I die a little at this one

Have you seen the Hemingway app that’s been making its internet rounds recently? Click here to check it out. I’ll be here when you get back.

Hemingway “makes your writing bold and clear” by asking you to reduce the number of connections you make in each sentence, limiting the amount of information you convey to your reader per line. The premise of its algorithm is that shorter is better, because your reader has no time to think about the ideas you are presenting. It highlights longer sentences, adverbs, and passive voice so you can trim, hack, erase, and thereby “improve” your writing. Write to a tenth-grade education level and lower in order to win its approval.

This app makes me cry inside. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional use of passives! Longer sentences demonstrate mature thought processing! The app’s creators assert that following these guidelines helps you write more persuasively, but I beg to differ. Consider this:

Sometimes, you need long, complex sentences in order to capture the full train of thought you followed to your conclusion in one go, or else you risk your reader jumping off before it reaches the final station.

If I stopped that sentence at “complex sentences,” those of you who agree would nod and perhaps keep reading, but those of you disagree might just as easily stop. You would never read my reasoning and might forever assume that I’m prone to drawing conclusions based simply on ego. With the longer sentence, you are pulled forward into my argument by the phrase “in order to” because I immediately answer your question “why” (why should I care, why does that matter, etc).

Everyone has a unique style of writing, leaving  behind a characteristic thought marker like a thumbprint on a glass—ask a forensic linguist if you don’t believe me. That’s what makes communication interesting. Why would you want to homogenize that?

Thoughts? Comments? Can you think of a good use for this app? Share below!

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3 thoughts on “I die a little at this one

  1. Great post, Carolyn. I hadn’t heard of this app, but I certainly won’t be using it. I agree with you wholeheartedly since I too am dismayed by this rising trend of shorter sentences and avoidance of the passive at all costs.

  2. Pingback: Building Great Sentences {book review} | translation, untangled

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