The WritersDiet Test Evaluates Your Writing
July 11, 2012 3:55 PM   Subscribe

The WritersDiet Test, created by Dr. Helen Sword, allows you to enter a writing sample of 100 to 1000 words and have it graded from "lean" to "heart attack" on its level of excess verbiage.
posted by shivohum (39 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I fed it the first five paragraphs of Lovecraft's The Thing on the Doorstep

Overall score: Fit & trim. (That Lovecraft and his lean, muscular prose.)
posted by Zed at 4:05 PM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Very cool. 'Lean' for two, 'fit and trim' for two. I do so love the passive voice and 'to be' verb construction.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:08 PM on July 11, 2012


I put in the first 1000 words of Finnegan's Wake.

Needs toning.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:12 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


* Finnegans, pardon me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:12 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is pretty cool. Thanks!
posted by Jurbano at 4:22 PM on July 11, 2012


Overall score: Fit & trim. (That Lovecraft and his lean, muscular prose.)

Oh, it's very lean and muscular. Lean and muscular tentacles, everywhere, wound around everything, all bound together into a single unthinkable thing that makes my eyes water and vision swim when I try to look upon it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:29 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I blame As It Happens. "Score: Flabby. Your writing sample contains a relatively high proportion of be-verbs, abstract nouns and adjectives/adverbs. To pep up stodgy prose, follow The Writer’s Diet principles below, paying special attention to the items highlighted in yellow below."
posted by maudlin at 4:34 PM on July 11, 2012


I love this tool, not least because it shows its working so clearly.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:38 PM on July 11, 2012


“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.”
― Ernest Hemingway
posted by pdq at 4:40 PM on July 11, 2012


I got "needs toning", but mostly on the use of the verb be. Given that the sample was non-fiction, I think that's not wholly fair. But otherwise, an interesting test, with my only remaining complaint being that it flagged up "unutterably" as bad.
posted by Jehan at 4:41 PM on July 11, 2012


In case you were wondering, that Hemingway quote is evaluated as "needs toning."
posted by pdq at 4:42 PM on July 11, 2012


The first two paragraphs of "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell evaluate as "Heart Attack".
posted by Grimgrin at 4:54 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


In case you were wondering, that Hemingway quote is evaluated as "needs toning."

The first two paragraphs of "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell evaluate as "Heart Attack"

These results alone should be enough to get this BS kicked off the internet.
posted by Zerowensboring at 5:07 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


750 word random selection of my fiction: Fit & Trim.

750 word random selection of my legal work: Flabby.

Style baby, it's all style.
posted by bswinburn at 5:22 PM on July 11, 2012


Oh, I just noticed it thinks that "Cross-Complainant" is a verb. Silly Rabbit, everyone knows that Cross-Complainant is a noun.
posted by bswinburn at 5:24 PM on July 11, 2012


Belly is not an adverb!
posted by grog at 5:25 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first two paragraphs of "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell evaluate as "Heart Attack".
"A lamentable declinature of the cardiac function."
posted by Jehan at 5:32 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is fairly simplistic, but it is cool. (The referee would like my paper to be shorter, but now I can tell the referee that it is -- unlike my MeFi output, I'd wager -- Fit and Trim.)
posted by kengraham at 5:38 PM on July 11, 2012


My pen is mightier than Ms. Sword!
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:47 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tested part of an essay I wrote in the last year of my English degree, and a chunk of fiction from 4 years later. The essay: needs toning. The fiction: fit and trim.

Yeah, I thought so.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:47 PM on July 11, 2012


I fed it the first 3/4s of my latest screenplay and got "Lean as a motherfucker. No improvements needed." Nice!
posted by dobbs at 6:15 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meh. I put in a section of my current writing project, and got back "Flabby". I think I'll sit alone in the dark and drink now.
posted by happyroach at 6:19 PM on July 11, 2012


3/4s of the first page, that should read.
posted by dobbs at 6:23 PM on July 11, 2012


There are people with the last name of Sword? 14-year-old-me is super jealous right now.
posted by curious nu at 6:34 PM on July 11, 2012


I put in the first two pages of a short film script I wrote, and got "Fit & Trim", which I guess is good.

But I'm wondering why this thing thinks "hospital" is an "adjective/adverb".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:36 PM on July 11, 2012


It also thinks "dirty" and "empty" are "abstract nouns".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:37 PM on July 11, 2012


-al, as in "adjectival"
posted by jepler at 6:38 PM on July 11, 2012


But I'm wondering why this thing thinks "hospital" is an "adjective/adverb".

