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Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear (hemingwayapp.com)
988 points by jmngomes 65 days ago | comments


jawns 65 days ago | link

You know what's fun? Pasting in text from Ernest Hemingway and seeing what he did wrong.

But seriously, this is a nice, simple way to point out some general rules of thumb for improving writing, although I would love for it to be less proscriptive. Not every long sentence is a bad sentence, not every passive-voice sentence is a bad sentence, and not every adverb is a bad adverb.

Oh, and by the way, the copy editor in me can't help but notice that an app that's intended to help you improve your writing tells you to "Aim for 2 or less" adverbs, rather than "Aim for 2 or fewer."

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pmichaud 64 days ago | link

The thing about pedantic snark (less/fewer), is that it loses its teeth when you're wrong.

Even if you go in for prescriptive grammar, less and fewer were never strictly divided. The distinction actually came to us through one Mr. Baker's expressed preference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fewer_vs._less#Historical_usage

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hluska 64 days ago | link

While I don't think the proposed edit would help, the commenter isn't actually wrong - in modern usage, it is more correct to say "fewer corrections" than "less corrections." Language doesn't form in a vacuum, nor is its growth confined to dictionaries. Rather, language is a living, breathing thing and grammar is closer to history than mechanics.

Consider the less v. fewer debate. Yes, several hundred years ago, it was just fine to say "less corrections." However, for whatever reason, the upper crust decided that "fewer corrections" both looked and sounded better. Consequently, "less corrections" evolved to be less correct. My inner smartass wanted to say "fewer correct", but that would be a silly joke.

It's like Russian. If you speak French, you can understand many Russian words. This isn't because French and Russian are linguistic cousins. Rather, it's because French was the language of nobility and words trickled down.

Or heck, we could talk about the word "you." You was originally formal, whereas "thou" was more relaxed and informal. Yet, today, if I started a comment on Hacker News with, "I fear thou are wrong", it would seem needlessly formal.

To conclude this long mess (it was supposed to be four lines and turned into paragraphs), language evolves constantly. Though certain distinctions didn't exist in earlier English, they exist now. However, if you know much about the history and formation of English, you should be less pedantic. It should also make us much more tolerant of people for whom English isn't their native language. We speak an intensely complex language with random rules that apply in some cases and not others.

Thank heavens we don't have to compile our language before we speak it...:)

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sqrt17 64 days ago | link

"more correct" is nonsense, since 'correct' is not a gradable adjective. "more acceptable" would be correct.

Whether "less [count-noun]" is acceptable depends on granularity: "less than two adverbs" is acceptable whenever it feels alright to you to just abstract adverbs into a pure number. "less than two corrections" is not acceptable to most people because corrections don't lend themselves to being abstracted into a number.

Languages are not random. It's just that prescriptivist get hung up on random subsets of language and pretend they've seen all of it.

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bane 64 days ago | link

'correct' is definitely gradable and is commonly used as such. There is a nice long history of such usage going back at least a quarter of a millennium.

"Which is more correct? This or that?"

There's even "most correct" as in "it is most correct to choose..."

This is due to the simple fact that in many non-trivial fields, correctness is not absolute and thus multiple correct choices or outcomes are valid. Local preferences might recognize this, but prefer one over the other. In noun usage, this is a carryover from verb usage

"My shoes were mostly corrected by the cobbler." is perfectly fine, so users of English also find that "The fit of my shoes is mostly correct." is also perfectly valid usage.

More examples:

Which partial phrase emphasizes, and persuades better a point better (as a matter of rhetoric)?

"It is most correct to take this option."

"It is a preference to take this option."

Of course the former is stronger than the latter.

"correct" clearly grades.

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hluska 64 days ago | link

Sorry, but I don't understand what you're trying to say.

If you're specifically talking about my use of "more correct", let me try another example of why I think "more correct" is useful nonsense. I'm Canadian. Therefore, I use spellings like "colour" and "honour".

