The Writer’s Diet

Mark Liberman over at the Language Log called my attention to The WritersDiet test. It takes a sample of your (or anyone’s) writing and analyses it, reporting whether the sample is lean, fit & trim, needs toning, flabby, or heart attack territory. The test rates, verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, and the “waste words” It, this, that, there.

Lieberman doesn’t put a lot of stock in the test. He points out that samples of the writing of E.B. White come back as “flabby,” as does the Declaration of Independence. He also notes that the creator of the test, Helen Sword, admits that some of her own writing tests out as flabby.

Still, I am always looking to improve my own writing, so I ran a number of my own blog entries through the test. I am happy to report that most of them came back as fit & trim, which is what I aspire to. However, lest I become too smug, I had a couple that returned a result of needs toning or flabby. One entry, I am embarrassed to say, got a score of heart attack territory.

Such tests are not foolproof or definitive. As the notes on the test itself say:

The WritersDiet Test is a blunt instrument, not a magic bullet. A stylish passage may score badly on the test, and a dull passage may score well. It is up to you to make intelligent use of the targeted feedback that the test provides.

Still, I think it’s a nice tool that I can add to my repertoire to help keep my writing sharp.


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