Have you ever crafted a long sentence that looked amazing to you, but confused your readers? We all have, I’m sure. And if those kinds of flowery lines of prose are gumming up your writing, the Hemingway Editor may be the tool you need.
The Hemingway Editor applies Ernest Hemingway’s style to improve your writing.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”Ernest Hemingway
What Is Hemingway Editor?
The Hemingway Editor is a writing analyzer app for writing and revising your work. The app gives notes and warnings that help you write more like Ernest Hemingway (minus the bleeding; I hope). What sets the Hemingway editor apart is the focus on improving style.
Let’s have a look at the editor using the web version (we’ll compare the browser app and desktop app a little later).
I’ve used my favorite guinea pig story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
To get started, I pasted in the text. And as you can see, Hemingway Editor immediately noted a variety of potential edits.
Before we dive into examining how the editor works, let’s look at Hemingway Editor as a writing tool. Because it is, in fact, a decent online writing app.
When you click the ‘Write’ button on the upper right side, it hides all the highlights. You’re left with a clean, distraction free writing screen.
A couple of things to note about the writer; you’ll see the red underlines. Yup, Grammarly’s Chrome plugin works with Hemingway Editor, meaning you can check spelling right inside the app. The one major downside I found with using the app to write is that it slows down as your document gets longer. And my biggest complaint; no dark mode.
Otherwise, it’s a good writing tool with standard formatting options.
Style Editor And Suggested Edits
Once you’re done writing, the Edit mode gives guidance to improve your work. The Hemingway Editor targets 5 aspects of your writing to offer advice:
- Passive Voice
- Adverbs/Weak Words
- Simple Words/Phrasing
- Difficult Sentences
- Very Difficult Sentences
The Editor uses color-coded highlighting to show you where you can improve. The total number of suggested improvements appear in the sidebar:
Words or phrases highlighted in blue show weak words, generally adverbs. Most writing doesn’t need any words to modify verbs. Removing or improving your weak words will make the writing that much stronger.
Hemingway Editor has exceptional inline suggestions for adverbs too. I particularly love that the suggestion most often seen for adverbs is ‘omit.’ As we all know, adverbs are a mistake 99 times out of 100.
The green edits show passive voice sentences. Passive writing tends to be longer and less impactful. For example, consider this sentence from Alice:
- She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled ‘ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty.
Now let’s rewrite it with an active voice:
- She took down a jar labeled ‘ORANGE MARMALADE.’ Empty, to her great disappointment.
My edit isn’t the best revision either. But it shows how much tighter the simple sentence can be.
Suggestions in purple show a complex word with a simpler alternative. The purple edits are the most Hemingway-esque of all the suggestions you’ll see. The goal is to make your writing simple and understandable.
Purple edits suggest edits inline, just like blue edits. You’ll have to scrutinize these ones. In the example above, replacing ‘shall’ with ‘must’ or ‘will’ simplifies the sentence. But the line is dialog, so we need to tread carefully. Using ‘shall’ here might be a choice to illuminate the character.
Yellow highlights will pick out entire sentences the Hemingway app finds hard to read. These suggestions are helpful in finding long or arduous sentences. You’ll often see some purple highlights in difficult sentences too; suggesting that part of the problem may be the complexity of the sentence and not just the length.
I think yellow edits are the ones most easily ignored. A difficult sentence isn’t always a problem. It’s still helpful to be aware of any sentence that might be hard for readers to understand.
Finally, Hemingway Editor shows you very difficult-to-read sentences. From my testing, these sentences are almost always long, run-on monstrosities that should be at least two or more individual sentences.
You should look to finish your Hemingway App edits with ZERO red marks. These are the most complex and problematic sentences. Even if you don’t ascribe to Hemingway’s ‘simple’ style, lines marked in red are probably going to confuse at least some readers.
Aside from the five highlighted suggestions, Hemingway Editor gives a readability score. The score is based on the Flesch–Kincaid readability formula. The formula uses grade levels based on US school system grading to tell you how ‘readable’ your writing is.
You’ll find this score in the sidebar, above the summary of highlighted sections.