However, if I'm writing something primarily targeted to Americans, I switch to honor and color. It isn't that colour becomes incorrect when I write for an American audience. To me, color is always wrong. But, if I want to influence an American audience, color will be the correct spelling they're looking for.

When I'm obsessing over edits, especially when underlying rules are unclear (or non-existent), shades of correctness are the best metric I can find. Do you have another?

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hyperbovine 64 days ago | link

Coming from a Canadian, perhaps the most correct response would be to chide us on our pursuit of a more perfect union :-)

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tptacek 64 days ago | link

Something is either correct or it isn't, is the point.

You might instead write "closer to correct", but, how clunky.

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e12e 64 days ago | link

> Something is either correct or it isn't, is the point.

    Correct \Cor*rect"\ (k[^o]r*r[e^]kt"), a.
    [L. correctus, p. p. of corrigere to make straight,
    to correct; cor- + regere to lead straight: cf. F.
    correct. See {Regular}, {Right}, and cf. {Escort}.]

    Set right, or made straight; hence, conformable to
    truth, rectitude, or propriety, or to a just standard;
    not faulty or imperfect; free from error; as, correct
    behavior; correct views.
     [1913 Webster]
  
           Always use the most correct editions.    
           --Felton.
Granted, 1913 webster is almost an archaic resource at this point, but it's interesting that its very first example of use is "most correct".

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andrewflnr 64 days ago | link

I could say the same about acceptability. You either accept something or don't. Grudging acceptance is still acceptance, right?

Meanwhile, you can assign a mathematical measure of partial correctness for, say, sets of statements, simply as the fraction of correct statements over the total. In linguistics, you can assign measures to both acceptibility and correctness simultaneously by taking the fraction of people who "accept" a construct as "correct".

I'm not even sure how many levels of meta I'm at, so I'm done.

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betenoire 64 days ago | link

> Something is either correct or it isn't

If you are building truth tables, then something is either correct or it isn't. But that's certainly not the case when using words to communicate ideas between humans.

After all, haven't each of us taken a multiple choice test with instructions to choose the most correct answer?

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oconnor0 63 days ago | link

Einstein's theories about the universe are more correct than Newton's. Neither are "correct".

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steveeq1 63 days ago | link

Reminds me of an old quote by George E. P. Box - "All models are wrong, but some are useful"

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BHSPitMonkey 64 days ago | link

When it comes to diction, there are always a variety of choices. You make those decisions based on whichever word or phrase works best given the circumstances.

It's no different than choosing the most appropriate programming language for a given project; plenty will work, but ultimately one is the most logical given who will be writing it, reading it, using it, maintaining it, deploying it, etc.

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bennyg 64 days ago | link

Guys -- use whatever the fuck you'd like.

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coldtea 64 days ago | link

Except in any domain where correctness is not black and white.

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sopooneo 63 days ago | link

Maybe "more perfect"?

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x0054 64 days ago | link

Funny enough, try making that argument to a Russian. The argument that language is more history than science, and is fluid and ever-changing. Many words in Russian are commonly, and in most cases properly, pronounced one way, and yet spelled another. It's infuriating. Of course, what do I know, I have the privilege of having no native language. Borne in Ukraine, first spoke Russian, with Ukrainian accent, then learned Ukrainian, with a Russian accent, and now my primary language is English, with eastern european accent :)

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mushly 64 days ago | link

Oh my god that sounds like me. Grew up speaking some Cantonese with parents in America, learned to speak English fluently with a Chinese accent, went to China and learned to speak a bit of Mandarin with a Cantonese/English accent, back in the U.S. and somehow along the way I've acquired an accent in Cantonese as well!

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ajanuary 64 days ago | link

The 'language is evolving' and 'language is defined by usage' arguments go both ways.

When something was both not historically incorrect, and not considered incorrect by many current people, the arguments people make about it being wrong starts to crumble slightly.

