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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 May 03, 2019

How to use the Writing Style Report

The Writing Style Check 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:

1) Passive Voice

This is one of those rules passed down by generations of writers: sentences written in the active voice tend to be more engaging for the reader. In an active sentence, the subject is at the start of the sentence and the object is at the end. For example:

  • Jane watched the video. (subject - verb - object)

In the passive sentence, the subject is relegated to the end of the sentence:

  • The video was watched by Jane. (object - verb - subject)

Like many of these rules, this does not mean that you must remove every occurrence – sometimes it works – but more often than not, you should rearrange your passive sentence to make it active, and therefore more effective. Consider:

  • The doorbell was rung by the mailman to deliver the package.
  • The mailman rang the doorbell to deliver the package.

The first sentence is written in passive voice, which means the person or thing doing the action (the mailman) follows the action (ringing the doorbell). Using the active voice turns the sentence around and puts the subject first. This makes the meaning clearer and the sentence shorter.

Sometimes in the passive voice the subject is completely omitted:

  • The ball was thrown over the fence.
  • Action was taken against the three trespassers.
  • Katy was kissed at prom.

By whom? For the sake of clarity, it is usually better to tie your action to the person or thing that is doing the action. Otherwise your reader is left having to draw their own conclusions.

2) 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 us adverbs

But, as Stephen King famously said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Lazy writers tend to 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?”

Adverb replacement

3) Hidden Verbs

Verbs are the engine of our writing. They excite, engage and thrust it forward. 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 are particularly common in business writing when writers are trying to use an “official” voice:

  • analyzed ➡ undertook an analysis
  • discussed ➡ held a discussion
  • decided ➡ made a decision
  • reviewed ➡ carried out a review
  • explained ➡ gave an explanation

Highlight all your hidden verbs and reveal those strong verbs in all their glory.

4) Readability Enhancements

How to Use The Writing Styles Check

Our ProWritingAid copy editors have added thousands of individual style suggestions to the software.

Some are related to overused words like "very", "incredibly", "quite", "really" and "extremely," which should almost always be deleted as they rarely add anything to a sentence.

Others are related to clunky word order or phrasing. For example:

  • is certainly going to ➡ will certainly
  • didn't know anybody➡ knew nobody
  • all of a sudden ➡ suddenly
  • was going to ➡ would
  • didn't have any ➡ had none

Again, these suggestions may not all make sense in your specific sentence. They are based on common changes that our copy editors regularly find themselves making. Use your judgement and follow the suggestions when you think it improves your paragraph.

5) 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.

Change up your sentence starts for more engaging writing.

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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
Delighted to have come across this software. Incredibly helpful. Thank you.
By lina.hogg on 09 March 2018, 05:43 PM
Very pleased to have this software. Easy to use and extremely helpful - had it up and running in no time.
By aineok on 25 August 2018, 10:54 PM
A great help indeed! Keep up the good work! Thanks a ton!
By piuagarwala on 04 September 2018, 11:10 AM
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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.
By marilyn.linn on 16 November 2018, 03:31 AM
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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