The writer’s diet

What sort of shape is your prose in?  Here’s a test.

I think the test is going to grade a lot of academic prose more harshly than is actually deserved since it’s unhappy with ‘that’, for example. But ‘that’may be important or even essential to disambiguations if a thought is somplicated.

ADVICE: you really should avoid the test if you are feeling low already!

5 thoughts on “The writer’s diet

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Anne. Mark Liberman checked E. B. White’s prose and found that the robot judged it to be ‘flabby’, and the first two paragraphs of his Elements of Style it diagnosed to be in “Heart Attack Territory”. The commenters at that Language Log post tried a bunch of samples from what most of us would consider paradigmatically good prose, with amusing results…

    Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”: heart attack territory.
    Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: flabby.
    “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”: flabby.

    One of them also notes that the program tags a lot of words wrong — ‘handful’ is counted as an adjective, for instance.

    So, yeah, no, probably not something to take seriously.

  2. Ha! My diagnosis:

    nouns prepositions adjectives/adverbs it, this, that, there
    WritersDietTM Test Results
    Your overall score
    Fit and trim
    Fit and trim
    Fit and trim
    Fit and trim
    No improvements needed
    Your writing sample contains relatively low percentages of be-verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and waste words (it, this, that, there). To continue producing energetic prose, follow the WritersDiet principles below.

  3. I got “heart attack,” which is fair, and in particular got dinged for overuse of “that” and “this,” which is also fair. But I also got a particular scolding for my frequent use of the abstract noun “assertion,” which seems hard, since it was an excerpt from a paper about assertion.

  4. Oh, I, uh…
    I ran the first two paragraphs of Keeping the World in Mind.

    But I’m sure it was selfless!

    (And you may assume my response was entirely selfless too.)

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