Not you personally. I mean, your writing.
Last week, Daily Writing Tips, a site I rely on for useful and interesting writing info, featured a book and corresponding website called The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose by Helen Sword, which I found intriguing. (See article in this newsletter for more information about the book and its author.) In her book, Sword gives clear-cut guidelines to writing clean, compelling prose, such as:
Use active verbs whenever possible; favor concrete language over vague abstractions; avoid long strings of prepositional phrases; employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute something new to the meaning of a sentence; and reduce your dependence on four pernicious “waste words”: it, this, that, and there.
Great advice all around. Then Daily Writing Tips referred to a website connected to the book where you could test the fitness of your text. I had to try it. I went to The Writer’s Test, copied in a section of some of my better text, and ran the program. Voila! It confirmed what I hoped for.
My diagnosis was lean in all areas: verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and it, this, that, there. Yes! Plus, it gave me a color-coded version of my text, showing evidence of the various tests I aced. I puffed out my chest and told myself, “You really are a good writer.”
Then I decided to check some writing I knew wasn’t that great and see the results. Again, the test came back positive, declaring the text lean and fit. Humph. I tried again with poorly written text, and the results deemed the writing lean in all categories but verbs.
Once more, I put the The Writers Diet Test to the test and entered some bad writing, atrocious, really. It still showed the writing fit in all areas but said the verbs and the it, this, that, there needed toning.
I would have given that section of text a heart attack diagnosis and put it on life support.
That was disturbing to me. How could it be? Then I noticed the small print:
ATTENTION USERS: Please note that the WritersDiet Test is an automated feedback tool, not an assessment tool. The test identifies some of the sentence-level grammatical features that most frequently weigh down academic prose. It is not designed to judge the overall quality of your writing—or anyone else’s.
Alas, feeling like a great writer was short-lived, but it was fun while it lasted. The highlighting did point out a few things I could tighten, so it was useful in that sense.
Take your writing out for a spin at The Writers Test. Let me know what you learned in the comments section below.