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hluska 64 days ago | link

It's kind of like A/B testing. A blue button isn't wrong, but a green button coverts better.

Language is the same. If your goal is to communicate, the most easily understood choice is best. Some grammatical quirks do nothing to hinder comprehension and don't need to be pointed out (ie - less/fewer). Others are far more toxic.

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MaysonL 63 days ago | link

However, grammatical quirks which don't hinder comprehension still act as signals of status. Using "less" where "fewer" is more correct, or vice versa, will definitely hinder acceptnce of the message by many, regardless of its comprehensibility.

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brokenparser 64 days ago | link

Thanks! copy... paste...

And the results are in: http://i.imgur.com/6KMvhIa.png

(It appears that this comment itself is only good enough when I include this sentence.)

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nutate 64 days ago | link

Generally the less syllables the better...

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hluska 64 days ago | link

Brevity is a sickness. I have natural immunity...;)

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mherdeg 64 days ago | link

OK, so on the one hand, Alfred the Great used less with counting nouns in 888 AD.

But can we really trust this guy for historical precedent? He burnt the cakes!

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kordless 64 days ago | link

> He burnt the cakes!

Maybe he was gluten intolerant.

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Angostura 64 days ago | link

The thing about the pedantic anti snark is, it doesn't matter if you can show that the 'incorrect' usage goes back to the 17th Century, if the bulk of the educated audience you are writing for thinks that it is incorrect. You might as well use the 'correct' usage.

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bane 64 days ago | link

You should write for your audience. The only thing that's correct or incorrect is if you succeeded in communicating with the intended recipient.

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dmlorenzetti 64 days ago | link

I felt like OP went out of his/her way to avoid snarkiness. He/she made several positive comments, added a helpful suggestion, and only then prefaced a "pedantic" comment by saying "Oh, by the way, a small part of me can't help but notice this..." That's a lot of mitigating language to earn the label "snark."

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tehwalrus 64 days ago | link

This, and singular they[1], make me very happy indeed - all the people who "correct" my grammar are actually, themselves, wrong (or, at most, people waving an opinion in my face as if it were a fact.) <3

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

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commandar 64 days ago | link

There are a lot of prescriptive "rules" in English that aren't really rules. Ending sentences in prepositions is probably my favorite.

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evanb 64 days ago | link

"This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put." --Churchill (maybe)

Some discussion:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001702.h...

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leephillips 64 days ago | link

There appeared a wonderful article on just this topic on the Inky Fool website a few days ago: http://blog.inkyfool.com/2014/02/less-fewers.html

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

It's worth noting, though, that many readers will be distracted by your use of less with counting nouns. Whether that's a pro or a con is up to you.

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blaze33 64 days ago | link

Stephen Fry has an interesting take on the less/fewer debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY

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nilkn 64 days ago | link

I don't really understand why a minority of people continue to belabor this. Anybody who has recently spent time in writing courses in a modern American institution knows that 'fewer' is greatly preferred to 'less' in this context, often to the extent of losing points if the latter is used. Students aren't going to care about your citations if following your advice means they lose points on their papers.

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frodopwns 64 days ago | link

Ooooh I like that. "pedantic snark"...

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Mz 64 days ago | link

The thing about pedantic snark (less/fewer), is that it loses its teeth when you're wrong.

The thing about pedantic snark is that, whether it is right or wrong in its details, it almost always comes from a place of hostility and is thus a form of assholery. It indicates the individual "values" good grammar or whatever a helluva lot more than they value respect or politeness.

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epitrochoidal 64 days ago | link

irregardless, you knew what he meant, right?

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russelluresti 64 days ago | link

I smell a troll...

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mkrecny 64 days ago | link

I'd love there to be a proliferation of plugins for different writing styles. Hemmingway, Austin, Asimov, Wilde etc. Not so interested in "improving writing", more interested in achieving different aesthetics for different goals.

