Why should a writer use the Hemingway editor? According to the supplier:
“Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.”
I have been using the software for some time. Normally, I use it to check prose previously already crafted in Evernote. I also use it when editing other people’s work.
Using Hemingway Editor
This time I felt a different approach was necessary, use Hemingway as the editor and take snapshots as my work proceeded. By default, the software opens in “Edit” mode. This means issue identification is first priority. Hemingway identifies the opening sentence of this paragraph as hard to read.
It is possible to switch to writing mode and not see any of the highlighted text. Write mode is a clean interface, with very little confusion. You can set text to bold, italic, quotes, bullets, numbers as well as heading levels 1 to 3.
I use this as an editing tool rather than as my preferred writing environment. Hence, the majority of my comments relate to Edit mode.
In edit mode there is a panel intended to aid the editor with their work. It highlights use of:
- Passive voice.
- Complex phrases.
- Sentences that are hard to read.
- Sentences that are very hard to read.
Tools a writer/editor may use when editing the work. The idea being to remove as many faux pas as possible. Hemingway Editor will not tell you if there is a spelling error.
It is helpful in targeting places where the work needs most editing. Follow the highlights and address each is the intent. But, remember these are just suggestions to assist you in building better sentences.
I like the advice given on the edit panel. Showing that you are within target range is helpful. I have edited works where adverbs are highly, overused. The reason for highlighting their is us that some writers have a tendency to overuse them. They don’t make a sentence more specific. Quite the opposite they create ambiguity, something no reader needs.
In non-fiction writing I have found that I use few adverbs. In fictional writing I admit that the words become more flowery, thus include more adverbs.
Take a look at this interesting piece by Nat Russo.
Every writer uses passive voice to some extent. The primary cure is by putting the actor before the action (or verb). Words like ‘was’, or ‘be’ often indicate passive use.
It is not possible to avoid passive use altogether, but Hemingway helps minimise usage. This is something blog writers need as blogs have a more positive impact in active voice.
See: Curing Passive Voice from the Exploring Expression Website.
What is your objective? Do you wish to make your writing less verbose? Reach your goal by checking the purple highlights. In this paragraph you can see that the Hemingway editor disliked the word “objective”. The suggestion, there were simpler alternatives.
Hover over the purple highlight then look at the alternatives offered. With this example I prefer the original.
The sentence higlighted in the diagram tagged as hard to read. It has more than 17 words in it. They become very hard to read after 27 words. I disagree that the sentence is hard to read. Arguably, simpler words could have used, for example ‘needed’ instead of ‘necessary’.
This is one area that Hemingway needs changing. Readability formula, in general also demands shorter sentences. This demand for short sentences limits the capability of writers to use words to create meaningful prose.
According to the supplier:
The Hemingway Editor will highlight (in yellow and red) where your writing is too dense. Try removing needless words or splitting the sentence into two.
I am not satisfied with this explanation. “Too dense” is hardly appropriate phrasing. “Too complex” may be what the developers intended to say. A sentence of 21 words is not hard to read, especially with appropriate use of punctuation.
Do you use commas? Some writers have a ‘thing’ about not using them and often stems from not understanding usage. Commas aid breathing and readability. They can also give a sentence some rhythm, when appropriate.
You should use the highlights to allow you to find sentences that may need attention. Remember you can also take the decision to leave the words exactly as they are.
Readability is important, but you should not base that on sentence length alone.
The statement ‘1 of X sentences is hard to read’ within the edit panel, is also misleading. First, there is no guidance about the percentage of long sentences within the piece. Second the advice about removing needless words or spliting sentences is unhelpful. It is less than the advice my junior school teacher gave. They should be as long as necessary, no more, no less. It is a part of the science of word-craft any writer must learn.
First let’s state, unequivocally, there is nothing wrong with using longer sentences. Writers must ensure their use is appropriate. One common error with longer sentences is lapsing into passive voice, yet, with care it is possible to eliminate this and craft acceptable and gracious long and very long sentences.
Percentage of Long Sentences
I have researched the question of readability and how it applies to longer sentences. In my view provided the total mumber of longer sentences is fewer than 10% of your script then you are good.
The important aspect here is mixing sentences. Use long and short ones to create prose that is varying in length. I know that 5.2 percent of the sample were long sentences. Fewer than my suggested 10%. Variety in sentence structure matters. Perhaps you should use a very short sentence next to a long one. That gives variety in what you produce. It provides differences in focus for the eyes. Writer’s Refief asks — Is is varied? Then, does it fit the mood you are trying to convey?
The mood conveyed is vital. This impacts word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and of course length.
The same should be true with paragraphs they should convey a particular topic. Some will be long, others short. It should follow a natural flow. Indeed the reader will thank you for providing variety in your writing. Better to have one paragraph two lines in length; follow that with one nine lines long; then one four lines long; than three paragraphs of five lines each. Even length tends to bore the reader. Being flexible gives variety.
About Hemingway (The App)
Go to the Hemingway App website and you can use the app for free. Copy and paste your text to have it analysed. You can edit it within the web page. Do this for each piece as many times as you wish — there are no limits to free use on the web. You need an Internet connection to use it.
Purchase the Hemingway Editor application for either Mac or PC for US$19.99. Then you can write using the app, edit, and analyse your work even without the Internet. Use it anywhere.
You can import word processing documents, text files and html files to edit them. Once edited you can export to the same location and even create a PDF file.
Also you can publish direct to WordPress. This is precisely what I will do as soon as this sentence is complete and the document edited. My suggestion — save the post in draft mode, you will need to add pictures etc. Personally, once a piece is in WordPress there is still further editing to do to ensure the piece is ready for production. In Hemingway I used the default fonts — here in WordPress these are changed to suit my publishing style. Since, I also add the extras that are included in all published pages. It will also publish directly to Medium.
One good aspect is that readability checks are normally simplified, once in WordPress.
Other Work By Peter
The following posts also talk about tools, you, as a blog writer may find useful: