In marketing copywriting, digital or otherwise, clarity is everything. The message being delivered to customers can be response-provoking, honest, informative, entertaining, relevant, meaningful or all of the above, but clarity is vital. If the reader doesn’t understand the message, they won’t respond to it in the way you intend them to.
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re on a creative concept roll, though and most of the time your first draft isn’t anywhere near to being ready to hand in. For example, it might have sloppy sentence structure, it might be difficult to read, you might have missed out a word and now it doesn’t make sense. This is the kind of situation in which the Hemingway App can be extremely valuable, but to understand what it does, we first need to discuss the man it was named for.
Why should we care about Hemingway?
Ernest Hemingway was arguably the greatest writer of the twentieth century (certainly the first half of it, anyway), famed as much for his various exploits in Paris, Spain, Africa and Havana with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Martha Gellhorn and Gertrude Stein, as he is famed for his novels. These include The Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man And The Sea.
Hemingway’s style writing is renowned amongst students of literature. He began his career as a journalist, where he learned to focus solely on facts (what happened, when, where, who was involved and why) without offering context or interpretation. When he moved onto fiction, he started with short stories rather than novels and retained that journalistic style as a means of keeping his word counts down.
Applying the Hemingway style to content
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” – Ernest Hemingway, Death In The Afternoon.
Hemingway named his style “The Iceberg Theory” – the hard facts represent the relatively small part of the iceberg visible above the water, while subtext, implication and the supporting structure lie out of sight, making up the bulk of the iceberg. His stories are tightly structured and are lent added weight, gravitas and force by what he has omitted and left to the reader to discern.
How the Hemingway app helps us achieve clarity
It’s the Iceberg Theory that inspired the Hemingway App. Freely available online or as a desktop download, users can copy and paste text into the system, which then assesses it in accordance with the Hemingway style. Its job is to help you make your writing bold, clear and easy to understand.
To this end, it highlights long, complex sentences in yellow and really long, really complex sentences in red. It also points out long words that can be replaced with shorter alternatives in purple, with adverbs in blue and instances of passive voice in green (both of which, the app says, should be changed for more forceful wording).
It’s worth pointing out that the app doesn’t perfectly mirror Hemingway’s style of writing when it assesses what the user enters into it. He mainly favoured short sentences but he wasn’t averse to using long, multiple-clause sentences that the app would recommend removing. Additionally, he would have used adverbs and the passive voice on occasion. However, the user can be discerning about what they change and what should remain as it is. We admire Hemingway’s style, but he wasn’t perfect – no writer ever has been, or ever will be, regardless of what the JK Rowling zealots on Tumblr might try to tell you.
Nevertheless, the app is extremely useful for showing you where your writing could be simplified to make it easier to read and to let your message shine through more strongly. It acts as a kind of proofreader, something that draws your attention to the parts which sounded fine as you were writing them but are actually confusing or weak. It also encourages you to concentrate the focus of the writing on your core message – the hard facts of the Iceberg Theory – and omit anything irrelevant or that the reader can figure out by themselves.
It’s a tool for everyone
It’s not just a tool for copywriters when they’re putting adverts and articles together, either – in our agency alone, almost everyone could benefit from it. Technical audits often use complex language and would benefit from being simplified; monthly account reports are sent out with all manner of figures and statistics for the recipients to get their heads around; and articles like this one are written to go up on our blog.
The Hemingway App isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t make it worthless – in fact, as we have seen, it is extremely valuable (in addition to being a fun idea) in a multitude of areas and can bring writing errors to your attention that you might never have noticed otherwise.
What tools do you use to help you streamline and improve your writing? Let us know on Twitter at @RocketMill.