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How to Use the Writing Style Check

The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Published Feb 07, 2020

How to use the Writing Style Report

The Style Report is one of the most popular and comprehensive reports that ProWritingAid offers. It highlights several areas of writing that should be revised to improve readability, including passive voice, overuse of adverbs, hidden verbs and more.

When you run the report, it will look something like this:

prowritingaid writing style report

The review panel to the left will give you an overview of the writing style suggestions for your document.

The improvements fall into the following categories:

  • Readability Enhancements
  • Hidden verbs
  • Passive verbs
  • Passive index
  • Style improvements
  • Long subordinate clauses
  • Adverbs outside of dialogue
  • Emotion tells
  • Repeated sentence starts
  • Style guide items (more on that soon)

That's a lot of categories. But you can use the navigation menus for each to focus on the areas you want to prioritize.

prowritingaid writing style check navigation menu showing and eye icon and an arrow icon

Each item on the review panel corresponds to a highlight in your document. To hide the highlights for an item, click on the eye icon. To jump to the highlight for an item, click on the arrow icon.

If you would like to focus on one category in particular, e.g. Readability Enhancements, turn off highlights for all other categories by hovering over the category headings and clicking the eye icon. To show the highlights, click the eye again.

Contents:
  1. The Style Report Categories
  2. Style Guide Terms
  3. Final Thoughts
  4. Try ProWritingAid's Editor For Yourself

The Style Report Categories

Let's look at 7 of the most common Style Report suggestions and how they appear in ProWritingAid.

Readability Enhancements

Readability Enhancements make your writing easier to understand. This doesn't mean dumbing down your ideas. Instead, you're simplifying language that is unnecessarily complicated (or omitting simple language that is unnecessary) or resolving awkward phrasing.

readability suggestion to remove 'very', with explanatory article

If you're not sure why ProWritingAid has made a suggestion, you can click on the orange 'i' in the corner of the suggestion to find out more.

It's a good idea to check your Readability Enhancements after running ProWritingAid's Readability Report in order to improve your hard-to-read paragraphs. Find out more about the Readability Report here.

Hidden Verbs

Verbs are the engine of our writing. Many novice writers end up accidentally hiding their verbs. This process (called nominalization) turns verbs into nouns and adds a weak verb in their place. For example:

  • We will make an announcement of the winner on Friday.
  • We will announce the winner on Friday.

The first sentence uses a weak verb (make) and hides a strong verb (announce) as a noun (announcement). The second sentence is shorter, clearer and stronger.

hidden verbs message in prowritingaid

The Hidden Verbs category highlights all your hidden verbs so reveal those strong verbs in all their glory.

Passive Verbs

Sentences are weakened by passive verbs.

Passive verbs weaken sentences.

See how that second sentence is punchier? The Style report highlights your passive verbs so you can make them active.

Passive Index

The Passive Index tells you how much of your text is written in the passive voice.

passive voice correction

If you're using the passive voice intentionally, just hit 'Ignore' to remove the highlight, as above.

Find out more about how the passive voice changes what your writing means.

Style Improvements

Have you ever been wowed by writing that describes something as 'good'?

style improvement suggestion

Style improvements will suggest changing run-of-the-mill words like good, large, big, small etc. for more exciting, informative alternatives.

Adverbs

Adverbs are words that add color or emphasis to a verb. Compare these sentences:

  • The barista made a cup of coffee.
  • The barista grumpily made a cup of coffee.

The adverb “grumpily” offers an additional layer of understanding to the scene.

How to use adverbs

But, as Stephen King famously said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Lazy writers use adverbs to modify a weak verb instead of searching for a stronger verb. Look at these examples:

We certainly don’t suggest that you remove ALL adverbs; sometimes they will be exactly right for what you are trying to get across. But adverbs tend to prop up weak verbs and so you should always ask yourself “Is there a stronger verb I can use here instead?”

Repeated Sentence Starts

The Style Check will highlight paragraphs where you have started multiple sentences with the same word. This is most common with pronouns: "I woke...", "I showered...", "I called...", etc.

repeated sentence starts suggestion

Change up your sentence starts for more engaging writing.

Style Guide Terms

Your Style Guide is a customizable bank of rules and suggestions that you input yourself for use in ProWritingAid. If you writing breaks one of your Stle Guide rules, the error will appear under 'Style Guide Terms' in the Style Report.

Find out more about how to use Style Guides here.

Emotion Tells

When we write, we want our readers to feel something. For many writers, creating a strong emotional response, whether that's a need for a product, concern for a character or motivation to change, is a sign of a successful piece of writing.

When you're in the writing zone, it's easy to use placeholder words like 'scared', 'excited', 'sad' and 'smiled' to tell your reader (and your future editing-self) how your characters are feeling. ProWritingAid can root these out in your writing so that you can replace them with descriptions that show your reader what they're feeling instead.

