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You don’t need another app! 8 ways to make content easier to read

The view from 39,000 feet

The view from 39,000 feet

I was catching up on some reading on the flight back from Seattle yesterday and came across a Hubspot blog post about apps for writers. I dug the idea and image capture tools, but one item hung me up good:

"If you are looking to make your posts easier to read (and you should be), Hemingway App is for you."
What's my beef? I know from working with kids whose schools rely on similar tools that having an app do this for you dramatically reduces the likelihood you learn to do it yourself. And--newsflash--if you're a pro writer or want to write like one, you need to learn, use and continuously hone the ability to improve your own writing.
Internalizing the ability to make your writing clearer makes your thinking clearer in ways that using an app simply doesn't. And, besides, what are you going to do if you don't have access to the app but need to produce something great?
Invest in learning to make your own work clearer and more concise. An easy practice I picked up from Poynter's Chip Scanlon is to chop 10-20 percent of everything I write as a first revision pass.
The goal: jettison anything that isn't absolutely necessary, that slows me down as a reader and that distracts from the main idea. I look for opportunities to:
  1. Replace multi-word verbs with single-word verbs. Consider this sentence: “I called him to set up a meeting for Friday.” Now this one: “I called him to schedule a Friday meeting.” The second is tighter and more precise.
  2. Replace weak verbs with strong verbs. These verbs don't just convey actions, they tell the reader how the actions are performed.
    • Original: “He ran quickly down the hallway.”
    • Replacement of weak verb: “He dashed down the hallway.” (A little alliteration now and then doesn’t hurt either.)
  3. Reduce the use of “state of being” verbs. It's easy to rely on forms of the verb “to be” when more precise options are available.
    • Original: “We can now reassure customers that if there was an event that would cause extraordinary losses, we are confident that their assets will be protected.”
    • Replacement of state-of-being verb: “We can now reassure customers that their assets are protected if extraordinary losses occur.”
  4. Reduce conditional words like could, should, would, will, might. Our writing automatically sounds more confident and clear when these words are kept at a minimum.
  5. Use fewer verbs per sentence. Less really is more.
  6. Remove unnecessary introductory and parenthetical phrases. This is one of the best ways to improve clarity.
  7. Rework deeply nested constructions. Those long complicated sentences lead to confusion or abandonment.
  8. Delete qualifying statements. Instead of strengthening our case, these phrases weaken it.

Try these tips on the next piece you write. After a couple weeks of using them, you'll become your own app -- ready to improve writing on-demand and without a device!

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