.

To find out more about our quantitative evaluation process call us on 01635 202013.

Find out more about the Gunning Fog Index –

Editor recommends

Gunning wrote two highly acclaimed books on writing, The Techniques of Clear Writing and Take the Fog out of Writing. These are now out of print, but you may be able to find copies at or

Another good book which advocates simple writing is by the American journalist, William Zinsser. It’s called On Writing Well and is available on Amazon at The first part of the book recommends writers to be brief and clear and omit ‘clutter’. He then covers how to choose your words carefully, and develop a unity of approach and subject matter. The third part of the book deals with different forms of writing – such as reportage, interviews, travel writing, scientific writing, business and even sports. Although these chapters are aimed at aspiring journalists there is still much that we can all learn to improve our business writing.

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

Public course schedule

The price is £425 + VAT per person for a one-day intensive course and £795 + VAT for a two-day workshop.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call 01635 202013 for details.

To book, call Abi on 01635 202013 ext 28 or use the booking form.