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Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear (hemingwayapp.com)
1040 points by jmngomes on Feb 12, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 327 comments

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."

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:


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...:)

"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.

'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.

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?

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

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

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

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.

> 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.    
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".

> 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?

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.

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

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

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

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

Maybe "more perfect"?

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 :)

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Generally the less syllables the better...

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

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.

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

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."

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!

> He burnt the cakes!

Maybe he was gluten intolerant.

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

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

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

Some discussion:


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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

irregardless, you knew what he meant, right?

I smell a troll...

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.

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.

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...

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?

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.


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

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!

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


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.

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.

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

Who was Nabokov writing for?

Young girls?

About, not for.

Americans are big boys.

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.

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.

Which Austin did you mean? Jane [1]?

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

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.


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.

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.

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).

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

>> 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/

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.

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.

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

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...

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.

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

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...

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.

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.

> 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...

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.

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.

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.

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."

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?

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

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

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

Your last sentence was "very hard to read"

OK OK I fixed it ;)

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.)

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!)

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.

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

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.

> 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".

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.

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.

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

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

You couldn't be more wrong.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

> 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?

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?

> 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. :)

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).

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 )

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").

The advocation of a limit discourages that interpretation.

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.

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.

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".

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.

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.

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

This is built on so many bad assumptions. At best the "rules" it's trying to enforce are training-wheel rules, the sorts of rules given to novice writers to help them avoid flabby, purple writing.

But the assumption that short sentences are better than long sentences, or that simple sentences are better than complex sentences is just wrong. There are all kinds of reasons why you might use one type of sentence over the other or vary them for effect. You might be concerned about rhythm, or you might be attempting to establish a certain tone, distance, closeness, formality, or lack of.

We have this weird cultural obsession with the clarity, brevity, and simpleness of writing. Jacques Barzun even wrote a writing manual called Simple and Direct, as if these are the only virtues to be found in writing.

But I think you want as many tools as possible to achieve the effects you want. There is a huge rich tradition here, that we've largely lost, a tradition that teaches about hypotactic and paratactic sentences, that teaches about periodic and loose sentences, that teaches how to make left and right branching sentences, that teaches subordination, that teaches rhetorical devices, and that advocates (at times) longer, more complex sentences for richer and denser writing.

Thankfully there are a number of books out (some of them) recently that seem to be fighting back against the austerity view of writing.

They include, if you're interested: - Brooks Landon, Building Great Sentences - Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence - Virginia Tufte, Artful Sentences, Syntax as Style - Richard Lanham, Analyzing Prose

I'd just add, there is nothing wrong with being simple and clear. There is nothing wrong with cutting out needless or weak adverbs. But there is something wrong with worshiping the austerity style as, at all times, the best and the only way to go. There are lots and lots of reasons and occasions to deviate from it, but the style orthodoxy these days is the one assumed by that (admittedly cool) website.

I thought it was ironic that the first two sentences were very well-written, but highlighted. As if to show an example where the app would be useful. The sentences are excellent and don't need changing.

I'm going to love using this. I write for a living, so I write a maddening volume of output per week. While I don't absolve myself of the need to edit everything, I'm working against the law of large numbers. Some stupid errors, or bad stylistic habits, are going to slip through the net every week.

I've been jonesing for a real-time style editor for years. Autocorrect is fine and dandy (and often wrong, but that's another story). But most autocorrect systems limit themselves to spelling and grammar. Hemingway selects for readability. That's very cool and very useful.

That said, I'm probably not going to copy & paste everything I write into the Hemingway editing environment. I'd love plug-ins and APIs for Word, Google Docs, etc. If you make these, I will use them, and I will bug the living shit out of every writer I know to do the same.

One my biggest problems is word repetition sentence to sentence. I have been mulling an NLTK powered editor for quite awhile now and this PoC is exciting.

But I want to much more!

* Measure for consistent voicing

* Apply arbitrary-ish user supplied rules

* Analyze grammar in sentence structure

> One my biggest problems is word repetition sentence to sentence.

It would be nice to have a tool that detects such things, but for the moment, a detailed editing pass is a good idea. I always edit what I write, indeed most of the time I'm writing and editing in parallel.

> But I want to much more!

I'm more than a little worried that, because of AI advances, automated methods will finally (and undesirably) hide the "voice" of the text's originator.

> I'm more than a little worried that, because of AI advances, automated methods will finally (and undesirably) hide the "voice" of the text's originator.

But for a lot of writing this is a good thing, having cohesive writing trumps losing the voice. It isn't fiction that I think these tools will be useful or desirable for, it is the mountains of technical writing we are drowning in.

More troubling is the use of automated writing tools for propaganda and psyops.

Agreed. We could point out that, for the last 30-odd years, Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" has served as the homogenizing cudgel used to beat every writer's voice into submission. But, by and large, the influence of EoS has been a good thing. It's helped a lot more people than it's hurt.

Serious and professional writers generally write for two things: clarity and insight. Stylistic preferences shouldn't stamp out a writer's ability to make a good point. They should help him express that point more clearly. That's usually to the writer's (and readers') advantage.

Writers who break the rules, and who know what they're doing, are fine. Most rule-breakers don't know what they're doing, however. For every David Foster Wallace, there are a thousand writers who aren't aware they're hard for most people to read.

Dude, you write good.

