How can Hemingway help with editing?

Copy from the Classics

To celebrate the 115th birthday of Ernest Hemingway, we bring you the next in our series of ‘Copy from the Classics’ posts, taking a look at at how great literature can inspire you online.

Keep it simple

Even if you’ve never read any Hemingway, you can probably name his most famous works. ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘The Sun Also Rises’, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ – they are familiar phrases by now. But what of the man who coined those catchy titles?

Ernest Hemingway was born on this day in 1899. He trained as a journalist at seventeen and followed a journalistic style guide for the rest of his writing career. His experiences in the First World War and the Spanish Civil War informed the fiction he wrote later in life. Short sentences and vigorous English defined his writing style, and he won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for his work.

Hemingway is remembered for his distinctive writing as much as his subject matters. Hemingway’s style even has its own name, “iceberg theory”, or the “theory of omission”. It’s named after the following passage from his non-fiction work Death in the Afternoon:

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Short sentences punctuated by spare phrases set his style apart. They are excellent traits for any editor to emulate, because online, crisp copy stands out from blocks of waffle.

Choose your tools

It’s great to aim for brevity, but every writer needs space to get into the working words of a project. Pinning down the objective and the verbal identity of each distinct piece is something that can take several drafts to do.

“The process of editing is crucial to online content,” says Joy, Creo’s content specialist. “The first draft is for the writer, to get things into shape. But the editing is what allows you to refine your style to suit the brief, and hone a piece until it’s perfect.”

Hemingway’s style has inspired a web app that helps to polish your copy. Copy text into the Hemingway App, and it will assess its readability, highlighting anything that needs to be changed. The visual impact of colour-coded sentences that are too long or too complicated make it much easier to edit text.

Any content promoting your organisation online is the top of the iceberg. For you, it fits into a structure of branding, intentions, engagement and marketing. For your reader, it can be the first glimpse that brings them to understand you better. But from that glimpse, your customers should know that there’s meaning under the surface.

Keep it clear and meaningful, and people will connect with what you say. That’s what Hemingway knew was the powerful thing about editing.

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