As a blogger, I’m always looking for helpful tips on how to expand my readership.
For instance, the tip I got to include the words “Miley Cyrus” in a headline has resulted in tons of search-engine-driven hits, even though the blog post (which was about baby boomer travel) had nothing to do with Miley Cyrus.
I ignored the tip not to use the word “algorithm” in a headline and lived to regret it, even though my use of it — “Algorithm and Blues: 99 Ways That Google Is Destroying Baby Boomer Travel” — seemed clever enough. But maybe 99 was pushing it because only my mother read it, and even she stopped at number 63.
So when I came across a tip that a blog should be written at an eighth-grade reading level, it caught my attention. It seems the majority of readers mostly skim blog posts, and if there are big words – like “algorithm” – to digest, then these typical readers lose interest and move on to another blog or back to watching “Baywatch” reruns.
The content expert who wrote the tip also recommended that bloggers “assess their writing to make sure it’s clear and easy to understand” by checking out a site called Hemingway Editor, which invented the grade-level test.
That made perfect sense, because Hemingway, as everyone knows, wrote clear and easily understood prose, such as “We ate oysters plucked straight from the river, and they were good.” Even sixth graders could get that.
If I could write as clearly and easily understood as that, my audience was sure to expand.
Not to mention that for baby boomers like myself who grew up reading Hemingway and his exploits as an expat in 1920s Paris and Spain, books like The Sun Also Rises, A Moveable Feast, and Green Hills of Africa helped fuel our lust for travel and adventure abroad. I owed it to Ernest to follow his lead once again.
I Can Already Feel The New Readers Rolling In
So I clicked on the link to Hemingway Editor and ponied up the $6.99 it charged for its insights.
Among other things, it advised using simpler words, as Hemingway did, and quoted Ernest taking umbrage at his misguided fellow author William Faulkner:
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
This concerned me, because obviously, unlike Hemingway, I apparently don’t know any ten-dollar words, since I consider myself lucky to be paid a tenth that much these days.
Losing Those Ten-Dollar Words (Alas)
But I digress. The Hemingway Editor helpfully highlights your “ten-dollar words” in purple, so that you can avoid utilizing – er, using – such words, even if you’d love to know what they are. (I was taken aback, though, when I came across the word “algorithm” on the Hemingway Editor’s help page – but maybe that’s just a five-dollar word.)
The Hemingway Editor also goes after adverbs, highlighting them in blue so that you can
really finally eliminate their “scourge.”
“Adverbs,” the site advises, “are like verbs’ kryptonite…(they weaken them). Instead of these verbal atrocities, switch over to a more powerful verb. For instance, instead of saying that someone is ‘walking slowly’ you can say they ‘tip-toed’ or they ‘crept.’ That way, your writing is more vivid.”
(Or, perhaps you can say they were “ambling” or “strolling,” since “tip-toed” and “crept,” however vivid, imply trying to remain silent or stealthy while walking slowly. But I get the idea: Lose the words that end in “ly” — unless, perhaps, it’s “imply”.)
Write With Confidence and Swagger, I Was Just Dithering Over
The passive voice really comes in for scorn from the Hemingway Editor, and rightly so
certainly deserves it.
Here’s what the site has to say about the passive voice, which it highlights in green so you can see where you’ve gone astray:
“When it comes to writing, confidence is key…removing passive voice can give your writing James Bond levels of swagger.”
I couldn’t agree more, because, as Hemingway put it in A Moveable Feast, “But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
I know that I, personally, was moved to avoid passive voice by that sentiment. By the way, the name’s Norton…Clark Norton.
Wordiness Is Next to Godliness, No Take That Back It’s a Terrible, Terrible Sin in the Digital Age, Etc.
What the Hemingway Editor really hates with a passion, though, is wordiness. Long, complex sentences and “dense” prose get highlighted in yellow or red, with yellow being “hard to read” and red being “very hard to read.”
“Too often,” the site advises, “our words are like our thoughts – innumerable and disorganized. Almost any bit of writing could use some cutting. Less is more, etc.”
So true, etc.!
“Try removing needless words or splitting the sentence in two,” the advice continues. ”Your readers will thank you.”
But I admit, when I plugged one of my favorite blog posts into Hemingway Editor for its evaluation, my words were swallowed virtually disappeared into a sea of yellow and red.
My post was deemed bad and very bad flunked. According to the Hemingway Editor, it read like something a junior in college might comprehend, which fails the “grade level” test.
Which I should have guessed, because none of my readers had thanked me for it.
Hemingway’s Pithiest Prose, Ever
Less being more, etc., I googled “longest sentence Hemingway ever wrote,” expecting that maybe it was 15, 20 words tops. After all, Papa did have a tendency to connect his otherwise short, pithy, action-oriented sentences with the word “and” (as in “We ate oysters plucked straight from the river, and they were good”), but surely he would never get flagged by the Hemingway Editor’s red highlighter.
Here’s what I found: Hemingway’s longest sentence ever was 424 words, which appeared in Green Hills of Africa.
I would reproduce it here, but that would send you quickly scurrying to other travel blogs. Hemingway’s sentence is way too long. And dripping in red.
And I trust. You’ll thank me. For it. Etc.