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EliAndrewC 64 days ago | link

A neat trick for helping you write in the style of a particular author: use a list of all the words in their collected works as the dictionary in your word processor. Then you'll see any word that e.g. Jane Austin never used as a misspelling, so it's easy to only write using the vocabulary that she used.

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aroman 64 days ago | link

I agree! The Hemingway mode at seems to be geared (ironically) at technical writing. My English teacher wouldn't like it — it encourages simplification of language and minimization of word variation. Sometimes it's good to write like Austin...

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mhurron 64 days ago | link

That's what I noticed. It seemed to mark your writing higher the lower the reading grade level it was targeted at.

I didn't realize that writing at a 5th grade level was the pinnacle of writing.

What is with it's fear of adverbs?

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jnbiche 64 days ago | link

When you unthinkingly use far too many adverbs in your writing, you clearly reduce an otherwise well-written piece to an increasingly confusing and complex mass of terribly overwrought words.

vs

When you use too many adverbs in your writing, you reduce a well-written piece to a confusing mass of words.

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Steuard 64 days ago | link

Is your point here that cramming extra adverbs into one's writing just for their own sake is poor style? That's what your example seems to illustrate, and I emphatically agree.

But when adverbs come up naturally in expressing an idea, I'd hate to suggest to anyone that it's a bad thing!

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lclarkmichalek 64 days ago | link

Kind of a funny example, given that you change the meaning from one sentence to another.

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jnbiche 64 days ago | link

Precisely!

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normloman 64 days ago | link

Most amateur writers clutter their writing with unnecessary adverbs. Sometimes, a well placed adverb can add vividness to your writing. But most adverbs we throw around casually can be omitted without consequence.

Great writing rests on the foundation of bold verbs and nouns.

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runevault 64 days ago | link

I wouldn't say it is so much about removing adverbs alone as removing the adverb and replacing the verb with one that takes the place of both words.

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leephillips 64 days ago | link

Well, Vladimir Nabokov did describe Hemingway as "a writer of books for boys".

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

Who was Nabokov writing for?

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nekopa 64 days ago | link

Young girls?

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datashaman 64 days ago | link

About, not for.

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chris_mahan 64 days ago | link

Americans are big boys.

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philwelch 64 days ago | link

Conversely, writing at such a level that only graduate students in your particular field of interest can decipher your meaning must be the pinnacle of writing. As we all know, the purpose of language is to obscure meaning, not to communicate it.

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Angostura 64 days ago | link

I think I would use it to check marketing text for - say -the front page of a web site where I'm trying to pack as much as possible, as simply as possible into the least number of words.

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omaranto 64 days ago | link

Which Austin did you mean? Jane [1]?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_G._Austin

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kibibu 64 days ago | link

Stone Cold, presumably.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Stone-Cold-Truth-WWE/dp/1476751684

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Perceval 63 days ago | link

How about Faulkner?

20 of 20 sentences were too easy to read. Try combining all of your sentences into one page-long complex-compound sentence by overusing comma run-ons and semicolons and em-dashes and ellipses and strings of conjunctions.

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MaysonL 63 days ago | link

To offer my own pedantic snark, Austin is the capital of Texas. Austen is the author's name.

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frosted_moose 64 days ago | link

Agreed!

It reminds me of advice I commonly get when I started writing: borrow a voice, and grow your own out from that. This is a great way to do that, I think -- it's internalizes the process and makes it a form of muscle memory. That sort of second-nature shit is invaluable to finding yourself. Yum yum yum.

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DanielBMarkham 64 days ago | link

More to the point, in a longer work you might want to wander in and out of styles.

Seems like this kind of tool would be better for shorter pieces, say under 3K words or so.

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dfc 64 days ago | link

Definitely less than 5k. I tried pasting in Politics of the English Language and it is impossible to use. After a little while the text is double printed (err, lines on top of lines of text).