Paul Graham's writing seems simple and direct to me, so I wondered how the website would treat one of his essays. Here are the suggestions from the third paragraph of http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html:

"The most obvious difference between real essays and the things one has to write in school is that real essays are not exclusively (only) about English literature. (Sentence hard to read) Certainly (Adverb) schools should teach students how to write. But due to a series of historical accidents the teaching of writing has gotten mixed together with the study of literature. And so all over the country students are writing not about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes (Forms, makes up) a good dessert, but about symbolism in Dickens. (Sentence very hard to read).

This is given a "readability" score of grade 14, which I suppose means it can only be deciphered by college sophomores or above.

I wondered how it would read after being rewritten to achieve a perfect score in the site, so I took a stab at it:

"In school students write essays about English literature. But real essays can be about many more things. Schools should teach students how to write. But due to a series of historical accidents the teaching of writing has gotten mixed together with the study of literature. All over the country students are not writing about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees. They are not writing about the role of color in fashion. They are not writing about what makes a good dessert. They are writing about symbolism in Dickens."

The result brings me straight back to my days of taking standardized tests, where the test had a snippet of some essay, and was followed by questions on the topic. There was information in those snippets, but very little tone. It could be a bad attempt at my part, but while the information remains in my version, the tone is gone--I can no longer smell the air of Cambridge in that writing.

Your version reminds me of "easy reader" editions of normal text -- or of an essay written by someone that's just learned how to write (a 6-7 year old?). It's fascinating how a few changes can change the "voice" of even such a short paragraph.

Anyway, great illustration both on how tweaking text can create contrasting changes, and how following "best practices" can be a bad thing. I suppose the original paragraph could actually be (slightly) improved by following some of the suggestions from the site, though. There's always room for improvement in any text.

Interestingly, when I pasted the entire article, it gave me the score of Grade 8. Complex sentences can still be interspersed between simple ones and get a good readability score.

These tiny sentences (in your version, and in Hemingway's stories) remind me of little children's books (and the alt-comedy storyline from the Martian steampunk shoot-'em-up Jamestown). IMO they appear a little condescending themselves.

I don't think Hemingway could breathe at Cambridge.

The real Hemingway or the website? I was hoping someone would explore the idea this tool could remove elitism, since I haven't made up my mind on that (I think Paul's version is much more pleasant to read). I guess this is a start.

Thinking along those lines, has anyone put Jeff Atwood's writing into this thing? He's an extremely effective communicator to large tech audiences, and my guess is that he should have a more readable score on this thing than Paul would.

Challenge accepted. I grabbed the text of 'Why Does Windows Have Terrible Battery Life?'[1] and fed it to Hemingway. Grade 10 readability.


Paul is not writing for a 6th grade audience, so it's reasonable that it would not be written at a 6th grade level.

Professional writer here.

Writing well takes years of practice. If you already write well, you won't need this program. You'll know the rules and the right times to break them.

But if you can't put in the time and effort to become a great writer, just using this program can improve your writing a lot.

Glad to see the opinion of an actual professional writer rather than just someone with an opinion for the sake of it.

I'm trying very hard to improve my writing at the moment and reading Zinsser's book. I understand what Zinsser is encouraging us all to do, but putting it in practise is over 30 years of un-learning that I need to do so it's not easy.

I'm glad that you said the tool is useful because i was having doubts about it after seeing the other comments. Im going to use it to assess my next blog post and see how things pan out.

Thanks for the tip.

That's a classic book!

Easily the best book on writing I've read. Closely followed by some research from the 60s on "process oriented writing" (I'm not sure if that's the accepted English term -- the material I read was in Danish). They essentially say the same thing: writing is re-writing -- and in that light, any tool that encourages you to look at what you've written again, and rethink it one more time, should help improve your writing.

[edit: Hemmingway himself has allegedly said "The first draft of anything is shit." -- but at least wikiquote has it as unsourced, so I'm not sure if the attribution is correct -- even if the idea probably is]

Can I ask which book in particular?

"On Writing Well".

I think most of us have a writing skill level beyond the average, which cannot compare with the professional writers.

And I do believe that language capability is very important because it's the bridge between us and other people.

But the new trend is leading towards making everything simple and easy for everybody to absorb. It's even better to make it under college level. I don't quite agree with it. We should influence the next generation with excellent language expression more than simplifying it.

One more point is: if we need to publish our articles, better to use professional editors online to edit it. Proof reading or editing is always necessary for all the publications, like magazine and books, right?

For presenting utilize as a wasteful term, I want to tearfully hug everyone involved in this.

Please kill 'utilize.' We should reach out to stakeholders and incentivize the sunsetting of the leveraging of the word 'utilize' from all slide decks.

Slide decks - the (not) new version of the tri-fold foam presentation board. It's the clear binder of our age.

Utilize has a rightful place in the English language. [1][2]

Just because so many people misuse it, doesn't mean it should be ghettoized.

Remember a few days ago when an article suggested that we may be shaping our lives according to the capability of machines and there were many naysayers? People nixing a perfectly useful word because a machine can easily recognize is a perfect example of us accomodating our ways to the capabilities of machines.

[1] http://grammarpartyblog.com/2012/01/17/use-versus-utilize/ [2] http://writing.wikinut.com/Writing-Tip%3A-Use-and-Utilize-ar...

