Here’s Exactly What Happened When We Checked Out the Hemingway Editor

Apr 06, 2017
Hemingway editor

Is It Possible to Write Better Political Mail with an App? We tried Hemingway Editor.

We all love life hacks. I’ll read any article that promises to show me “10 ways to be more productive at the office” or “15 secrets to make your morning better” or “5 ways to pack a healthier lunch.” Even if I just glean a single tip from the list, the sparkling promise of ease and order will hook me every time. That was why I was excited to try out the Hemingway Editor, a website that’s designed to show you simple ways to make your writing “bold and clear.” Call me a geek, but who doesn’t want to convey their thoughts in a more concise way (perhaps ending email confusion for good)? Whether your writing will appear in a press release, political mailer or on your campaign’s website, you want every who sees your message to be able to understand quickly and easily.

Here’s what I learned when I tested out the Hemingway Editor…

Stick with short sentences. Papa Hemingway was known for his concise prose (the article “Hemingway or My Mother’s Email” is a funny must-read on the subject), and this namesake app will ding you if your sentences drag on. (For example, the previous sentence wouldn’t fly in the Hemingway Editor.)

Basically, the program has two modes: write and edit. In “write” mode, you’ll just type away, as you would in a Word doc. In “edit” mode, it highlights different passages or words that are too long, in the passive voice, etc.

Use simple, non-jargony words. In politics and advocacy, just like in any other business, we often get bogged down in our own internal vocabularies. These words might not mean the same thing to voters, so it’s important to look for them before you send your communications out to the world. The Hemingway Editor highlights some of these words and phrases, and suggests other options. Their site gives a great example: “utilize” is flagged and “use” is replaced as a suggestion. Keeping everything simple will make your political or advocacy message more accessible. And isn’t that the point?

Work in small chunks. I found the Hemingway Editor to be most helpful when I dropped a paragraph or two onto the site at a time. That way, I could rework what was marked and apply that advice to the rest of a piece. Working in small chunks also helped me get into a groove of what works, before I got too deep into a project. I wouldn’t suggest pasting an entire blog post or white paper into the app or risk a mess of frustration.

Remember: you aren’t always going to be perfect. If you’re a type-A overachiever, I could see how you might get frustrated with the Hemingway Editor. It sometimes feels impossible to both convey your message and make the app happy. (For example, it really didn’t like the sentence above that contained all the fake lifehack articles.) Luckily, the machines don’t have to win. I decided to use the offending sentence, even though it was “dense and complicated.”

Bottom line: Take Hemingway Edtior’s suggestions for how to improve your writing, but sometimes allow your own pen to prevail.

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