Monday, 21 April 2014

Weighing your words

After a recommendation from Nina Simon, who's been using it to write interpretative material for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, I've been giving the online writing app Hemingway a whirl.

Hemingway is designed to give you live feedback on your writing, aiming for clarity and comprehension. It calls out uses of the passive voice, adverbs, unnecessarily complicated words (I kept using 'accompanies' instead of 'goes with' and it didn't like that) and long or complex sentences.

Hemingway sits in judgement on the text of my talk on Ben Cauchi and social photography

You can type directly into the app in your browser window, or copy and paste text in. I found it occasionally had trouble dealing with larger chunks of text (more than a few hundred words) but overall, it made me more mindful than usual while writing.

I've been testing the app on funding applications and proposal documents - places where a forced regard for clarity and brevity are useful. I also found that the novelty of the app induced a level of focus that I'd been lacking. (That might well wear off.)

Of course, Hemingway won't work for everything. When I was working at the National Library as a web editor, I wrote an essay for Te Papa's Rita Angus publication. I was so fixated at the time on Plain English and all the conventions of writing online that I couldn't summon up the juiciness needed for good art writing. One person who I got to review my text described it as 'anorexic'. The thing I perhaps like most about Hemingway is that you can judiciously choose to ignore its advice, and embrace your darlings instead.

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