> Utilize has a rightful place in the English language. [1][2]

Neither of the these articles make a very strong point. Just because the Merriam-Webster felt this "use for unintended purpose" connotation doesn't mean it's true. I'm still of the opinion that "utilize" is completely useless---it is simply the French verb for "to use."

The use of "utilize" in English is a classic "wanting to be fancy by using the French word" syndrome.

While the second reference was for Merriam-Webster, the first was for Oxford. So if you really want go against BOTH of those dictionaries AND english.stackexchange [1], you'll be making yourself deliberately obtuse. You might want to glance at the Cambridge American English Dictionary as well [2][3].

Can you not loosen your grip on this opinion in the face of evidence? Is it clear to you that people make dictionaries so that we can communicate more efficiently, get more done, understand one another better and improve our experience on this planet, not to be fancy? I'm telling you this because in my dream, this is a website of people helping each other achieve the goals of their lives and details like this may help you, too. I enjoy it when people bring me fresh clarity. I'm not trying to beat you into a pulp until you agree with me.

[1] http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/19811/using-utili... [2] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/... [3] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/...

So can I utilize the word utilize to appear sounding fancy?

I have a methodology we can leverage to build a framework that will maximize the killing of 'utilize'. Ping me later to discuss.

I replaced "utilize" with "leverage" and this app did not complain, which made me sad.

Hey guys, my name is Adam Long and my brother and I created Hemingway a few months ago!

Loving the comments here. As many of you pointed out, rules are meant to be broken. Our goal was to fix a simple problem: when you're looking at your own writing for too long, you start missing the simple, obvious errors.

You can follow me on Twitter @Adam_B_Long if you're interested in chatting about Hemingway with me.

Cool. I was in the early stages of doing a userscript for gmail to do something like what you have here. All it does right now is filter out specific words/phrases I know I use too much, but I found some scripts that check for passive voice and "weasel words" that I want to incorporate.

This is definitely cool.

You may want to check this out, if you haven't seen it already:


If you want to be even more advanced in your Hemingway analysis of text, you will want to have a feature that highlights long Latinate-root words and suggests short Germanic-root synonyms as replacements.

This is a very beautiful and logical interface, but it's the wrong approach, because it's a very developer-centric approach to writing.

The problem with writing is you can't loop through it and find whether each sentence passes or throws an exception. A written work needs to be evaluated as a cohesive whole. That's what "bold and clear" writing means to me: a written piece of work that stands on its own and says what it means.

Computers are not smart enough yet to understand why "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." is a complete, perfect paragraph. It doesn't have a verb and it looks like Lola is misspelled multiple times, so it doesn't pass the subset of grammar rules set up in the backend. But the meaning, the essence of the paragraph is clear.

Writing may someday be able to be governed by algorithms, but not yet. I ran the second paragraph of David Copperfield through Hemingway [1], and it gave me too many adverbs, a misspelling of the British neighbourhood, and the use of passive voice. This is understandable, as Charles Dickens was a verbose writer who got paid by the word. And yet, it doesn't detract from the fact that he is one of the most-loved in the English cannon.

We can't measure good literature yet, because there is no straightforward formula, and although this is an interesting attempt, it can't teach good writing better than a human.

For a better, and still technical, approach to understanding how and why sentences and paragraphs work with us or against us, it's better to read Strunk and White, and even better to read "How Fiction Works" by James Wood.

If there is a way to incorporate at least those two books into conditional statements, I would be excited to see it.

[1] http://imgur.com/k9hsHfj

> Computers are not smart enough yet to understand why "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." is a complete, perfect paragraph. It doesn't have a verb and it looks like Lola is misspelled multiple times, so it doesn't pass the subset of grammar rules set up in the backend. But the meaning, the essence of the paragraph is clear.

Eh, this isn't so infeasible. Any wide-coverage, statistical grammar will have a TOP --> NP production, as well as the usual TOP --> S. i.e. the grammar must accept NP-only sentences; they're too common to reject as mistakes.

I think it's reasonable to have a linter that throws a warning for that sort of sentence though. By all means dismiss them. But it can help you catch things you didn't intend.

> one of the most-loved in the English cannon

You mean "canon" -- the root of "canonical".

Yes, that would be it. Thank you.

I love this, and I love your test for the desktop version.

One suggestion, make the price a slider from $0->$100 and instead of asking "Would you pay $5 for a desktop version of Hemingway? It would add the ability to save and open text files." ask "Please suggest a price for the desktop version"

This will give you a better idea of the true value of the application to people without being suggestive.

Awesome idea and implementation!

Also a big fan of the "desktop version" test, because it is triggered by the action of a user trying to get the desktop version as opposed to thinking they are about to answer a poll.

To that end, I wouldn't trust the data you would get if you asked people to state what they would be willing to pay. Self-reported data out of context is notoriously unreliable. Instead, really put it to the test. Tell people that you'll develop a desktop version if enough pledges are received, and ask people to make a binding pledge in advance. Give them a discount for jumping in early, of course, but use the average pledge as a guideline for final pricing.

If the median pledge amount is, say, $10, then you could probably assume that people would be willing to pay $15 once the product was actually available for download. (Those are made-up numbers, but you get the idea.)

I think people are reading a bit too much into the name, and into the feedback the app gives. I don't think it's "get rid of all the pastels and your writing will be like Heminway's", nor do I even think "get rid of all the warnings" is what it's trying to do.