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gabemart 64 days ago | link

That is neat. I pasted in the first part of Big Two-Hearted River [1] and it scored a little "worse" than the first part of the novel I'm working on, suggesting it's not a perfect metric for how "Hemingway-like" a text is. I've always thought that the cultural meme of Hemingway's terseness is not a very good representation of his actual writing style. In the past when I've been prompted to try parodying Hemmngway [2], the result usually tends to a style that's a little more verbose.

[1] http://xroads.virginia.edu/~DRBR/hem_river.html

[2] http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/1t9571/wp_so...

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coreypein 64 days ago | link

I also fed a chunk my unfinished novel into the Hemingway app, and wrote about the results: http://coreypein.net/blog/2014/02/13/the-hemingway-app-revie...

I really wanted to hate it, but couldn't.

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hissworks 64 days ago | link

>> Aim for 2 or fewer.

This also violates current usage conventions for handling numbers in text.[1] Figures are only meant to be used in greater numbers (a rule of thumb is anything over 30, but I think I read that in a David Foster Wallace text, fwiw) with more complex verbal / textual representations - that is, not "two".

[1] https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/593/01/

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jordan0day 64 days ago | link

Yeah the harping on "fewer" vs. "less" and completely ignoring the "2" bothered me too. In my time as a newspaper writer (long ago), the general rule of thumb we used was once you hit 13, switch to numbers. Of course, newspapers have different priorities regarding space, so I could understand if this rule is different for other forms of writing.

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ScottBurson 64 days ago | link

I recall reading somewhere the phrase "nine or 10". Clearly the writer (or editor) was adhering rather mindlessly to the house rule.

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

I think the "2" is appropriate here. This is not protracted discourse, it's a label. When my sentence lights up some color, and my eyes jump to the sidebar and find that color, we want the max count to pop in a way that it shouldn't in ordinary text.

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ojbyrne 64 days ago | link

Not to mention that the Chicago Manual of Style recommends spelling out the number "two."

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chacham15 63 days ago | link

I believe the general rule is that any number which is written with fewer than three words is actually done so.

All the cases listed here: http://writing-style-guide.papercheck.com/~paperch1/index.ph...

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acqq 64 days ago | link

Exactly. Strunk and White actually devised their "rules" without the exact analysis of the real texts. Likewise, I can imagine HemingwayApp giving the real Hemingway bad notes.

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midgetjones 64 days ago | link

I agree with your second paragraph, although this is following Hemingway's specific rules, so it's good to be strong with them. And of course, you have to know the rules before you can break them.

Aside from Hemingway, it's fun to paste in other classic literature and see what the tool makes of it. It hated Lolita.

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deeviant 64 days ago | link

It's not like there some magic linguistic genie that they are going to for their analysis. A programmatic engine to determine which long sentence or use of passive-voice are bad or not is not trivial, if even possible with their resources. Just identifying the hopefully few uses of complicated sentences and passive-voice would allow one to quickly sort through them and make a decision on whether the usage was proper or not.

They did a great job, it's a nice app.

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wyclif 64 days ago | link

It should say "aim for two or fewer", since it's better style to spell out any number < 10.

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jimmcslim 64 days ago | link

> You know what's fun? Pasting in text from Ernest Hemingway and seeing what he did wrong.

I was thinking about giving some Joyce a pass through this...

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makr17 64 days ago | link

I pasted the text of the Declaration of Independence. Boy was that fun...

9 of 46 sentences are hard to read. 19 of 46 sentences are very hard to read. 12 adverbs. Aim for 11 or less. 8 words or phrases can be simpler. 12 uses of passive voice. Aim for 9 or less.

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toxik 64 days ago | link

That's funny, because I tried your comment in Hemingway and it came out with a much better score after I erased every letter of it.

