Show and tell: Writer’s diet

Unflab your writing

One of the many challenges of writing non-fiction texts is to make them readable by expressing your ideas succinctly. Not everyone was born with the happy ability to write short, sharp texts.

Helen Sword designed the Writer’s Diet website to help you discover whether your academic writing is flabby or fit. While she initially designed it with academic writers in mind, other writers such as journalists (or translators) can also benefit from it. Enter a sample text between 100 and 1,000 words and her handy little tool will examine your sentence structure to see if you are burdening your readers with cumbersome and complicated prose.

A word of caution: It only works for English and it won’t tell you anything about your eloquence or clarity of thought. It is, however, a simple way of finding a tendency for long-winded sentences or wordy phrasing. Paring down your sentence structures can be a easy fix for hard-to-read texts.

I gave it a whirl with a random passage from an old term paper of mine (not one of my best efforts) and this is what the results page looked like:

Writer's Diet My Test Results
My tests results

Yikes! I downloaded the PDF with the full diagnosis that led to my “Flabby” score. It gave me brief explanations of the 5 testing parameters (as color-coded in the image above) and highlighted the ones I need to pay special attention to.

The 5 parameters are

  1. Verbal verve: Use strong, active verbs. Avoid be-verbs.
  2. Noun density: Avoid nominalizations. Use real-life language.
  3. Prepositional podge: Stay away from lengthy prepositional phrases.
  4. Ad-dictions: Concentrate on using nouns and verbs to get your ideas across. Use adjective and adverbs sparingly.
  5. Waste words: Pay close attention when using it, this, that, there. Are they necessary or are they merely fillers?

Now, Diane Sword has several reminders on the website that this tool provides a simple assessment and cannot deliver a fine-tooth analysis. That’s fine. Writer’s Diet is still very well suited to remind us of common-sense advice for good writing. Why not take a closer look at your own writing habits?

Vintage camera. Image source: Canva, Nicola Perantoni at Unsplash

Image source: Canva, Nicola Perantoni at Unsplash

The Show and tell series is dedicated to pointing you to share-worthy people, projects, resources, tools, events and whatever else catches my eye.

Please let me know what you think about my show-and-tell choices. You are also very welcome to share suggestions or even write a guest post.

There are 4 comments on this post

  1. Susannah Chadwick

    Interesting idea! I could do with a German version to send to a couple of my clients as well!

  2. Magda

    I had no idea this test existed! I would have taken it a long time ago…


Leave your thought