I adapted the majority of the text for this post from a journal I wrote. It was rather rant-like and angrier than it needed to be. I apologize if any of it still comes across that way.
A while back, a friend of mine gave me the link to a website called Hemingway Editor. I don’t really agree with the premise of the website, that simpler is always better. So what I write is supposedly too hard for sixth graders to read and has some sentences longer than ten or so words. Is that really so bad? Does that truly make it hard to read?
When it was initially shared with me, I put several of my college discussion board posts into it, and one of them was rated a “grade seventeen” reading level; the site gives the grade level required to read the writing, not the grade level the writing itself is at. The website said it was “poor” because it was a grade seventeen. I might have gotten a really bad grade if I simplified it to about tenth grade like the website suggests!
“Simpler” is not always better. Using adverbs doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong verb, or that a verb exists that will give the exact nuance of the verb already used with an adverb modifying it. Passive verbs, yes, they should not be used much, but there are cases where they are necessary.
Additionally, the website thinks simpler synonyms are better. I’m not trying to be verbose by using larger or more complicated words, I’m trying to use the best word, or avoid using the same word too many times. Occasionally I do use a word as a “Hey, look! I understand how to use this word properly in actual sentences!” Normally I choose “harder” or “more complex” words because they are necessary for the sentence to convey just what I intend. Using the right word is much more important than using a word everyone knows that has a similar though not identical meaning. If someone has to look up a word, fine. I do it all the time while reading! It’s not a hassle anymore now that we all have access to the internet.
Just for kicks, I put the body of this post into Hemingway Editor to see what it had to say. I have nine adverbs too many, three hard to read sentences, and two very hard to read sentences. Overall I was told this post is grade six.
What do you think? Is simpler better? Should writing be as easy to read as possible, avoiding adverbs, passive voice, and words that have simpler alternatives? Let me know in the comments!