February 17, 2014
Can an app really improve your writing? That’s the idea behind Hemingway — a sort of virtual editor now available online.
Language Log had a little fun with it by pointing out that Ernest Hemingway himself would have had a tough time satisfying the app.
So I tried running a few paragraphs from from newsonaut through the editor. Keeping an open mind, I was able to learn a few things.
Hemingway gives an evaluation of readability in terms of grade level. If someone with a Grade 7 education would find it easy to read, that’s good.
The app bases its judgment on five criteria. It doesn’t like sentences that are hard to read or, worse, very hard to read. How much harder than hard does a sentence have to be in ordered to be considered very hard? It’s all explained, but since the app is critical of adverbs, I have to wonder how it can tolerate the use of “very” — regarded by many as the most useless adjective of all.
It also advocates for simple phrases and limiting the passive voice.
In some cases, Hemingway liked my writing and in others it raised red flags. It wasn’t enough to make me want to make changes, but I did consider the criticism food for thought.
I would like to think of Hemingway as a solid first step toward something we need a lot more of on the Internet — editing. These days, anyone can publish. The downside is that many writers are publishing without the benefit of being edited. I’ve seen many long and complex articles by well-intentioned writers whose work might have received more attention if an editor had been allowed to give it a good massage.
Hemingway has a long way to go before it can take the place of a human editor, but it at least recognizes the importance of editing in a world where this function seems to have been forgotten.