It is useful for a writer to throw some text at it and see what you can learn. More feedback is almost always better for writers. The trick, is always, is having the judgement to incorporate intelligently.

For example, I stumbled onto a book about procedural content generation in games[1]. As a writer, game programmer, and dedicated fan of roguelikes, if this book were any farther up my alley, it would be banging against the back fence.

But, ugh, when I tried to read it, I just gave up after a few paragraphs. It's not gibberish, but it's almost physically painful to wring the actual information out of it.

And, indeed, when I throw some of those paragraphs at this app, I see:

    Paragraphs: 1
    Sentences: 31
    Words: 833
    Characters: 4196
    11 of 31 sentences are hard to read.
    11 of 31 sentences are very hard to read.
    10 adverbs. Aim for 0 or less.
    10 words or phrases can be simpler.
    13 uses of passive voice. Aim for 6 or less.
If the authors took a bit of advice from this app, they'd end up with a better book. That sounds like a win to me.

[1]: http://pcgbook.com/

I would venture that the problem with pcgbook.com is not the quality of writing, but the fact that most of the authors are not native english speakers. They seem to be mostly Dutch or at least living in Copenhagen.

Ahahaha! How many textbooks have you read? How many American ones? The majority of them suck. Wikipedia can usually be counted upon to be clearer. And the more academic the books are, the more they suck. Actually, I would guess that how often the words "I", "you" and other personal pronouns referring to the author and reader appear in a book would be a powerful positive predictor of the book's quality.

Sure, being non-native doesn't help, but the world of academic writing has far, FAR bigger problems than that.

Either way, the problem is the quality of the writing. It just may be that the cause of that is the authors not being native English speakers. :)

(The fact that they're adopting an academic tone doesn't help either, for that matter.)

For the hackers, I use write-good-mode in emacs to catch passive voice (which is based on some simple shell scripts[0]). I've heard good things about diction-mode, grammar-mode and artbollocks-mode. And of course flyspell.

I find emacs very pleasing for writing text. I also use org-mode and it's LaTeX exporter extensively for publishing.

Now if only it could integrate with text-fields in my browser...

[0] http://matt.might.net/articles/shell-scripts-for-passive-voi...

I use org-mode for a to-do list and reference/archive. How can it help with publishing?

I've been thinking about putting together a blog post explaining how I use it for my book projects... however the short of it is: org-export.

I can map out my book chapters and sections in a typical tree. I use :noexport: for sub-trees in which I keep notes and errata. Since I use LaTeX I can give my documents some more direct formatting control using #+BEGIN_LATEX blocks (which I have found useful for adding a title page, controlling flow positioning of tables, etc). And I've written a little elisp to hook in some functions which run the texi2pdf program on my exported output automatically.

The nice thing is that I don't have to worry about typesetting until much later. I can just focus on the text, structure and flow. I can have my notes inline. It's really quite a nice setup.

Please do write this post. There's not enough examples of working setups for publishing with org mode; your experience will be helpful to many (myself included).

Well, this is great.

But it's missing something.

If I'm to learn how to write clearer, I will need to use this more often.

Could they create an API and a chrome addon?

Ubiquity is the killer feature of any communication tool.

I suspect they are using https://languagetool.org/ as a back-end, at least for some parts of the grading. LanguageTool has chrome addon and a public API.

We're definitely planning on some form of Chrome add-on. That would be awesome. Thanks for using Hemingway!

The source of this would be useful to integrate such features in other apps (like editors). An API might do as well at least for online tools like blogs. As a standalone site it's too much hassle to integrate it into your daily workflow I think.

Making this an API that WordPress, Draft, Ghost, and other writing platforms could pull in would be awesome. Maybe you could add plugin support or something for people that want it integrated into their blog/cms?

You raise a good point: how should a "language linter" be integrated into the authoring workflow.

I write mostly in plain text and have developed a bunch of command line writing scripts to check readability, passive voice usage, and naming conventions, but I'm not sure how I could share this with my less tech-saavy friends.

Should the language tool be integrated into the editing interface or be an external service?

Assuming an external service, how should it be integrated with CMSes (wordpress/dokuwiki)? Should the source, normalized plain text, or HTML be sent to the language service for checking? Where do the corrections/edits happen?

As far as the business model is concerned, I'm not sure there is money to be made in this as a service to end users, but if this system is integrated as part of a complete workflow for edits/corrections some publishers and freelance editors might be willing to pay for this---not as the final check, but as a self-service "run this before you submit to me" requirement they give to authors to prune the low-hanging fruits.

I like the idea of the app, but I'm not totally sure this kind of "review" will be very useful.

The problem is that, in some cases, you need complex sentences , passive voice or adverbs. And that means that a perfectly fine article won't be pristine. I had a similar problem when facing syntax correctors that show a lot of warnings. Yes, they help you make less mistakes, but they also give falso positives, which can be distracting. I want to clean up and get to zero errors, after all.

So, this can reduce your writing to be "too conformant".

Man, writing is hard :_(

I thought the same thing on first glance. However, maybe the use case for this is rather to filter entire blocks of solid color text. One complex (red) sentence every now and then is perfectly fine, but I would rather see a whole paragraph of them, say 4 or so in a row, as a problem.

