Simplify, simplify: Gunning Fog

    Simplify, Simplify: Gunning Fog Index

Have you ever had to explain your work in a way that makes sense to everyone, not just experts?

Leaders often struggle with this – trying to share their ideas without confusing people. When you’re really good at what you do, talking about it in a way that everyone understands can be tricky.


Luckily, there’s a tool that can help with this: The Gunning Fog Index.

It’s like a heat mapping tool that shows you dense or overly complex language. The Index gives leaders a way to anticipate how clearly they’re communicating to non-technical people.

The Gunning Fog Index is a simple but strong tool that tests how hard your text is to read. Created by Robert Gunning in 1952, the index looks at a few key indicators:

– Sentence length
– How many big (multi syllabic) words you use
– Level of difficulty as a piece of reading

The lower the index, the easier it is to understand. It’s a great way to practice taking a message – or a whole presentation – from complicated tech talk to plain speech.

For example, if your Gunning Fog Index is 12, a high school graduate (post-Grade 12) can readily get what you’re saying.

If you want your audience to grasp your material even more easily, aim for an Index of 8, as do many news outlets.

In the online tool, you can cut and paste your text or a single paragraph to find your score and see your complex words highlighted. For example, I revised this post from an index of 12 closer to 8, so it could be easier to read.

Speakers can change how they write their content to match who they’re talking to.

However, making your Gunning Fog score better isn’t about making your message less intelligent. It’s about being smarter about how you say it.

Short sentences with simple words help people focus on what you’re saying. Not on figuring out what you mean.

Think about people like legendary investor Warren Buffett- he talks in a way that’s easy to understand.  “Anything you invest in yourself, you get back tenfold. Nobody can tax it away; they can’t steal it from you.”

How about a tech leader? Like climate tech founder Leah Ellis of Sublime Systems, a pioneer in carbon-neutral cement.

“We have come up with a way of avoiding fossil fuel, avoiding the need for heat and kilns and combustion. You’re taking inert rocks, heating them up, decomposing them, so that they become reactive again. So that when you add water, they form a gel, and then they set and harden into the durable concrete we all know and love.”

Pretty complex idea. Yet even I can follow along!
What’s her Gunning Fog Index? 10.

To make your message simpler, just do two things: use shorter words and shorter sentences. This helps your audience pay attention.

With practice, every leader can talk in a way that connects with people, no matter how complex their vocabulary, or how much they know about tech and science.

Be clear in your words and see how your audience latches on to your ideas.

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