Putting my blog on a diet

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Today I found a new (to me) source outlining some rules and advice about creating a high-quality writing style, written by Helen Sword, a writing expert based in Auckland, New Zealand. She has written several academic books, the last two of which are The Writer's Diet (2007) and Stylish Academic Writing (2012).

Sword has a website for The Writer's Diet which contains a "WritersDiet Test", and of course I immediately wondered how my own blog posts would fare. So I tried the test on one of my recent posts, and received an overall score of "flabby", the second worse rating (out of 5) possible!


So I took that as a challenge to "improve", and re-worked the post which I have included below. I use quotes around "improve" for a few reasons: 1) the actual algorithms for determining the scores are hidden, and as she said, come with "dollop of subjectivity", so it is unclear whether or not it is actually an improvement, and 2) her perspective mainly comes from her analyses of academic writing. My blog posts are certainly not academic (yet), but even so, perhaps I can learn something from her.

As can be seen in the image above, the test looks at five main areas: verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and waste words (the words: it, this, that, and there). Here are some more details as she describes on her website, with, I assume, even more details in her two books (which I don't yet own).

  • Verbs: Be-verbs (am, is, are, was, were, etc.) should be limited. Instead, one should use "specific, robust action verbs" and not "weak, vague, lazy ones". The passive voice should also be avoided.

  • Nouns: Use concrete nouns and avoid nominalizations from verbs or adjectives.

  • Prepositions: Try to limit prepositional phrases, especially when they come between the main noun and verb in the sentence.

  • Adjectives and Adverbs: Limit these, unless they are adding new information. Use nouns and verbs instead.

  • Waste Words (it, this, that, there). This one is an interesting one that I would like to learn more about. This is where I had the worst score, but I am not quite clear on her rationale behind this rule.
Normally, the posts on my blog are just written without much editing. I sometimes think a little bit about what I will say or at least how I will start, and then just type, type, type and submit. But the Writer's Diet website encouraged me to edit at least one older post (as well as this one), and while editing I decided to move things around a little bit to (hopefully) improve the flow and added a bit here and there. I am not sure if it is better or not, but at least the Writer's Diet says that it is!


So last week I wrote about the wedding I attended in Udon Thani, and here is the new "lean" version. I will leave the judgement of improvement as an exercise for the reader.

There is something magical and mystical about the Mekong River.
I don't mean the fireball-shooting snake monster living in its waters, although the annual Naga festivities do add to the charm. And the magic does not come from the beauty of the river either. Near Vientiane and Nong Khai, the Mekong cuts a wide brown path through a nondescript flat landscape.
But I feel something special every time I visit, and I am always happy when I stand on her shores.
The Mekong is one of the world's great rivers, one which every child learns about. Even though my childhood took place on the other side of the world, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Mekong many times.
Not only is it a famous river, but the culture that runs on both sides plays a role in my love of these waters. The Isaan/Lao culture fills me with a peaceful, relaxed feeling. Time moves slowly here and the land is full of warm and friendly people.
We travelled to Isaan last weekend to attend a Thai-style wedding. I have always wanted to see a Thai wedding and all of the special traditions involved, and so this weekend I finally had a chance. First, the groom had to pay the youngsters outside to allow him to enter the wedding room, then he paid a dowry to the family, and then finally adorned his bride placing golden bracelets on her wrists. The bride's mother tied a string between the bride's and groom's heads showing their new link, and every guest poured water over the happy couple's hands.
We enjoyed the more Western-style reception that night as well. Eventually we ended up at hip and trendy Wine Society for some late night (for this old man at least) wine drinking and dancing as the band played well-known English songs. (Every wedding needs Y.M.C.A., right?)
Between the Thai wedding in the morning and the reception at night, some friends took us for a afternoon trip to nearby Nong Khai, where I was able to visit the Mekong again. We spent a few minutes shopping at the huge riverside market (where I bought a bag of amazingly delicious and cheap golden raisins), and had Vietnamese style nam neuang at a riverside restaurant for lunch.
But as much fun as we had at the wedding, the highlight was spending a little bit of time on the Mekong shores. I hope I can return again soon.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Stuart published on July 9, 2013 2:39 PM.

Holy Grail Week 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

Guidelines for Writing Perspicuously is the next entry in this blog.

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