Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Can Writers Really Judge Their Own Writing?


Writer

Image courtesy of Ivan Soares Ferrer ~ http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ivanferrer

Ever read something you couldn’t understand?

Ever thought is was the writer’s fault?

I’d guess most writers go through at least two drafts before they consider asking someone else to look at their work.

Some have elaborate processes of six or seven drafts before they turn something over to an editor.

Back in 2012, I took the first scene of my short novel and put it in an online readability tester. I shared the results in the post Readability ~ Can Your Readers Understand You?

You can use that Readability Test Tool or many other readability testers but be aware they only measure things like how many syllables the words have and how long sentences are

While I was preparing to write this post, I discovered the article, Can You Trust Your Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scores?

Flesch-Kincaid is one of the common testing methods

The article says, “Wikipedia has the equations used to calculate these scores.  Since the equations are easy to program, I thought scores from various sources would be very close.”

The results they got for the same test, from different sources, Varied Widely

The same piece of writing, run through 8 different versions of the same test, showed reading levels from around age 10 all the way up to age 20

As if that isn’t enough to make one wonder if these tests show anything a writer can use to judge their own writing, how about the awareness that different people of the same age don’t necessarily have the same reading skills??

Sure, a piece with mostly short words is usually easier to understand than one with longer words but my last two paragraphs might make you avoid using those kinds of “readability” evaluation

So, what else can a writer use to gauge the readability of their work?

Enter the Hemingway App :-)

One article says that it, “…promises to make your writing as punchy and compelling as anything ever penned by Papa.”

In my estimation, this app is a glorified grammar-checker; but, still, perhaps a bit more useful to gauge the understandability of a writer’s work…?

Let’s give it a try

I found an article with an excerpt from Steven King‘s new sequel to The Shining—Doctor Sleep :

“On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground. The Overlook was declared a total loss. After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler. The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present. Three survived. The hotel’s off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler’s steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.”

I put it in the app and got some pretty color-coded results that boiled down to:

Readability – Grade 12 (about age 18)
1 of 6 sentences are hard to read.
1 of 6 sentences are very hard to read.
1 adverbs. Aim for 0.
3 uses of passive voice. Aim for 1 or fewer.

Here’s the “hard to read” sentence:

“On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground.”

And, the “very hard to read” sentence:

“The hotel’s off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler’s steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.”

O.K., let’s try the famous children’s story, Little Red Riding Hood :

“One day her mother said to her: ‘Come, Little Red Riding Hood, here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine; take them to your grandmother, she is ill and weak, and they will do her good. Set out before it gets hot, and when you are going, walk nicely and quietly and do not run off the path, or you may fall and break the bottle, and then your grandmother will get nothing; and when you go into her room, don’t forget to say, “Good morning”, and don’t peep into every corner before you do it’.”

Readability – Grade 22 (about age 28!)
1 of 2 sentences are hard to read.
1 of 2 sentences are very hard to read.
2 adverbs. Aim for 0.

After this brief analysis of some online readability tools, I can only hope there aren’t any editors out there who use them :-)

So, what’s a writer to do, if they want to improve the “readability” of their writing?

Last year, I wrote the post, The Very Best Way To Learn To Be A Writer?

I showed a number of ways to use this blog to find posts about the craft of writing, then summed it up with:

“Go ahead and read a few books about writing—read as many as it takes to get tired of reading about how to write.

“Then, write—then, write—then, write

“And, while doing all that writing, read some of the best writers you can find—but, don’t read what they said about how to write—read their novels or short stories or poetry

“And, finally, write…”

So, I never answered the question in the title of this post—Can Writers Really Judge Their Own Writing?

Perhaps you’d like to share an answer in the Comments?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
* Google Author Page

GRAB A FREE COPY of Notes from An Alien

Advertisements

6 responses to “Can Writers Really Judge Their Own Writing?

  1. Jane Watson February 18, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Interesting question: Can Writers Really Judge Their Own Writing? My answer is that it depends – perhaps an experienced writer develops a sense of what is working and what is not when they are creating a work but perhaps sometimes a little distance is also needed to assess a piece when they feel they are finished… this might be where the value of a writers’ group comes in. I have written stories which I had dismissed in my mind and then a member of my writers’ group has surprised me when they had a much more positive memory of the story than I had :-) So perhaps I am not such a good judge of a work in progress :-)

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Jane,

      You present such a sane, balanced approach to judgement of your work that I Wonder at it

      I’ve never worked well in writer’s groups but I do resonate with the “distancing” to gain perspective

      I feel I do that distancing while I’m writing and, then, perform another level of it after each draft

      Like

  2. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen February 18, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Judging a work in progress is difficult. I usually leave a story for a few weeks before I attempt any serious revision. My test for readability is reading aloud. If my tongue stumbles when I’m articulating the words and sentences I know that a reader will stumble reading them.

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Yes, Martina!!

      I read aloud consistently, even as I’m writing :-)

      Like

  3. penpusherpen February 18, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    read, read, read, and write, write, write, Alexander, that’s what came through, and that’s what I try to do, I rework an inital thought, (or crazy idea) over and over and always read them aloud to myself. Whatever works for thee .one supposes. :-) xPenx

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      Pen, you’ve hit on the crux of the matter—whatever works for the individual writer.

      I do believe there are as many ways to judge writing as there are writers :-)

      Like

What Are Your Thoughts or Feelings?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s