In the rail fence cipher, the plaintext is written downwards and diagonally on successive "rails" of an imaginary fence, then moving up when we reach the bottom rail. When we reach the top rail, the message is written downwards again until the whole plaintext is written out. The message is then read off in rows. For example, if we have 3 "rails" and a message of 'WE ARE DISCOVERED. FLEE AT ONCE', the cipherer writes out:
W . . . E . . . C . . . R . . . L . . . T . . . E . E . R . D . S . O . E . E . F . E . A . O . C . . . A . . . I . . . V . . . D . . . E . . . N . .
Then reads off to get the ciphertext:
WECRL TEERD SOEEF EAOCA IVDEN