We all want to be better communicators. In a digital world, so much of that comes down to being able to write. Whether you’re crafting a two-line email or a 20-page report, your ability to crystalize thoughts into clear, meaningful sentences that get your point across can’t be underestimated. After all, putting ideas into words is the first step toward bringing them to life.
But that’s easier said than done.
In fact, even Ernest Hemingway, one of the twentieth century’s greatest stylists, felt this boundless challenge. Addressing fellow scribblers, he said, “We’re all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Enter Hemingway, an online tool to help simplify language. It rates the complexity of your language, giving it an assessment in terms of grade level.
The app highlights common errors in your text, including passive voice, clunky syntax, and excessive adverbs. It also flags sentences that are “hard” and “very hard” to read, either due to excessive length or number of clauses.
As copywriters, we want our work to be as readable as possible without dumbing down the material. To that end, the Hemingway app may seem like the perfect tool. But what are the potential drawbacks? Do copywriting tools prevent writers from developing strong instincts as to what language they should use, or restrict their creativity?
We dove in to find out.
Flagging areas for improvement
From a user experience standpoint, Hemingway is a beauty. There’s a nice Write/Edit toggle switch that lets you easily hop between the clean page (no color or highlights) and the marked-up page. The undo button is convenient, and you can work right in the website itself—no logging in or downloading necessary.
To get a sense for how the app worked, I entered a blog post on a fairly common (but complex) B2B topic: data democratization. The app lit up with a host of issues that needed attention. At first, I felt a twinge of self-doubt. Was this post really as flawed as the app was making it out to be?
As I started to address the highlighted issues, I was pleasantly surprised. The app drew my attention to some sentences that were a bit too wordy, and made useful suggestions about swapping in stronger verbs here and there. So far, so good.
Next, I popped in a few more pieces of text: a customer service email, some copy for a LinkedIn ad. The language for these pieces was already simple and conversational, and didn’t need to explain any complex ideas like the blog post did. The app pointed out a couple items that I could correct quickly—and get to a “Grade 3” reading level, which is a good thing. In the case of customer communications, simplicity rules.
Writing for copywriting tools, not the reader
The problem was, I quickly found myself seduced by what I’ll call the “gamification” of editing. I found myself wanting to please the app—doing whatever was necessary to get it to say my sentence was good to go. After a while, I started A/B testing some sentences that I’d reworked to get the app’s approval, and realized I’d removed some of the nuance and meaning that made the sentences work in the first place.
In addition, some of the verb suggestions were inappropriate for B2B writing. In one case, the app suggested I come up with an alternate verb for “aggregate,” proposing “total” or “add”—neither of which was right for the audience. The suggestions didn’t account for industry jargon. In these cases, the app was distracting me, making me question elements of my writing that were already working just fine and costing me valuable decision-making cycles. We’ve got deadlines to meet!
We coached a company coaching teachers
A coaching company for teachers, Educate gives them the tools they need to take their work to the next level. But without an engaging website, the company struggled to close sales. That’s where MarketSmiths came in. By honing its website copy and brand messaging to clearly express its value, assert vital differentiators, and garner interest and sales, we soon fixed it up. Potential prospects now have crisp, clear copy to read—and Educate has bolstered its place in a crowded market.
Delivering on the promise—with a caveat
The Hemingway app promises to make your writing bold and clear. At the end of the day, it does move you in that direction. It provides an easy way to spot places where prose is dense. Suggestions to swap more “forceful verbs” for adverbs helped me quickly create shorter, crisper sentences.
But good writing isn’t black and white, and the process of crafting effective communication isn’t cut and dried. When you work with copywriting tools like Hemingway, that’s exactly what you get—a rules-based, black-and-white interpretation of what counts as effective writing.
Here’s the bottom line: writing is still a human endeavor. It requires deep engagement, critical thought, stylistic prowess, and constant discernment. Above all, it requires empathy for your reader. Similar to how a GPS system atrophies your sense of direction, copywriting tools like Hemingway can tempt you into leaning too heavily on that program for discretion as to what works and what doesn’t.
My conclusion? Use copywriting tools sparingly—and never forget that it’s the human touch that’s at the heart of writing that truly connects.
For clear, bold copywriting that engages and inspires, get in touch with MarketSmiths today.