I just cannot stand having "errors" highlighted in red, so my tendency will be to feel bad for not correcting every one. It breaks my heart to see compiler warnings, even if I know that those specific ones are ok... Maybe is just me, but it will be conflicting for me, and potentially not useful...

I'm reminded of a story[1] I heard on NPR the other day. Researchers have drawn correlations between writing style and the eventual onset of Alzheimer's. Apparently nuns who had a habit of writing verbose, idea-dense sentences were less likely to develop Alzheimer's later on.

[1]: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1272118...

This saddens me. I appreciate clear writing as much as anyone, but are we not denuding our language if we attempt to describe everything using short sentences and a small lexicon? I hate reading James Fenimore Cooper as much as the next person (including, notably, Twain), but surely there is a place for complex ideas expressed with a rich vocabulary and nuanced structure.

And no adverbs?!???? That's just ludicrous. I modified an adjective with one right there. I regret nothing!

To be fair, "just" rarely adds any value.

"That's just ludicrous." vs "That's ludicrous."

Reads pretty much the same.

I can't work out whether or not you're being ironic, but by the same token, "To be fair" and "pretty" are needless filler too. (In case it's not clear, I disagree with your premise!)

My English teachers would have started with eliminating the contractions and then discuss "just."

Ah, but I had more fun writing it that way!

I like this. I pasted in some text from a blog post I'm working on. All the edits it suggested made the post much better. I was worried that through the suggestions it might take the personality out of a persons writing, but because not all the suggestions are explicit (e..g change this word to this word) that might be avoided.

Awesome! I think it would be great if editors could help users to not only format their contents, but also to write better.

Another idea in sort of similar direction is doing automated link suggestions: http://bergie.iki.fi/blog/automated-linking/

I like this app. However, most of my work Latex based. If you had something like this for Sublime Text, I would buy it.

I think I would too. I like the idea. Not sure about calling it Hemingway, because I am a huge fan of the writer, but I would like to have something like this available for Sublime.

It might have to deal with markdown.

Another vote that I would like this within Sublime (although I'm not sure how that would work), and would really like for the tool to be able to interpret Markdown. Right now it gets confused by the markup for hyperlinks.

Looks like a great tool for me to take rambling blog drafts and trip them down while editing/refining.

Does lots of written work in restructed text and would buy as well (a sublime text addon, for example)!

It would be great if there was some way to write Sublime / Vim / whatever plugins that use this.

Not if it uploads my texts to some 3rdparty webservice, though

Ya that's one thing I would like to avoid also.

Neat! I just pasted in a chapter from a book I may or may not be writing. It's a useful experience. It definitely pointed out some things that could be better.

However, it's wrong a lot of the time. I'd encourage you to add a little explanatory note for people less confident in their writing. Something about how no computer is a substitute, they should make the final decisions, etc. It'd also be great to have a feature where I could bless particular sentences. Good editors make useful suggestions, but they also know to let marginal things go if the author disagrees.

Also, two minor bugs: any paragraph after multiple blank lines gets entirely highlighted in red. And you shouldn't capture the control-tab keystroke and convert it into a tab character. Every time I try to leave that window, I end up mangling my text.

Several years ago at conversion voodoo we studied the impact on conversion of writing at an 8th grade reading level which is about the average American.

It, of course, improved conversion and it turns out there is already quite a bit of algorithmic work on the topic to help tune your ad copy.

So I am a believer in the hypothesis that simplicity and clarity, in marketing anyways, is a worthwhile pursuit.

I am going to test this Hemingway along the same lines - take some longer form copy, run it through and test output.

(1) http://www.conversionvoodoo.com/blog/2010/04/increasing-site...

Neat. Along the same lines for emacs people, there's writemode-good (https://github.com/bnbeckwith/writegood-mode), and for Sublime Text there's Writing Style (https://sublime.wbond.net/packages/Writing%20Style).

Also, heads up that the site layout is not responsive: viewing at ~800px width places buttons all over the left side of the screen in an ugly way.

I especially like how easy you can guess the non-obfuscated version: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/js/hemingway-doubleup.js

"The resource you are looking for has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable." :-)

is was there? :) sharing is caring!

Seriously, what obfuscator is used here?

I like products like this, though English is a notorious pain in the ass to try and write, so I thought I'd try it out.

In good news, this app does a good job of handling complex sequences. Consider the sentence:

The quick, brown fox ran out of the clump of trees, saw us, got scared, and promptly ran back into hiding.

When I typed that, I expected it to turn red, but it didn't. Great job!

However, there is a problem with identifying adverbs. Consider the sentence, "He is a burly man." In this case, though burly ends with -ly (like adverbs), it is an adjective.

This is an interesting idea, and kudos to the founders for the start, enmity to passive voice notwithstanding. Good writing is hard. Things that help are welcome. And good for them for trying. It does seem a bit rough, still, though . . .

I wrote a book chapter recently -- as a last minute favor for a friend, and gratis. I did my best to make the words sing -- the subject's a yawner for most people, and I had to entertain myself while writing the thing. In addition to sly references to whatever caught my fancy that day, I quite deliberately used contractions all through. More music in 'em I reckoned and they scanned better. Some genius editor sent a markup back all de-contracted and I had to spend a day adding them back in. Cursing.