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enduser 64 days ago | link

Your last sentence was "very hard to read"

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bgilroy26 64 days ago | link

Writing a lot of short sentences develops your sense for when a long one is appropriate.

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andrewliebchen 64 days ago | link

You're right. Though we can tell you didn't compose your comment in Hemingway. It characterizes one of your sentences as "hard to read," and another as "very hard to read."

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dclara 64 days ago | link

It's so funny. Looks like our brains are evolving towards monkey. Or we should start from our first literature class and let teacher to emphasis on the effective expression skill on top of grammar.

Sometimes I saw very good comments which are very long but informative. It takes us time to compose and read, but that's more valuable than short sentences.

What is a better way for communication?

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coldtea 64 days ago | link

Or "Aim for two or less". It's not a good style to write quantities below ten with digits.

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adam_b_long 64 days ago | link

OK OK I fixed it ;)

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mVChr 63 days ago | link

It would be nice to be able to dismiss the error highlighting for certain words or phrases. Or better yet, click on the highlight to change it to a less distracting dotted underline. I like knowing what is unclear or indirect, but sometimes I want to break the Hemingway rules by conscious choice.

(And yes, I used the app to make sure to write this with passing marks.)

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acqq 64 days ago | link

I believe the logic behind HemingwayApp is misguided:

Hemingway the writer actually wrote long sentences and they were actually important in his writing.

Passive is also important in good writing.

You can't use machine metrics to force "good writing" you can only enforce mediocrity and the following some random rules "because the rules have to be followed."

Likewise, I as a writer of the software would absolutely hate to run some program to tell me "this function has more than 10 lines" or whatever. If I wrote 500 lines function it doesn't mean it shouldn't be that long: there are examples where exactly such functions are still necessary and good. Such automatic evaluations are for managers who probably don't understand what they enforce. Pointy-haired bosses, if you will.

So I see HemingwayApp as the pointy-haired-editor app.

(Edit: Improving the text based on the human input, thanks Agathos!)

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onion2k 64 days ago | link

You might not be able to force people to write well, but you can help them not write badly. That's the point of apps like this one - mediocre is better than bad. Once someone has improved their writing to the point where this app is no longer useful they can easily switch to something else.

Writing is a skill that few people have really learnt to do well. For them, following some "random rules" will improve what they write.

Regarding writing 500 line functions in code: very occasionally you need that, but there's nothing wrong with an IDE that points it out and asks if it's really a good idea, and for new developers who would do that sort of thing all the damn time it'd be very useful in improving what they come up with.

Learn the rules first, then learn when they don't apply.

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acqq 64 days ago | link

Forcing somebody to write short sentences wouldn't improve his writing.

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normloman 64 days ago | link

Yeah it does. Long sentences are harder to read. Bad writers write too many long sentences, and it makes their writing difficult to parse. So just forcing them to write shorter sentences will improve their writing a great deal.

That said, a good writer will know when using a long sentence is the right choice for emphasis. And there's no way this program could ever develop that level of good judgement. This program isn't good for writers. It's good for non writers who want to quickly improve their shitty writing without effort.

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joe_the_user 64 days ago | link

You can't force someone to write well by any means.

Good writing is sensitive to multiple contexts and multiple rules. Essentially, one has to be able to shift-gears and notice the results of your writing, how your audience will receive it.

The only way a person becomes a good writer is through self-direct study. A bad writer who writes long sentences without noticing the results will remain a bad writer if someone forces them to divide their sentences, because they are still not being aware of the results of their writing.

All that said, a lot of people learning to write create long sentences because they don't yet have the skill to communicate with shorter sentences. Demanding that a person break up their sentences into smaller chunks can help them become more skillful - if they put in the effort to learn this.

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kibibu 64 days ago | link

> Bad writers write too many long sentences, and it makes their writing difficult to parse. So just forcing them to write shorter sentences will improve their writing a great deal.

See, I don't think the above is any better as two sentences, and I think it works better as one. Perhaps I just don't like starting sentences with "So".

