Does your writing need some exercise
By Claire Heath
Does your writing need some exercise to get rid of flab? The Writer’s Diet test may be the tool for you.
Even if your writing seems to be trim, taut and terrific, the test may highlight a few words you can cull.
The test is written by the champion of good academic prose, Professor Helen Sword, who wrote Stylish Academic Writing. It ‘identifies some of the sentence-level grammatical features that most frequently weigh down academic prose’.
It isn’t intended to judge the quality of the writing.
The test counts the numbers of verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, and filler words such as it, this, that, and there, and ranks them from ‘lean’ to ‘heart attack’.
I test myself sometimes, and while I don’t always like what I see, the results do prompt me to rethink my sentences. (The test is good for fiction, too).
Another tool I sometimes play with is the Hemingway App, named after some bloke who wrote a few books and drank a lot of mojitos. The app developers claim that it will help you tighten you prose and use simpler language.
The desktop app costs $19.99, but you can also paste short texts over the words already on the Hemingway App webpage. Highlights show adverbs, passive voice, phrases you could express more simply, and sentences that are difficult to read. The app also grades the readability of the text.
A higher grade isn’t necessarily good: it may indicate that readers will find the writing tedious or difficult to understand.
One flaw is that it doesn’t differentiate between passive voice and progressive (or continuous) verb tenses, which use the verb to be.
Neither of these tools overrides your judgement or being thoughtful about your writing, but if you are writing science for a lay audience, they may help you craft better sentences.