It is really, really hard to write well precisely because so much depends on context. It's true in professional writing too -- you have to keep your audience in mind. True that adjectives are less persuasive, usually, than facts stated slyly, but see how those sibilants sounds aloud? Maybe it's my taste and not yours, but maybe that's the point of a hemmingwayapp -- you could always joyceify it or send it throughout iambify.com and set it to my wild irish rose.

I'm sure Stanislaw Lem's great piece the Electronic Bard has been posted in the past but for those who don't know it and want the last word on wordsmithing machina, check it -- goo.gl/zZD0pX . Warning -- don't read this while drinking anything or you will risk snorting soda pop out your nose.

This is really nice. I said I'd by $5 for a desktop version but I'd pay $10 for a Chrome extension that could work on selected text or (even better) the Gmail compose text box.

I think the concept people are reaching for is the idea of false positives and negatives. Yes, if you have a bad sentence there is a good chance it will highlight it. But, perhaps not (false positive). Similarly, it will flag many perfectly fine sentences not pitched to 7 graders (false negatives).

Here is text I more or less randomly chose from MOMA's site. Almost all of it is graded as "very hard to read".

Where is the cutting edge of the motion picture? Discover it first at MoMA. Building upon the Museum's long tradition of exploring cinematic experimentation, Modern Mondays is a showcase for innovation on screen. Engage with contemporary filmmakers and moving image artists, and rediscover landmark works that changed the way we experience film and media.

Any edit I make to that paragraph that makes the app happy seems to diminish the text.

In contrast, my first paragraph is graded better than the MOMA text, yet I think it is worse. The one thing it did complain about were the adverbs 'similarly' and 'perfectly'. The former is required to draw the comparison; the second is perhaps redundant, but I am emphasizing to make a point - redundancy is as much a tool in writing as it is a crutch or error.

I'm not saying the app is useless, just take the output with a huge grain of salt. Heck, if I paste text from Hemingway it is a sea of red and yellow.

I bashed a little bit of prose into it for fun ;-)

--- I've always been impressed by Hemingway's writing style. Those long, rolling, complicated sentences transported me to a world where old men still fish; children care about the elderly, and the justice of the universe stands strong against agism. Every dog has his day.

I remember enjoying a long bath on a five-star hotel on the beach in LA, a huge bath, replete with a copy of "The Old Man and the Sea" and a little yellow rubber duck. It was then that I learned that my english teacher from years gone by was wrong. Long complicated sentences have their place in the literary world, it's just that they're not for everyone. Like this app.

Some people love Hemingway, and others don't. I happen to love the writer, but an App that highlights beautifully complex sentences that require your full attention to understand: I'm not so sure about. Somebody once said something famous about judging, and that it's not the greatest thing to do. Nixon said that it's better to stand firm on principle and bend like a reed when it comes to matters of taste.

For me, Hemmingway is a matter of taste.


This is how I scored in this fun game ;-)

2 of 12 sentences are hard to read. 1 of 12 sentences are very hard to read. 1 adverbs. Aim for 1 or fewer. 1 words or phrases can be simpler. 1 uses of passive voice. Aim for 2 or fewer.


Excellent app! This is the writing style my high school composition teacher drilled into my head. Everything I write now is influenced by her.

I also try to write my code using this style. In fact, code and documentation and email should be:

1. As short as possible: Less words mean less stuff to maintain and comprehend.

2. Simple: The goal in business is to communicate well. Not to impress. And if I haven't communicated clearly, maintaining that code is going to be hard for the next person who has to read it.

The slowest processor in the room is the wetware between our ears. Shorter, simpler code is easier to write, read, understand, communicate, remember. Halve the code, get a 32X improvement!


From their JS:

  readinglvl = getReadingLevel(paragraphs, sentences, words, chars);
  function getReadingLevel (p, s, w, c) {
      var r = Math.round((4.75 * (c / w)) + (0.5 * (w / s)) - 21.43);
      return r;

So it's a slightly modified http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_Readability_Index (uses 4.75 instead of 4.71 .

That's right. We're using ARI, mainly because it's a much simpler algorithm since it doesn't require identifying syllables. As you can see in the code, my programming skills are pretty weak, so ARI was an easy choice. This was my first non-trivial programming effort (I'm a marketer/product manager, not an engineer).

Was not meaning my comment as a slight to you at all, it's a very cool app you've got here. Best of luck with it!

It seems pretty useful as a tool for spotting the kind of linguistic howlers that tumble out on first draft. I can see this sort of thing becoming more valuable when more advanced Natural Language Programming APIs become available. It would be cool to see an attempt to encode Orwell's rules from Politics and the English language:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm)

I find it quite surprising that detection of cliches and needless multiple-negatives are not common features of word processing software.

I love it.

One thing though, I don't want another text editor. This is a feature, not an app, and I want this to integrate into my existing workflow. I don't know if that is a web service for integration with popular editors, integration with things like Editorially, or something else, but I really don't want to open yet another app to edit things.

Hemingway's writing is incredible, IMO. And the theoretical reasons he had for writing in that style are very convincing.

However it leaves one massive problem. If this is the 'one true way' or writing fiction, so to speak, then nobody else can really embrace it because they'll be dismissed as Hemingway wannabes.

My advice: on the "would you pay $5 for a desktop version", after the yes, offer to save their email for when it's ready. I probably (adverb) would've given it to you.

I'm not sure that I'll remember to come back and look for it.