The app aims for a Grade 5 or 6 level – the reading level most readers prefer. The rest of the information is basic data almost all word processors can offer. But the readability grade is a nice, quick way to see how your writing stacks up to the reader’s expectations.
Defining Hemingway’s Style
You can find lots (and lots) of articles and books about how Hemingway wrote. One blogger wrote a great piece about Hemingway’s style and how/when to use it. I think you can break down the style into three focal points:
- Simplicity – Simplicity means never using a complex word when a simple one will do. Simplicity is aiming to use shorter words. Single syllable words create a cadence or rhythm for the reader that can be very hard to break away from.
- Positivity – Hemingway avoids telling you what isn’t happening and instead focuses on what is. The unspoken negatives create mystery, but they also make the reading experience less boring and easier to read.
- Concision – A brief sentence always beats a long one. Say what you mean, say it precisely, and say it quickly.
Hemingway’s style lends itself well to blogs and journalism. For authors, that might mean the Hemingway Editor is best as a passive voice checker or to search for adverbs—but not ideal as the sole editing tool for your manuscript.
Hemingway App: Paid Versus Free
The web-based editor is 100% free to use. The only real downside of the free version is that you’ll need to copy/paste your writing to get it out of the app. The free Hemingway app isn’t a true word processor, so you won’t be able to import or export.
If you’re writing blogs or other short content, that probably isn’t a big deal.
Now the paid version (at a one-time cost of $19.99 for Mac and PC options) includes import/export and saving your work locally. So if you’re an author and you want to use Hemingway Editor for a book, it’s worth considering a purchase.
Hemingway App Versus Grammarly
I can’t talk about AI-based editing without mentioning Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
For the most part, I like Grammarly for spelling and usage; two things Hemingway Editor doesn’t help with. The two apps don’t even really bear comparing, as they actually work great together.
Grammarly’s paid version offers similar suggestions to Hemingway, but the Grammarly tool gives broad editing advice. Hemingway Editor very much wants to help you write like Hemingway.
Hemingway App Versus ProWritingAid
Like Grammarly, ProWritingAid works in the Hemingway App’s web-editor. The comparison here is a little closer though, as ProWritingAid helps with many of the edits Hemingway will call out.
And like Grammarly, I enjoy using the two in tandem. ProWritingAid is great at sentence structure, helping break up those difficult to read sentences Hemingway Editor will call out.
Is Hemingway Editor Worth Using?
Many of the edits Hemingway Editor calls out appear when using either Grammarly or ProWritingAid (though you’d need the paid version of both to get the depth Hemingway offers). Since the editor is available for free (and reasonably priced for the desktop app), there’s no reason not to use Hemingway editor.
Here comes the except…
Except that not all writers want to write like Hemingway. While the man was an important literary figure, his style is rigid and not right for everyone. Consider my example of Alice in Wonderland. It’s only 27,000 words (most novels are 70,000+ words) and Hemingway Editor found 432 adverbs. That’s a lot.
And there were plenty of difficult sentences too, 343 out of 1767, or about 20% of the total.
Because Lewis Carroll writes differently. His sentences are longer and more challenging. More flowery, if you will. Carroll doesn’t want to write like Hemingway. You might not either. And that’s fine.
The Hemingway app is free, so there’s no reason not to use it. But like all AI-powered editors, it’s no replacement for an actual person proofing your work. Most writing benefits from simplicity, positivity, and concision. So I recommend the Hemingway app for all writers.
And yes, that includes this article. Here’s my score from the first draft versus the published version:
For a blog post, I improved the content. The five areas all are within acceptable limits, the readability score came down a grade, and I shaved a little off the total reading time.
Overall, Hemingway Editor is useful but with limitations. It’s an excellent tool for finessing your sentences. But for a piece of fiction, it may do more harm than help. So use it with an eye toward your goals and an understanding that Hemingway, while a skilled writer, wasn’t perfect.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.
When writing for an international readership which spelling should be used, American or British English?
That’s an interesting question that I don’t have an exact answer for. I spent some time poking around on the web and it seems opinions vary. The most common response I see (and one I firmly agree with) is to write in your voice. If you’re American, write in American English. If you’re British, write in British English. The important thing is to be understood and genuine.