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We’ve heard it before: effective communication is clear and concise. When writing for the public, experts advise using language at a grade 4/6 level. This can be a challenge if the author of the document is an expert in his or her field; hence the rise of the plain language editor. Experts and editors need to go beyond “dumbing it down” to ensure that the message is still accurate and complete. This can be more difficult than it seems, but hey, there’s an app for that: the Hemingway Editor.

What is the Hemingway Editor?
The Hemingway Editor is a tool designed to help writers ensure their work is as clear and concise as possible. Available online or as an app on your desktop, the tool uses colour-coded highlighting to alert the reader to issues such as passive tense, long or run-on sentences, and complex sentence structure (sentences containing multiple clauses that could easily lose the reader). It also highlights adverbs (often not necessary), and offers alternative simple terms for complex ones. Other helpful tools include stats such as number of words, sentences, paragraphs, characters, and letters in a given piece. It also estimates read time, which can be helpful for speeches, presentations, and video scripts. In addition, at the top right, you will see a grade level marking for readability.

Hemingway Editor at work

Hemingway Editor at work

Does the Hemingway Editor help?
Allowing users to copy and paste or compose a document directly within the app makes the Hemingway Editor easy to use. I do find the information the app provides to be helpful in the editing process since it alerts me to areas that could be tightened up. However, as with all electronic writing and editing tools, the Hemingway Editor is no replacement for a good editor. In certain cases, an adverb might be necessary to make the meaning clear. In order to bring out contrast between ideas, a complex sentence might be exactly what is called for. And while potentially awkward, the passive voice—used sparingly and wisely—can add variety and change the focus of a sentence in subtle and precise ways. If you’re an editor or writer working on documents for the general public, I do think that using the Hemingway Editor will help you edit for clarity and readability—just don’t get hung up on the stats and highlights. Sometimes, there just is no simpler way to say something without losing part of the meaning or clouding the message.

I used the app on this blog post and it gave me a readability score of grade 10, which I think is appropriate for my target audience. The app highlighted many of my sentences and I was able to simplify where I could. Remember to write your message with the reader in mind; if you do that, your readability score will likely be appropriate for your audience. So… did it take you 2 minutes to read this post?

Check out the Hemingway Editor and let me know what you think. Was it helpful?