Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Getting Writing Help from Hemingway

On-line Readability Assistance 

Now this is interesting. There's an on-line app - called Hemingway - which invites you to drop or write text into it, click the edit button, and get readability statistics for your writing.

We all know what we need to be doing to make our writing more readable - cut out the adverbs, make smaller sentences, use simpler words and phrases and so on. And there are already ways to test it out, in Word and other programs. Try going into the options for spelling and grammar and ticking the box for 'Readability Statistics'. After any spell check you then get a box indicating how 'Readable' your story is.

But because this app looks quite user friendly, and they are thinking of producing a (paid for) desktop version, I thought I'd try it out, and 'test' it against Word's version.

So I dropped in the extract from my novel that I took to my writing group last night, and here are the results:

Readability Grade 5

Paragraphs: 29
Sentences: 64
Words: 627
Characters: 2778

3 of 64 sentences are hard to read.
1 of 64 sentences are very hard to read.
4 adverbs. Aim for 10 or fewer.
1 words or phrases can be simpler.
1 uses of passive voice. Aim for13 or fewer.

The 'hard to read' stat is measuring sentence length, so my hardest to read sentence was 41 words long, which I'll agree, is a bit wordy. I pressed edit and split it into three sentences. The problem stat disappeared. Then I changed it into two. One of the sentences was still 'hard to read' - turns out the app deems all sentences over 25 words hard to read. Since it is testing readability, I can't argue with that.

With an overall grade of 5 (the site approves anything under 10), I was quite happy, particularly with the low result for the passive voice. I did the same test on the same text in Word, and here are the results:

As well as the word count etc. I got stats for 

Sentences per paragraph - 2.3
Words per sentence - 9
Characters per word - 4.1

Passive sentences - 2%
Flesch Reading Ease - 89.1
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level - 3 

You can get quite far into this readability stuff, almost to the point of obsession, but I think the main indicator of readability is the Grade Level. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade level used by Word is based on this formula:

0.39 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total words}}{\mbox{total sentences}} \right ) + 11.8 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total syllables}}{\mbox{total words}} \right ) - 15.59

See what I mean about obsession? I don't know what indicator the Hemingway app uses, but In the end it's just an indicator, and it's always good to regularly test out your writing to see if it's going in the right direction.

Becoming more readable.

I would be very interested to know what results you get. Try it out, and let me know...