Since the primary purpose of this blog is to practice my writing, I have also been trying a few other tricks besides just squeezing out a new text every week.
I really don’t like WordPress as a text editor because it tends to freeze up while I type and lose text snippets here and there, so I write my blog posts in MS Word first, and then paste them into WordPress. Since Word seemed to have undergone a makeover since I last used it on a regular basis, I decided to check out its features to see if it had anything that could help with my writing style, not just grammar.
As you know, Word’s grammar and spell check can be hit-and-miss. About half of the “errors” that Word points out to me are actually parsing errors on the part of the program. Anyway, I’m pretty confident that I’m somewhat fluent in the grammar of the English language. The problem, as is usual when writing in a second language, is flow. Sometimes I just don’t know how to express myself in a straight-forward and simple manner. My sentences become long, dwindling pathways that are sure to bore the most patient of readers. I have to go back and edit several times, cutting out subordinate clauses and deleting monotonous repetition. Eventually, I get so familiar with my own text that the words start to lose all meaning and I can’t tell what’s good or bad anymore.
That’s when I need a fresh perspective. But I can’t harass my poor husband into reading every text I produce. After all, he has a full-time job of his own. So is there an automated way of getting this fresh perspective? Yes, there is! I have found two style-editing features in Word that are extremely helpful.
It takes a little bit of learning to understand what a readability score is, but it’s worth it. Word calculates the readability score of your text after performing a regular spell and grammar check (I wish it would just display the current readability score at the bottom left corner, next to the word count, but I guess you can’t have it all).
Readability scores are a measure of how long words and sentences you use. Shorter is almost always better in both cases. I used the readability feature to improve my persuasive technology text from a readability score in the low 30’s to about 55 % (though I didn’t manage to reach my goal of 60 %), and I really think it turned out better. Of course, readability scores could tempt you to simplify too much, at the cost of a pleasant text rhythm. Writing experts will recommend you to use variable sentence lengths to avoid monotony, but if readability scores could have their way, all sentences would be about two words long.
I found this blog post very helpful in understanding how to use readability scores.
Word also has a feature that reads your text aloud to you. I used it on my book review of Happy Money and I’m pleased with the results. I listen to my text with headphones and with my eyes closed. That last part is very important because if I start reading while listening, my brain goes back to the old skimming-familiar-text mode.
Using the text-to-speech feature for editing makes me write like I was writing a script for talk radio, and I think it’s a big improvement. It forces me to clarify, and clarify again. I can’t rely on references to something I mentioned two paragraphs ago and expect that the reader/listener is going to remember it, and I can’t use lazy shortcuts like substituting proper nouns for vague words like “it” or “they”. It also seems to automatically improve my readability scores as it forces me to write in shorter sentences and use plain language. It is a really great trick for seeing your own text through fresh eyes.