Do you want to get to the heart of what you want to say, faster? We’re taking Hemingway Editor through the paces in our full review!
It’s funny to think that in a world where the modern bookstore is in trouble, we consume the written word more than ever before. Our entire lives play out on screens where text stares back at us, naked and open to interpretation, its meaning conveyed in a series of letters and squiggles and numerals.
Writing with clarity has never been more important. It can prevent an argument, it can keep you in a job, it can sow seeds of harmony. Bad writing not only sticks out like a sore thumb, but worse, it can lead to the biggest dilemmas in our lives.
And that’s where Hemingway Editor comes in. This lightweight programme is designed for people who want to tighten their prose and get to the heart of what they’re saying faster. It’s designed to eliminate passivity. Strip away confusion. Cull adverbs. Omit needless frills.
The Hemingway Editor description online says it best. “[We are] like a spellchecker, but for style. [We] makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.”
Hemingway began life as a free online tool housed at www.hemingwayapp.com, which still exists today. The app is no longer free, however, and has been rebranded Hemingway Editor alongside a $20 price tag for Macs and PCs.
The principle is the same. You copy and paste your work into the editor and choose “edit” mode. From there, Hemingway gets to work, highlighting confusing wads of text in yellow and unreadable sentences in red. Adverbs are highlighted blue, passive tense in green, while words in purple have simpler alternatives. .
Simplicity is the underlying theme at work, and the choice of name is not an accident. Ernest Hemingway himself was famed for his Spartan style and the app very much believes that less is more. As do I.
That doesn’t mean Hemingway is faultless, however. Each piece of work is graded 1-20, 20 being the kind of convoluted rubbish academics fawn over, 1 being so simple your six-year-old child could read it. Paste some of Ernie’s greatest work into the programme and Hemingway Editor will angrily underline great wads of text. Other writers, many of whom I admire, don’t pass the test either. The Editor advises aiming for a grade between 8-9 – which implies sophistication, not ponciness – but Updike, Hemingway and McCewan all fall short of this watermark. Even Malcolm Gladwell, a writer of impeccable clarity, is penalised for sentences that push on a bit.
So, it’s not the ultimate barometer of quality, then. But as a style guide, it’s certainly useful. When it was a free app, I used Hemingway constantly as a means of checking for common errors I was making, like slipping too frequently into the passive tense.
What’s new in the paid-for edition, then? Well, for the first time, Hemingway now acts like a word processor. Hit the “write” button and all the highlights fade away, leaving you to jab your keyboard without being bothered. You can even save your resulting work in .hemingway format, which is a treat. One can only hope a .doc version is in the works for a future edition.
Small tweaks include the use of shortcuts for the first time, like ctrl + b among others, a small but welcome timesaver for anyone who’s sick of hearing Chrome chirrup in protest at the key combination.
Hemingway looks great, too. There are no fonts to change or backgrounds to alter. It’s simply a grey screen with a font pre-chosen for you: Georgia, from the looks of it. All writers know the feeling of staring at a blank white screen as inspiration drains from their fingertips, but Hemingway feels like a safe place to start doing work.
At a $20 price tag, the app isn’t feature rich, but it works. Every writer I’ve ever shown this to has been gripped by a childlike curiosity the moment they took their first look.
Other options do exist online, like the popular Grammarly, which claims to be the ultimate grammar checker. Hemingway doesn’t make that claim. Simply put, it has a clever, articulate way of highlighting wordiness and that’s that. The addition of a word processor makes the Editor worth the asking price for anyone who has the slightest interest in writing well.
Oh, and before I go – I scored 6 for this piece, which is “Good.”
This review is based on the PC version.