Marcatili's famous approximate analytical description of light propagating through rectangular dielectric waveguides, published in 1969, gives accurate results for low-index-contrast waveguides. However, photonic-integrated circuit technology has advanced to high-index-contrast (HIC) waveguides. In this paper, we improve Marcatili's model by adjusting the amplitudes of the components of the electromagnetic fields in his description. We find that Marcatili's eigenvalue equation for the propagation constant is also valid for HIC waveguides. Our improved method shows much better agreement with rigorous numerical simulations, in particular for the case of HIC waveguides. We also derive explicit expressions for the effective group index and the effects of external forces on the propagation constant. Furthermore, with our method, the phenomenon of avoided crossing of modes is observed and studied. © 1983-2012 IEEE.