Everyone knows that you should have someone check your work before you publish it, whether it’s in print, online or just an important email. But it’s hard to find a good editor, and even harder to corner someone when everyone is always so busy. The Federal Plain Language Guidelines recommend conducting interviews and surveys to test your writing, though for most of us that’s even more unrealistic than finding an editor. Here is where these neat (and free!) tools come in: You can make your writing better without leaving your desk and without having to trouble any of your coworkers for a favor.
Say we want to do some outreach around packaging consumption, so we write this paragraph:
When consuming any type of product, it’s important to consider the packaging. In 2009, nearly 30 percent of municipal solid waste consisted of containers and packaging, and less than half of that waste was recovered for recycling. So, its important to purchase products with zero packaging at all (i.e. bulk items), purchase products with packaging you can reuse, or purchase products with packaging that you can recycle in your area.
It’s all right, but it could use some improvement. Let’s run it through these four writing tests, and see if they can help us make it stronger.
Readability-Score says the reading ease of this paragraph is 56.7. That’s not terrible, but when writing for the web or general public, you want to be at 60 or higher, so we could use some improvement. Readability-Score also says we’re at an average grade level of 11.8, and we’re aiming for 8. Here’s the other data Readability-Score gives us:
It’s a lot to take in, but let’s focus on the following: our average number of words per sentence is close to 14, and we’re repeating a few words too much. With that in mind, let’s revise the paragraph for shorter sentences and fewer repeated words. Here’s the revised version:
When consuming any type of product, it’s important to consider the packaging. In 2009, nearly 30 percent of municipal solid waste consisted of containers and packaging. Less than half of that waste was recovered for recycling. So try to purchase products with zero packaging at all (i.e. bulk items), types you can reuse, or types that you can recycle in your area.
What does Readability-Score think?
Our new Reading Ease Score is 67.5. That’s a ten-point improvement. And our new grade level is about 9.4. (Though Flesch-Kincaid, this site’s favorite formula, and the most commonly used, rates it at 6.4.) What about the other ratings?
Our word repetition has dropped, though the highest is still our topic, “packaging,” and our sentences are four words shorter on average.
Overall? Success. This tool’s amount of feedback can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty useful.
Hemingway says our last two sentences are too hard to read, and the word “purchase” can be replaced with “buy” or “sale.” It also recommends we remove our one adverb, “nearly,” though our one use of passive voice is tolerable. Hemingway’s grade level calculation sticks us at 14 — that’s pretty bad. But let’s see what happens when we revise for these concerns. Our new paragraph:
When consuming any type of product, it’s important to consider the packaging. In 2009, almost 30 percent of municipal solid waste consisted of containers and packaging. Less than half of that waste was recovered for recycling. Try to buy products with zero packaging at all (i.e. bulk items). If that isn’t an option, then choose items with packaging that you can reuse or recycle in your area.
What does Hemingway have to say?
According to Hemingway, this paragraph is problem-free. Also, in simplifying the language and shortening those hard-to-read sentences, we’ve dropped the grade level to 7. Nice.
The Writer’s Diet isn’t the perfect test for such a short writing sample, but it says our paragraph “needs toning” — not a super flattering diagnosis. When you look at all of those prepositions highlighted in green, though, it does seem like a lot. We could probably use a couple less adjectives, too. Let’s see what we can do to reduce our usage of those types of words.
When consuming any type of product, it’s important to consider the packaging. In 2009, almost 30 percent of municipal solid waste consisted of containers and packaging, and less than half of that waste was recovered for recycling. Aim to purchase products with zero packaging, such as bulk items, packaging you can reuse, or packaging you can recycle in your area.
What does the test say?
This new paragraph still contains a lot of prepositions, but less problematic phrasing overall, earning a new diagnosis of “fit and trim.”
Grammarly is the first test to point out our “its/it’s” typo. But it doesn’t have a lot to say besides — if you want feedback on any advanced issues, you have to purchase their full product.
Each of these writing tools has different strengths, so your favorite is going to depend on your needs and preferences for delivery. Grammarly is great for catching typos and giving word suggestions, and can also be used in conjunction with these other writing tools, though it frequently suggests that you pay for their full service. The Writer’s Diet is great to point out patterns in your writing style, if you tend to overuse certain types of phrasing. Hemingway gives color-coded feedback on specific sentences, though Readability-Score will tell you if you’re having problems because you need shorter sentences or shorter words. Keep in mind, too, that all these tools offer extra services for menial fees.
No matter which you prefer, with these tools at your fingertips, you’ll be out of excuses for bad, unclear writing. Now get to it — the world is in need of a little extra clarity.