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hluska 64 days ago | link

Unless I missed something, this app doesn't force edits, it merely highlights things that writers should take a second look at.

Showing someone overly long and complex sentences, and pointing out examples of passive voice could only improve an editing process. Once you manually point out problems, the burden to change/leave as is falls onto the writer.

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jiggy2011 64 days ago | link

I find on average that it does, especially with less skilled writers.

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cpayne 64 days ago | link

Take Twitter for example. It didn't take me long to realise just how fluffy and useless my writing was...

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dmarusic16 64 days ago | link

You couldn't be more wrong.

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mnx 64 days ago | link

I know people already pointed this out, but I'll add my 2 cents: Every single teacher I've had told me to shorten my sentences.

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scotch_drinker 64 days ago | link

I think your point is that there are times when breaking the rules is a good thing. No one would argue with that. The problem is that most people have NO IDEA what the rules are for good writing. On top of that, it's easy to slip into overuse without realizing it. I'm a good writer and yet, one thing I'm terrible at is far too many adverbs. They aren't useful when overused. This app helps me see when I have relied too heavily on them.

Hemingway occasionally wrote long sentences and they proved more power because of their scarcity. The passive voice is occasionally important in good writing but bad writers use it too much. Most of the time they don't even realize it.

An app like this isn't about enforcing a standard rigidly, it's about showing an author the places in text that break general rules. It's making an author aware of the issue, not saying "Don't ever do this". In fact, the "rules" are defined as "Try to do X or fewer". The rules don't have to be followed but if you can't even recognize the rules, you have no idea when you should break them for effect.

From your example, somewhere along the way, someone taught you that long functions are GENERALLY bad (just like adverbs). That doesn't mean they are always bad (just like adverbs). This app doesn't provide an automatic condemnation of breaking the rules. It allows you to know what the rules are and how well you are following them.

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acqq 64 days ago | link

Who says that the rules from the app are even right? Anybody acually eveluated them on real books by known good writers? I want statistics: how often good writers are outside promoted rules?

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onion2k 64 days ago | link

The rules in the app are Hemingway's rules from his book "On Writing". Lots of other authors have written similar books and generally they all agree on what works.

Henry Miller and Stephen King have both written books on the subject, and both called their books "On Writing". E.M. Forster wrote one called "Aspects of the Novel". King actually goes further, to the point of saying things like "Don't use adjectives." Extreme for most written work but if you want to get your audience to use their imagination less direction is often better.

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deeteecee 64 days ago | link

I don't know anything about what Hemingway's rules are or what writers suggest in general. I can say, though, that during my AP English class, these are principles that we were taught in school for good writing. No doubt, you always take everything with a grain of salt so the writing doesn't have to be so rigid. But I find this app to be a great one, especially for people who want to improve and analyze their writing.

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hluska 64 days ago | link

Have you ever read Tense Present by David Foster Wallace? If you haven't, find a copy online and enjoy! Based on your other comments, you'll appreciate DFW.

Short answer is that you should pardon my language, but English is fucked. So fucked that those of us native speakers should apologize for the state of our language. Not only is English constantly evolving (in different ways, in different English speaking countries), but the limited 'rules' are contradictory.

So, to answer your question about stats, we could take 10,000 English experts and lock them in a room until they write the English spec. In actual practice, they would die before they would ever agree on a set of rules. And then, even if they did come out with a spec, most famous writers would violate the spec at certain times.

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mnx 64 days ago | link

I think you under-appreciate how simple English is. Sure, creating a set of rules for perfect writing is probably impossible, and in German you could probably fit them on a single page (I'm exaggerating, I don't speak German well enough to precisely judge that). But getting to a decent level of English is probably the easiest of all widely spoken natural languages. That is if we forget your atrocious non-existing spelling and pronunciation rules.

