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Posted by Gavin McMahon
February 18, 2015

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Message + Design

I write a lot, but have a love-hate relationship with my writing. There are moments when I love it, when words rush on to the page, everyone of them a gem, every thought captured and clear. Then I re-read it. And I hate it. Complex sentences, passive voice, adverbs.

Your ability to write well matters. We write to communicate. Not just emails, business presentations, speeches, marketing copy, and reports. And don’t think that because you don’t have “copywriter” in your title that this doesn’t apply to you. It does. It’s not OK to confuse people with complex sentences and terms of art. It’s not OK to bore people just because you’re writing instructions or a technical presentation.

Microsoft Word, which for most (and for me until recently) doesn’t help. Sure the squiggly underline helped with the spelling, but passive voice and complex sentences? Not so much.

Then I discovered Hemingway App. It’s an online writing helper created by Adam and Ben Long.

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Compare this sentence from the first draft of a recent post,

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited as a guest on the Rad Presenters Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it before, it’s like a particularly geeky morning radio show, which instead of lampooning the news and spinning tunes, focuses on all things public speaking and presenting.

To this one:

A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest on the Rad Presenters Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it before, it’s like a particularly geeky morning radio show. Instead of traffic and Taylor Swift tunes, it focuses on all things public speaking and presenting.

OK, so it won’t win literary awards, but you can see that the second version is better.

 

What the app does well is take your copy and highlight it, so my first draft would appear like this:

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You can see that Hemingway App parses the text, and scores it for readability. The writing is color-coded — hard to read, very hard to read, adverbs, complex words and passive voice.

That’s your cue to rewrite until the colors disappear.  Technically, it may seem similar to other writing helpers, but the simplicity of the interface, scoring and game-like quality make it fun and easy to use.

 

Here’s my after paragraph.

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Simpler, shorter, and no colors.

 

Let’s be clear, the App won’t make you a better writer. That’s your job. But it’s a great starting point.

What I like about it, and why I think it works so well, is that there’s a conscious switch between writing mode and editing mode. First you hack away to get it all down, then you massage the prose to make it clear. Finally, you can play with it to make it sound good. In talking to professional writers, that distinction is crucial. We amateurs run into problems because we hack, massage and play at the same time. No wonder we end up with tortured and tangled text.

My wish for the app would be that it becomes an add-on to Google Docs, (my current writing software). But that isn’t in the cards. According to Ben Long, “We’re putting the finishing touches on Version 2 of Hemingway, and it’s going to be great. We’ll be adding rich formatting options, export to both markdown and HTML, and — best of all — support for Word docs.”

Maybe when they have that figured out I will be able to write good. 😉

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Gavin McMahon

Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at fassforward.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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1 Comments

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Peter February 18, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Sounds like an absolute gem of an app Gavin, and one that I could certainly use. The question is – will it also get me a step closer to a house on Key West and the Nobel prize for literature?

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