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Are You Using Gunning Fog?

Confession: until 4 minutes ago, I had zero idea what this was. In fact, it sounded a little too much little Dunning Krueger, which is something I do NOT want to have!

What is it? It's a secret little piece of software that checks writing to see for which age level a piece of writing is most appropriate.

Let's be honest: when it comes to writing for lay audiences or for grants, most of us tend to forget that not everyone knows what a confidence interval is or what structural functionalism means. In fact, let's be even more blunt: half the time, I can't understand other academics, including in my own field!

Here's an actual abstract from a criminology-oriented conference:

From the critique of the risk’s geopolitical and its conception of “internal enemy”, we keep track of the Instruments for the New Doctrine for Hemispheric Security, making a comparative study between statements and derivative transactions of the Conference of Defense Ministers the Americas and the strategic role of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in its Security Council, highlighting the disputes, breakdowns and restorations, as well as their potential, obstacles and challenges as a possible regional space in the building sovereignty and self-determination of the subcontinent.

Yup, I don't understand that either.

So, what does Gunning Fog do for you? It provides "a weighted average of the number of words per sentence, and the number of long words per word" (per the GF Index website). The result? "An interpretation is that the text can be understood by someone who left full-time education at a later age than the index."

How did I find out about this? By accident. One of my students is up for an award and a grant administrator advised her that she scored a 17 and she needed to get her writing down to a 10.

Eager to test this out, I went to and put in the abstract above. Here's my result (which seems pretty accurate to me):

Let's keep in mind, by the way, that the advice provided by the grant expert was to shoot for a score of 10.

I decided to use this index to check out how my blog writing is going. Here's what I tested:

The score?

These results are both shocking and useful ... and they also make a certain amount of sense. Most grants are reviewed by people who aren't experts in your particular field and neither are many practitioners, policy makers and/or members of the general public. So, why do we keep trying to talk past them?

This handy little piece of software is an absolute 'must have' in the toolbox of any good #CrimCommer.

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