Take these examples:

There was a rattling sound from the other side of the thin wooden door. Julie was scared. She looked around for another way out, but there wasn’t one.

Here, we're shown what Julie is feeling. We have no idea what that looks like or really feels like for her, and no real connection to that feeling ourselves.

ProWritingAid will highlight phrases like 'was scared' to help you work out where you need to add more detail:

screenshot of an emotion tells suggestion for 'was scared'

The suggestion won't tell you how to rewrite your sentence. You know your character (or your own aims for your reader) better than anyone.

Let's rewrite that sentence:

There was a rattling sound from the other side of the thin wooden door. Julie felt a bead of cold sweat trickle down her temple. She wiped it away with shaking hands. Her eyes darted around the room, looking for another way out. There wasn’t one.

This is better. We know what it feels like to be in a cold sweat with shaky hands. We get a physical sense of Julie's experience, helping us to imagine ourselves in her position.

Check your own writing for emotion tells by running it through the Style Report.

Final Thoughts

The Style Report helps you to make your writing as engaging, readable and effective as possible. You don't have to accept every suggestion, but trying out a few of them could help you transform your prose in a couple of clicks.

Try ProWritingAid's Editor For Yourself


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The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

The most successful people in the world have coaches. Whatever your level of writing, ProWritingAid will help you achieve new heights. Exceptional writing depends on much more than just correct grammar. You need an editing tool that also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre. ProWritingAid helps you find the best way to express your ideas.

Interesting article though I think an image is missing/omitted in the Adverbs section (there are no examples to be seen...)
By 88763427235a11db31c8c82aaad724f7@376464prowritingaid.com on 03 May 2016, 07:20 PM
Yes, you were right! When the post was initially uploaded one of the images didn't work. All fixed now. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
By writersneed2 on 05 May 2016, 06:55 AM
This is neat and I would definitely be inclined to purchase if copy and paste was mobile friendly. Still exceptionally insightful!
By thoth1513 on 03 February 2017, 01:59 AM
very good article.
By vamshhi.mohhan on 16 March 2017, 01:12 PM
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By aineok on 25 August 2018, 10:54 PM
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By 212331 on 11 October 2018, 08:17 PM
I'm liking what U can access here, but am having some trouble navigating the site. I hope I improve soon.
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By 5142ab4cbb842b8dfca1ddd9db32fa35@1059617prowritingaid.com on 12 February 2019, 03:00 PM
Would like the ProWritingAid tool to have an option to highlight all the "be" verbs. Maybe by excluding them from the dictionary as an easy option. I want the "was" verb to jump out at me so I catch it and demolish it.
By thesharpes on 15 February 2019, 01:01 AM
Great suggestion. I hope they incorporate.
By peaceful.az on 21 June 2019, 06:07 PM
Question - in the "Adverb" section, there is a subheading for "Emotional tells" - can you provide some clarity on what this is telling me? Thank you.
By peaceful.az on 21 June 2019, 06:06 PM
For now, the free version is best for me. I must sell a book to pay for the one for 2 yrs.
By mcknight6565 on 07 November 2019, 08:01 PM
I like redundancy as it conveys more meaning sometimes. The rules may not apply to poetry.
By drrao1 on 05 December 2019, 09:55 PM
I still have trouble fixing the passive verbs in my sentences. How would I fix them? It keeps saying error found.
By christineelizabethpark12 on 19 June 2020, 03:05 AM
Understanding passive vs. active voice can be tricky. I'll give an example. "Advice was given by the teacher." That is the passive voice. It is a weak sentence because it lacks the clarity of an obvious subject, verb, and object. "The teacher gave advice." This is active voice. The teacher = the subject, gave= the active verb, advice=the object. When fixing passive sentences, try to recognize those three factors: subject, verb, object - then rewrite the sentence in that order. It may feel tedious or like it's dumbing down your writing, but trust me, it's not! In time, you will expand your ability to play with sentence structure while avoiding the passive voice. For more helpful advice on the passive voice, check out this article from our blog! https://prowritingaid.com/Passive-Voice I hope this is helpful! Happy writing and editing. :)
By writersneed2 on 19 June 2020, 12:58 PM
A very useful article for all writers like us. Thank you.
By wellbelovedh on 27 August 2020, 07:25 AM
You're so welcome! :)
By writersneed2 on 28 August 2020, 03:50 PM
I have been using PWA to clean up a 5000 word short story. At the time of writing this post I am in the throws of correcting all my sticky sentences. One day I will be able to afford the premium version, but the free version is outstanding anyway.
By keithtowers on 30 October 2020, 07:46 AM
We are so glad that you are loving our software!! <3
By amy.cohen on 30 October 2020, 05:11 PM

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