We consider linear propagation through shallow, nonuniform gratings, such as those written in the core of photosensitive optical fibers. Though, of course, the coupled-mode equations for such gratings are well known, they are often derived heuristically. Here we present a rigorous derivation and include effects that are second order in the grating parameters. While the resulting coupled-mode equations can easily be solved numerically, such a calculation often does not give direct insight into the qualitative nature of the response. Here we present a new way of looking at nonuniform gratings that immediately does yield such insight and, as well, provides a convenient starting point for approximate treatments such as WKB analysis. Our approach, which is completely within the context of coupled-mode theory, makes use of an effective-medium description, in which one replaces the (in general, nonuniform) grating by a medium with a frequency-dependent refractive index distribution but without a grating.
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