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qbrass 64 days ago | link

How often are bad writers following the rules? http://imgur.com/nXwdDC6

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jerf 64 days ago | link

If you choose to slave yourself to the machine, you will produce output that reflects that. If you use the machine to improve your output, then you produce improved output with little effort. Either way, it is not the machine at fault. A frequent user would probably learn that some streaks here and there are OK, but if your entire text is colored blue that's likely to be a problem.

Personally what I need is an extension or scriptlet that embeds this into an arbitrary text box. I've struggled with adverbs in my writing. I am less worried about Hemingway about longer sentences or the use of a larger vocabulary since I'm generally writing for an audience other than the general public, though. Perhaps some tuning parameters would be nice.

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wmeredith 64 days ago | link

Hmmm... thanks for commenting, acqq, but four out of nine sentences in your comment are hard to read. You also used four adverbs, try and aim for two or less.

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lutusp 64 days ago | link

> try and aim for two or less.

I hope this was meant as provocation. I'm guessing you actually meant, "Try to aim for two or fewer," yes?

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crntaylor 64 days ago | link

It was a reference to the Hemingway app. If you paste acqq's comment into Hemingway, it suggests "Four adverbs used. Try to aim for two or less."

As humour goes, it's a few levels of indirection away from Seinfeld. But you're on a forum full of people who spend all day thinking of abstractions for their abstractions, so what do you expect?

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lutusp 64 days ago | link

> If you paste acqq's comment into Hemingway, it suggests "Four adverbs used. Try to aim for two or less."

Okay, that made my day. :)

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acqq 64 days ago | link

Yo my man! Four legs good, two legs bad!

(I really, really hope you don't get down-voted from those who miss the point).

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Agathos 64 days ago | link

The passive voice has its place. But sentences in the form, "x is something that is y," are difficult to defend. Just write "Passive is important in good writing."

(Even worse: https://twitter.com/Graham_LRR/status/387778330054774784 )

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lutusp 64 days ago | link

The point is not whether passive voice has a place in good writing, it's to make young writers aware of the difference between active and passive voice, and when each is appropriate (or "strongest").

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

The advocation of a limit discourages that interpretation.

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lutusp 64 days ago | link

My point is that writing is like walking -- at first, you only have one way to walk, the one that keeps you from falling onto the carpet. Only later do you learn how to dance. It's the same with writing -- avoid obvious mistakes until you're skilled enough to use them for an intended effect.

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

That seems to be a different point or a muddled metaphor - people learning to walk are accidentally dancing (badly)?

I have not seen it established that passive constructions - where they are appropriate - are harder to use correctly or well. I have seen it asserted countless times, usually by people who don't know their passive from a hole in the ground and always without accompanying data.

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NotOscarWilde 64 days ago | link

You probably can use machine metrics to have a good overview of some properties of the text; one of the more useful machine metrics that comes to mind is vocabulary estimation.

I guess personally I'm a bit put off by the UI. I'm reminded of a scene in the recent movie Her, where the AI offered some suggestions but only after being explicitly asked to do so. In HemingwayApp, the immediate red/yellow highlight will nudge the user into fixing the paragraph, whereas a more subtle colour and/or style might allow him more space to think "the computer is wrong this time, I like it more the way it is".

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altcognito 64 days ago | link

But most people are lazy and will slip into writing poorly on a regular basis. Having an automated tool highlight potential problem spots can help you to write more consistently the way YOU want to write. If what is desired is passive voice then ignore the highlighted messaging.

note: most programming syntax style applications have the ability to selectively highlight special cases to flag sections of code to ignore particular errors.

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DigitalJack 64 days ago | link

Your comment about machine metrics reminded me of corporate use of process.

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dllthomas 64 days ago | link

Denotationally, there are never examples where such functions are necessary in most languages (with operational constraints and a sufficiently dumb compiler, you can make anything necessary). This doesn't mean that there are never examples where such functions are appropriate.

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