I like the app and I think the easy to remember name suits it well, even if Hemingway might turn in his grave. It's a promising start, but I'm not sure if I'd continue to use it unless I could start tracking improvements in my writing.

I would love to see a bit more of the hard data behind the rankings. For example, I just tested a blog article I wrote 5 minutes ago against an article written by a proper journo on PandoDaily and I scored higher. Does that make me a better writer? I hope not.

In all seriousness, the idea has a lot of potential and you could certainly find a few nice ways to compare yourself different writing styles of famous authors Hemingway or someone else.

I have a question about the app itself:

I grew up in a bilingual home. My mom is a German immigrant who spoke no English when she met my American father. So in spite of having a good education and getting high praise for the content I produce, I find that I often write in "Germish." I need help with spelling, punctuation and grammar. The technical aspect of my writing is shockingly only fair to middlin' at best, sigh.

Spelling help is not hard to find but punctuation and grammar help is hard to find. So how helpful is it with that stuff? Because it looks like it focuses on tone or something, not basic grammar per se?


This might help bloggers write copy, but it's definitely not good for writers. The first paragraph of Chapter 1 of Robert Hughes' Shock of the New has these stats according to Hemingway:

5 of 12 sentences are hard to read. 2 of 12 sentences are very hard to read. 2 adverbs (he should be aiming for "0 or less"). 0 words or phrases could be simpler*

*this "could be simpler" feature might be a bit ambitious. If you're confident in telling me that the entire text is essentially too complicated, it seems contradictory that at the same time none of it could be made more simple.

Thanks for posting this! I've been struggling to write my first novel, and I'm interested to see how I score with this.

Of course, when you're writing, many times you break the rules. At times grammatically incorrect dialog, for instance, scans better. You might leave a subject off a sentence, make the reader hunt around for it. You might make some sentences difficult in order to contrast them with freely-flowing sentences in the space afterwards. You might create long, difficult-to-read sentences punctuated with short declarative ones.

Wonder how this tool is going to know any of that?

You're right that short, declarative sentences aren't always better. But, our goal in building this tool was to just provide a few simple algorithms for catching things that you might miss after staring at a piece of writing for too long.

It's a tool explicitly designed for the dumbing-down of text. It might have its uses, for instance when you're writing ad copy, but applying it to everything you write would be a mistake.

I thought it was a problem that 50%* of college freshmen read below a 10th grade level, but apparently the problem was with college graduates writing above it.

(*: number made up because I can't be bothered to look it up.)


Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear.

Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors. If you see a yellow highlight, shorten the sentence or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering logic. Try editing this sentence to remove the red.

Adverbs are blue. Get rid of them and pick verbs with force instead.

You can use a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over it for hints.

Phrases in green show passive voice.

Paste in something you're working on and edit away. Or, click the Write button to compose something new.

I wonder if you could get a negative score by pasting some translated Kant :P

Pretty cool, might use it as a quick checkup tool, would pay the 5$. Any word on what happens to the pasted text? I can't find any terms of use.

Could be really useful if you could change the rating rules. I'd like to adapt it to academic texts for example. There's some use beyond style as well since you could automatically check for superlatives (or adjectives in general) and the like that are generally not wanted and some other typical constructs that should be avoided.

This is great.

I struggle with correcting my use of passive voice and I wish there were suggestions.

For example, how would you rephrase this? "put some headphones on to reduce the odds of being interrupted by someone."

Wear headphones so you aren't interrupted. Wear headphones to reduce interruptions.

IANAEM (not an english major)

Actually, is your original even that bad? I though passive would be "Interruptions are reduced by you wearing headphones."

er, "put some headphones on to reduce the odds of someone interrupting [you/him/her/null]."

put some headphones on to reduce (the risk of) interruptions by others.

headphones reduce the odds of some interrupting you

I hated Hemingway in high school. His writing style is really mediocre. When reading A Farewell to Arms, if it wasn't for the fact that it was a professionally published and bound book, I would have thought it was an amateur attempt at fiction writing from one of my high school classmates -- and one of the weaker writers at that.

I couldn't stomach his writing style for an entire novel, so I ended up not finishing the book.

I would like to see someone make a similar website to guide you toward writing in the style of Charles Dickens.

If you'd like to read a deep investigation into writing styles, let me suggest Clear and Simple as the Truth[0]. Steven Pinker discusses the book in a fun talk on communicating science[1].

[0] http://classicprose.com/ [1] http://video.mit.edu/watch/communicating-science-and-technol...

I like and use Writer's Diet which seems quite similar and has been around for a few years.


In addition to the unfair maligning of the passive, I note that the following (simplified from a line in http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2922) is not marked as passive despite being so:

"This example will go unidentified as passive if you trust bad grammar-checking programs."

The problem is never the passive per se - it's unclear writing, period. Sometimes that involves passive voice.

I tried it out on a few articles from PG and the Economist. It turns out complex sentences are common in their writing. I don't mind, or should I say that it is not minded?

Pasting "best" HN comments in I get:

Grade 10, Grade 6, Grade 11, Grade 14, Grade 14,

And copy and pasting the whole page gets me Grade 9 (and some serious bugs (http://i.imgur.com/U6sK1mM.png?1) which I think may have crashed my browser.)

"New" HN comments:

Grade 12, Grade 7, Grade 7, Grade 5, Grade 7,

And the whole page is Grade 8

My own comments apparently have a lot of unreadable sentences but they aren't that bad. (this comment is Grade 3! Yay.)

