Are People Reading What You Write?
Jill Goldsmith’s 27-word lead is classic Variety—slightly outrageous and an attention-grabber—and looked too good to miss, especially since we’re considering ditching Comcast for DirecTV.
A good headline and lead will get a reader into a story or a memo, e-mail, white paper, book, story, report, blog or letter.
The problem most of us have is losing the reader along the way.
I’m delighted to welcome an old friend and long-time colleague, Bob Scott, as a guest columnist. Since the 1950s, Bob has been using Robert Gunning’s formula for helping writers make their prose clearer, more coherent and comprehensible.
This is a piece you may well want to download and file for future reference and pass on to your friends and associates—no matter what business they’re in.
Measuring the Readability of Copy
By Robert Scott
You’ve spent long hours at your computer. Your eyeballs ache, your fingers hurt. You’ve put together an important piece for someone who wants it yesterday. You’re sure the copy is good—the various elements read well. Unfortunately, you can’t afford the luxury of letting the piece marinate by putting it aside for a day or two for leisurely review and touch-up revision. In the early days, computers sported a so-called readability feature, and software like RightWriter and Grammatik existed to measure readability. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to check your copy immediately for readability? To have some way of making sure it is aimed at the intended audience? A completely portable yardstick for measuring reading ease?
Wait a minute! There is just such a formula: Robert Gunning’s largely forgotten “Fog Index.” It’s an easy-to-remember way of determining readability. In 1944, Gunning, a 36-year-old Ohio editor, quit his job and started a consulting business still not listed in the government’s index of occupations. The specialty of Robert Gunning Associates was counseling in clear writing—showing businesses how they could improve the readability of their communications.