Even the best writers in the world spend hours—if not days—trying to get the words just right.
After all, the goal of writing is to connect with an audience. As sentences and paragraphs become more complex, they become harder for the average reader to grasp.
There’s no sense in spending a boatload of time creating content that will sail over a majority of your audience’s head. It’s a waste of energy and money. And in the end, you’re left with a blog post, an email or a white paper that won’t drive sales because no one will read it.
And even if you’re a great writer, you’re getting older. Which means to some degree, your audience is getting younger. Thanks to the ubiquity of text messaging and internet-speak, there’s a growing body of research that suggests younger kids are increasingly likely to have poor grammar skills. So even if your classmates at an Ivy League school can understand the points you’re trying to make, there’s a good chance your messages will be lost on younger readers.
If even the strongest writers have a hard time connecting with their audiences, what does that mean about those of us who have average or even subpar writing skills?
Yes, programs like Microsoft Word and Google Docs—along with most major word processing platforms—have some sort of built-in spelling and grammar check functionality. While these tools can be helpful to a certain degree, they leave a lot to be desired. It’s not as if dictionaries are updated in real time. And the grammar-checking capabilities of most programs are primitive at best.
Beyond that, such tools are simply unable to assess natural language for style and register—making them that much weaker.
Luckily, there’s still some hope—even for the grammatically disinclined. Understanding the importance of clear communication in writing, a number of tech prodigies have built platforms designed for one specific purpose: making the words you string together easier to understand.
If you’re looking to become a more effective communicator via the written word, here are some programs you might want to try.
Writing helpful and informative emails is critical to the success of many modern professionals. People in sales, for example, won’t be able to acquire new customers if they’re unable to clearly articulate their company’s value proposition in a clear, concise and courteous manner.
The folks over at FoxType understand this perfectly, which is why they’ve built a platform that helps email writers ensure their copy is both polite and easy to understand. In addition to enabling you to gauge the conciseness and politeness of your emails in real time, FoxType also offers a tool that allows you to visualize the structure of your sentences.
This functionality is nothing to take lightly. Consider these two stats:
- The average person spends between 15 and 20 seconds reading an email.
- The average business user sends and receives 123 emails each day.
Everyone’s overwhelmed with emails. Use FoxType to increase the chances the recipients of your most important messages understand exactly what you’re trying to say as quickly as possible—and are not turned off by the way you express yourself.
Ernest Hemingway notoriously knew how to pack quite the punch in a single word. Just check out his infamous six-word short story:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn
According to a recent New Yorker article, Hemingway understood the importance of clarity and brevity in his writing to the point he left himself notes reminding him to construct simpler sentences.
Agreeing with Papa’s approach to the craft, brothers Adam and Ben Long engineered the appropriately named Hemingway, an app that helps writers remove clutter from their sentences.
Here’s how it works: Plug sentences into the app, and it will tell you what grade level you’re writing at. The lower the grade level, the better—as counterintuitive as that may sound. Remember, the whole point of writing anything is to clearly communicate with your audience. Not everyone can read at a Grade 16 level.
Using a color-coded system, Hemingway lets you know when you’re using unnecessarily complex words, constructing unnecessarily complex sentences, writing in passive voice, or using adverbs when bona fide verbs would be more forceful. Altogether, this makes it very easy to see what you need to change to get your message across more effectively.
Launched all the way back in 2009, Grammarly is a tool that offers real-time spelling and grammar checks as well as suggestions on how you can improve your prose.
There are a number of people who swear by the platform, saying it helps them produce better content therefore improving their communication skills. Others say the platform makes them feel as though they’re writing with an instructor looking over their shoulder—but in a good way.
Grammarly currently boasts nearly 5 million users. It also has a 4.5 out of 5 rating after nearly 10,000 reviews.
I’m not so sure I agree with all those people, but I admit that my opinion is just that.
I happen to use the free version of Grammarly every day. I find it to be particularly useful for identifying some typos. But for the most part, I’ve found that its recommendations are usually not helpful. That said, I’ve never tried the Premium version, which sets you back $30/month.
Still, I run everything I write through Grammarly before I give it a hard edit. It does catch silly errors sometimes. But there are other people who agree with my overall assessment. Remember: I write for a living; if writing is not a critical part of your job description, you may find the tool more useful than I do.
Without a doubt, tools like FoxType, Hemingway and Grammarly can help you become a more effective writer. But communication isn’t always outward-facing. If you’re part of a team that regularly collaborates on projects, you can use a platform like Knotable to bring your internal communication to the next level. Give it a whirl here.