A fun contrast to this would be kottke.org's "Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace" from a while back: http://kottke.org/09/03/growing-sentences-with-david-foster-...

Also: I haven't read a whole lot of Hemingway, but when I did read him, I always thought he was much more versatile a writer than made out to be.

> I haven't read a whole lot of Hemingway, but when I did read him, I always thought he was much more versatile a writer than made out to be.

Remember that Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and many other writers began as newspaper reporters, where over time they learned to express complex stories with the fewest words.


I am wondering if it may be better and/or more profitable to license the Hemingway algorithm to be used in the dozens of writing applications via a Chrome/browser app initially I would suppose (starting with Google Docs up to Poetica, Penflip, Draft etc.)

The value proposition I assume is the suggestions and recommendation. Focusing on that instead of customer acquisition/user interface design for another writing app may be more rewarding.

Great job all the same.

I am impressed with the result of this. I spent some time on the source code (after deobfuscating it). The analysis done on the text is quite simple and fairly limited. Kudos on the convincing result nonetheless.

Just a small note: looking at the source code almost made me look over my shoulder, there is about 30 different situations being reported to Google Analytics as events. The makers of this _really_ knows how you are using their product.

This could be the future of stylistic education in literature. If a tool existed to generate rules for this editor to follow, aspiring students could practice the writing styles of famous authors.

Of course, serious writers shouldn't model themselves after others. More specific areas would be the focus. Narrower subjects like technical writing might be promising, since they aren't particularly dependent on individuality in style.

It would be awesome if a "weasel words" highlighter or filter were to be added too. I have found that just removing some of these words from writing tends to have significant improvement in the clarity of writing. http://matt.might.net/articles/shell-scripts-for-passive-voi...

This is great for writing scientific articles, manuals, tutorials, text books and the like. I'll start using it right now :)

However, as far as literature is concerned, I'd not be using it. The title is misleading in that respect. Something along the lines "simple", "clean", "focused" writing would be better.

BTW: I have to paste some page-sized sentences from Thomas Pynchon in there.

I found this quite useful. I could see myself using it regularly as a Chrome extension similarly to how I use grammarly lite currently.

Very cool! I wish it would come with an API to integrate into text editors (Sublime Text, Emacs, Vim, etc.)

Shameless plug: Some time ago I authored a Sublime Text (2/3) plug-in that highlights use of passive voice and "weazel words" (i.e., words to use sparingly and words). To install from Package Control, just search for "Writing Style" :)

I think very few people would actually like using a desktop version, because it breaks your workflow.

Anyone who is prepared to hand over money for something like this ideally wants it integrated into their current writing environment, be that Word, LibreOffice, Scrivener, Dark Room or whatever.

Plugins are the way to commercialise this (if that's at all possible).

There is nothing wrong with the passive voice.

It's not technically wrong, no. Nobody will accuse you of having bad grammar. But every good writing style manual warns against using it. Because the active voice is clear, bold, and more concise. There are only a few situations where writers should prefer the passive voice.

Many "good writing style manual[s]" are kind of full of it.

An interesting bit from the wiki(1) on passive voice: "For example, despite Orwell's advice to avoid the passive, his Politics and the English Language (1946) employs passive voice for about 20 percent of its constructions."

As with anything, it's important to be aware of what you're doing. But back when I tutored people in writing, hard-and-fast rules like this resulted in awkward, contorted writing by scared students. For example, I once knew a very smart person who avoided predicate adjectives at all costs. I don't really blame him for confusing passive voice and predicate adjective. I even found cases where the Hemingway app confused the two. But it was too bad that he had been so thoroughly brainwashed against the passive. Though I kind of admired how he managed to avoid, for years of his life, what I think is an indispensable construction.

1 -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_passive_voice#Advice_in...

I haven't had the experience of tutoring anyone in writing, but I'd like to. And I agree, that you can't place too much importance in style manuals ... they can give contradictory or just plain stupid advice. But good style manuals do more than set rules - they explain why the rules are there, and even highlight exceptions where breaking the rule is appropriate. They are indispensable for improvising your writing, provided you don't treat them like rulebooks. Read a few, then form your own opinion.

Now, unlike a style manual, Hemingway doesn't explain the reasoning behind rules, or permit breaking the rules in the right context. It's limiting, and won't produce beautiful writing. But I suspect it will have use for non-writers. I'm talking about people who write imcomprehensibly, and don't have any incentive to master the art of writing. Doctors, lawyers, and business executives come to mind. In my experience, people in these careers write like shit and don't have time to improve their writing. By adhering to these rules, they can improve their writing significantly without much effort. The result will still be somewhat awkward and contorted, but far less than what they would write otherwise (marketspeak / legalese).

As my sibling commenter said: there is no situation where the writer should artificially contort the sentence just to avoid using the passive voice.

The examples in the Hemmingway app are great examples of this. There is nothing wrong with the phrase "Phrases in green have been marked...". It is perfectly descriptive and reads quite naturally.

The passive voice is correct grammar. It is 100% properly constructed English. It's a matter of style. And while one should be aware of and able to manipulate their style, that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with any particular style.

Even long, frequently forking sentences are not wrong. They are just a form of style. Style is about conveying mood, and cannot be prohibited any more than the choice of words in the sentence can be prohibited.

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