What’s Your Point? Ernest Hemingway Would Like to Know
“Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”
Those are the final few lines of what I consider to be the best novel by my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is famous for his simple, direct, and unadorned style of writing, likely owing to his beginnings as a newspaper reporter. Some people hate this style, claiming that it’s too elementary, but many others love it, because it gets straight to the point without losing any appeal.
As PR practitioners, we are constantly trying to better understand the wants and needs of the journalists we pitch. And one of the most consistent pieces of feedback we get from them is, “get to the point.” We’re thus always looking for the most efficient and direct way to make the most impact, which means avoiding jargon at all costs. Unfortunately, the technology industry is one of the most jargon-laden; when you’re “engaging by utilizing a cloud-based interaction and collaboration tool,” you’re really just catching up with a friend on Gchat. Heck, there’s now a Google Chrome app called The Dejargonizer, which detects jargon on websites and provides that term’s definition in "everyday" language.
In a turn of events that delights me to no end, there’s another language-centric tool aimed at simplifying prose, and it’s called – wait for it – the Hemingway App. This app highlights various parts of text in different colors – such as adverbs in blue and passive voice in green – but the best part is that it highlights sentences that are difficult to read in yellow and very difficult to read ones in red.
This may well be career-limiting, but let’s see what the Hemingway App thinks of some of the recent writing from our fearless leader, Josh Reynolds. Take this sentence:
“Whether you’re in a maturing space with massive consolidation and commoditization of technologies, or whether you’re in a hot new space flooded with startups, there are so many different companies clamoring for attention that virtually every PR practitioner has their own formula for smart messaging.”
The Hemingway App gave that sentence one big fat red highlight. But just to show that I’m not above picking on myself, the app also gave the last sentence of my prior paragraph an identical fat red highlight.
Of course, it’s often impossible in tech PR to avoid superfluous language. But while the Hemingway App may be a harsh critic, it’s also a handy reminder that unless you’re writing fiction, your audience probably wants you to do what Mr. Hemingway did best: Get. To. The. Point.