An analysis of the 'linear combination of atomic orbitals' approximation using the accurate molecular orbital equations shows that it does not lead to equations of the form usually assumed in the semi-empirical molecular orbital method. A new semi-empirical method is proposed, therefore, in terms of equivalent orbitals. The equations obtained, which do have the usual form, are applicable to a large class of molecules and do not involve the approximations that were thought necessary. In this method the ionization potentials are calculated by treating certain integrals as semi-empirical parameters. The value of these parameters is discussed in terms of the localization of equivalent orbitals and some approximate rules are suggested. As an illustration the ionization potentials of the paraffin series are considered and good agreement between the observed and calculated values is found.