This thread is pretty hospital.
posted by curious nu at 6:40 PM on July 11, 2012


Happyroach: "Meh. I put in a section of my current writing project, and got back "Flabby". I think I'll sit alone in the dark and drink now."

Don't be unhappy, Happyroach. On a whim I ran the script for one of my Youtube cartoons through this thing, and it said my verbs were flabby. Looking for more details, it flagged words like "I'm" and "is." I'm not too worried. This is just some goofy automated deal, don't let it get you down.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:58 PM on July 11, 2012


I plugged in the abstract (typically 150-250 words maximum to summarize the reasoning, findings, and significance of the article) of a recently accepted scientific article of mine in the Journal of Biological Chemistry:

Verbs: fit and trim
nouns: heart attack
prepositions: needs toning
adjectives/adverbs: lean
it, this, that there: needs toning
OVERALL: FLABBY

Haha, another abstract of mine from an article in PLoS and it's even worse:

Verbs: fit and trim
nouns: heart attack
prepositions: fit and trim
adjectives/adverbs: heart attack
it, this, that there: lean
OVERALL: HEART ATTACK

HUH!

In the interest of testing this engine, I plugged in the abstract of one of my papers from 5 years ago in a different field (still biological sciences, but under a different supervisor):


Verbs: lean
nouns: fit and trim
prepositions: fit and trim
adjectives/adverbs: fit and trim
it, this, that there: lean
OVERALL: FIT AND TRIM

The impact factor of 2 is > than 1 is > 3 by non-insignificant amounts.
posted by porpoise at 7:36 PM on July 11, 2012


My lasting hatred for Sister Carrie means I will never pass up an opportunity to mock it in fresh ways. This tool pronounces the last 895 words of Chapter 47, The Way Of The Beaten--A Harp In The Wind as "Fit & Trim." YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID.
Oh, Carrie, Carrie! Oh, blind strivings of the human heart! Onward onward, it saith, and where beauty leads, there it follows. Whether it be the tinkle of a lone sheep bell o'er some quiet landscape, or the glimmer of beauty in sylvan places, or the show of soul in some passing eye, the heart knows and makes answer, following. It is when the feet weary and hope seems vain that the heartaches and the longings arise. Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.
[Shatner-style dramatic reading, accompanied by sheep bell, available upon request.]


Or for that matter, take: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dr. Sword might want to acknowledge the influence of Richard Lanham on her work, especially since Lanham makes his formula explicit. How much did Sword borrow? Their academic areas of expertise overlap closely enough for me to think she probably should have acknowledged the source.
posted by vitia at 9:09 PM on July 11, 2012


Plus, Lanham's books on this topic -- Analyzing Prose and Revising Prose -- are really, really good if you're interested in how to edit well. I'm not at all a fan of his work on digital media -- he's got huge blind spots there -- but when it comes to the editing stuff, he's absolutely outstanding.
posted by vitia at 9:13 PM on July 11, 2012


The first 272 words of Hegel's 'the Phenomenology of Spirit': FLABBY
posted by methinks at 9:40 PM on July 11, 2012


Thanks, vitia. Hadn't heard of that book. Just ordered it.
posted by dobbs at 9:41 PM on July 11, 2012


I just whipped up some marketing-style copy for an upcoming event we're hosting, and I got "Lean." Neat!
posted by slogger at 4:55 AM on July 12, 2012


In case you were wondering, that Hemingway quote is evaluated as "needs toning."

The first two paragraphs of "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell evaluate as "Heart Attack"


That's two very short samples, and I bet a longer extract from Hemingway or Orwell would score much better. The site's suggested 100-word minimum is just daft.

(I got "Fit & Trim" on a 977-word sample of my own journalism, by the way)
posted by Paul Slade at 5:38 AM on July 12, 2012


Huh: my most recent New York Post piece "as myself" and my latest blog post in the La Cieca persona but were both graded "Lean." Apparently the disguise isn't as opaque as I thought!
posted by La Cieca at 6:49 AM on July 12, 2012


Out of curiousity, I put in a excerpt from the old (published) version of a guide I'm updating/editing to see how it would do. The guide is meant to make a law applying to businesses understandable to the average entrepreneur. I guess they'll get a heart attack instead. (Although, it highlighted "consent" as an "adjective/adverb" and it's almost exclusively used a noun in this guide, so I'm not sure anything non-fiction will ever be "fit" according to this formula.)
posted by Kurichina at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2012


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