That Winston Churchill chap was a bit of a legend. As I write this, it’s the 50th year of his death and the 75th anniversary of his so-called ‘finest hour’ in 1940. As well as the pre-eminent British politician of the 20th century, he was also a very good orator indeed.

But what, I hear you say, does that have to with a blog on sales, marketing and the universe? Well, perhaps not quite the universe, but business and life generally, within the confines of our modest planet. Well, he’s also a very good writer.

When I did my Master’s in Business Admin degree in the US about a hundred years ago, one of the main courses was on business writing. We were taught to write using as few long words as possible, since shorter words are easier to follow, have the tendency to obfuscate less with jargon and increase the overall persuasiveness and conviction.

In order to illustrate this, they used something called the Fog Factor, also known as the Fog Index. The higher the index, the ‘foggier’ the writing. The lower, the clearer. The lower the index, the better. Now, if you read up on this you’ll find the formula can be quite complicated, but I’m all for simplicity so we calculated it as the number of words that were 3 syllables or more per sentence in a passage of writing. Anything under 3 is good, anything over 3 is foggy, not good.

So, in the awful second sentence of the third paragraph of this post, for example, the fog factor is a rather wading-in-treacle score of 6. The sentence before it has no 3-or-more syllables, so much more readable,

Guess who the author was that they held up as an example of how to write clearly and persuasively with the fewest number of long words? Sir Winston Churchill himself. And if you listen to some of his speeches, or read any of his stuff, you’ll know why. The man could write.

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