Hemingway – A Simple Editing Tool for Simple Prose

We talk a lot about ideas here on SciFi Ideas. I guess the name obliges us to. But what we don’t talk about so often is how best to apply those ideas to paper (or screen).

Not everybody who visits the site is a writer. Those of you who are have varying levels of expertise with the written word, and many of you occupy different wavelengths on the amateur-professional spectrum. But, writer or not, amateur or pro, I recently stumbled upon something which could be useful to us all. It’s called Hemingway Editor, and it’s both nifty and free.

(I literally stumbled upon it using Stumble Upon. Feel free to share and upvote our articles on Stumble Upon, by the way!)

Hemmingway is an on-line tool that offers a basic critique of any selection of writing you paste into it. There are lots of these things out there, but I’m finding this one to be particularly user-friendly, mostly due to its simplicity.

Screenshot 2015-06-30 21.42.15

Rather than criticizing your grammar – which most word-processors do already – Hemingway instead gives you hints on how to improve the quality and readability of your writing. More precisely, it highlights areas that require extra attention, and those aren’t always easy to spot in your own work. When you proofread your prose (or should I say if you proofread your prose) you aren’t necessarily getting a typical user experience. Since you share a brain with the author, it’s hard to be objective.

Of course, this tool is by no means equal or equivalent to having somebody read your work and give you an honest opinion, but it will help you squeeze a little more out of that second draft.

The focus of this program is on readability, clarity being the primary goal of most writers, and the old adage “less is more” being true in most cases. It assesses the readability of your writing in five ways and highlights instances of each in the document. The five issues at point here are long sentences, ridiculously long sentences, use of adverbs, phrases that can be shortened, and that droning passive voice we all find ourselves using from time to time.

I’ve been using Hemingway for a few weeks now, sneakily judging it while it judges me. Although we’ve had our disagreements, it’s certainly been a helpful tool.

At first, I was annoyed by all the blue and purple markings, indicating use of adverbs and ‘phrases that can be shortened’ respectively. Nobody likes it when machines try to stifle our creativity. No writer likes it when they’re told to use fewer words, and adding superfluous description is sometimes part of the artistry of the craft.

But the more I used Hemingway the more I realised it wasn’t so much criticising me as offering me opportunities to sharpen my prose. It encouraged me to use words and phrases that were not only more efficient but also more effective. For example: in the previous paragraph I used the word ‘superfluous’. Initially I’d intended to write ‘extra and unneccessary’, but Hemingway told me I could do better, so I did.

Hemingway1Incidentally, I’ve been running this article through Hemingway continuously while writing it, and it probably won’t surprise you to learn that chunks of it have been highlighted in yellow and red, meaning that my sentences are too long (this one especially). Did you find this article difficult to read? Without Hemingway, it would be much worse.

I encourage you all to give Hemingway a try. All writers can benefit from having a second set of eyes review their work, no matter how experienced or professional they are. Since we can’t all afford the myriad benefits of a human editor, this mechanical one will have to do.

You can try Hemingway at www.hemingwayapp.com. It’s free!

How do you edit and proofread your work? Do you use any special tools, and can you recommend one? Tell us about it in the comments below.


P.S – Before anybody asks, no I haven’t been paid to endorse Hemingway, unfortunately 🙁

 

  • Leonardo Faria

    I’m not sure I’m going to have a try.
    Peter Elbow, the inventor of freewriting, in his book “Write with Power” dedicates several chapters to revision, and he makes a very interesting point: bad prose is often strong prose., crisp prose often just plainly sucks. It sounds paradoxical, but the key concept is that we shouldn’t allow anything to get in the way of our editing process. If you want to know what works and what not you have just to read aloud (still better if you can have feedback). Read your work aloud as often as you can! What works is something strictly related to our real voice, that can’t be dumbed down by rules of supposed good writing (passive verbs, adverbs, long sentences, short words over long words etcetera). That makes sense to me.
    Here some interesting essays by Peter Elbow on the writing and revision process:

    http://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/

    • I agree completely. As I said in the article, it’s those extra fiddly bits (extra adverbs and long sentences) that are the artistry of writng, and I’m a big fan of superfluous words. You shouldn’t let programs like this strip all the character out of your prose, but it’s still useful to be told that MAYBE this should be cut down and MAYBE that could be more concise.
      It’s a bit like seeing somebody’s brow crinkle as you watch them read your work.

  • Has an editor or teacher ever left a random dot of ink in the margin of your work? Like they were about to write something but decided against it? I hate that.
    If there’s something wrong, or if the paragraph just needs a little extra work, tell me!

    • michael pulleine

      no because In Australia we use ball point pens as opposed to quills, How’s the wifi in the 1400s?

      • Ballpoints use ink too!

        • michael pulleine

          yes but In my experience a ball point will not leave ink if it isn’t moved

          • michael pulleine

            also, no, I have not experienced that, I use computers for my assignments and stuff meaning, I haven’t had a hand written assignment for two years, and I copied it on to my computer for marking I’ll provide an equation to explain.
            my shorthand+my handwriting=a message that would be easier to understand if you put it into a German Enigma machine.

      • Kirov

        I heard the wifi is pretty good actually. Nobody else has a device that can actually use it, so you get the full bandwidth to yourself.

        • michael pulleine

          yeah but what exactly would you do with your Wi-Fi? watch Youtube videos? oh wait, Youtube wouldn’t have been invented yet…

  • Paulo R. Mendes

    Hummm… I think that I will use this “Hemingway” while writing the Alien Profile to the Alien August Competition.

  • Leonardo Faria

    Incidentally, Hemingway was a longhand kind of writer. He typed his work at the end of the day (usually 750 words), after going through multiple drafts with a pencil. Legend has it that he wrote 39 times the last page of Farewell to Arms.

  • michael pulleine

    HUZZAH! THE INTERNET GIVETH ONCE MORE!

  • michael pulleine

    I like the last bit! it also provides some confidence in the tool!

  • michael pulleine

    I changed my mind, i hate it, I think this app has a personal grudge against my Lovecraftian story… only one sentence was left unmarked…

    • Yikes! Time to do some serious editing then.

      • michael pulleine

        yeah but, you know, It’s only been in existance for about seven-ten days…

  • DT Krippene

    Little late to the discussion. I use Autocrit, which has many of the same editorial attributes. I’m curious if anyone can compare the two.

  • Christmas Snow

    I was never aware my texts were hard to read until I cut-and-pasted into Hemingway. That includes the text which I’m posting. True, the program has tendency to oversimplify sentences but it still works. There are some issues with graphical display when I cut-and-paste from Hemingway into WORD. Fonts (size, bold, and style) seem to change. My Word text looked like a collage of mismatching fonts cut-out from a newspaper. On the webpage itself, using drag-and-drop to move words around has made similar problems. Some lines seem to overlap as if you printed twice on the same paper.

    If you want to avoid this problem, don’t cut-and-paste from Hemingway straight into Word. Don’t cut-and-paste from Word into Hemingway either. Copy the text, then paste it into Notepad. The text will lose its format, so now you can paste into your target area. The notepad fonts have no format. They will take the format in use wherever you paste them.

    • Sounds like some tricky issues there. So far I’ve only pasted too and from WordPress, and I’ve had no issues.
      It looks like they’ve just updated the app with some new formatting tools.

  • Earl T. Roske

    So you have to buy it to try it? It’s not clear to me what, exactly, I’m supposed to do to see results.

    • No, just paste some text right into the webpage (and delete the text that’s already there)