Rule-based highlighting to aid authors in reflecting on their writing

I am imagining something akin to Hemingway ( ), but with more user options. Essentially a «review»-button that highlights the words based on rules in the settings (you likely wouldn’t want style suggestions when you concentrate on writing).

Rules could include:

  • replacement suggestions (for overly complex words; ideally a table akin to auto-correct suggestions with the complex word left and easier words right); words would be highlighted/suggested (computers shouldn’t automatically correct humans :wink:)
  • IF … then … (if could include larger/smaller/is/is not/contains/contains not/etc. combined with attributes, like sentence length, text length, text complexity calculation results, grammar like adjective/adverb/noun; then would probably be mostly highlighting or so)
  • and more :wink:

As with the compile settings, «standard» rules could be imported/exported. After all, it all depends on what you are writing. And while there are some general style suggestions, some things are personal. Ideally, it would be possible to group rules or selectively apply them. Otherwise the amount of suggestions would likely be too much.

Of course, the question would be how to best highlight these issues. Hemingway requires mouse-over, which is inconvenient, but seeing how well Scrivener handles comments and the like, I am pretty sure there are ways to help writers reflect on their writing.

Just a suggestion, but given how well Scrivener already supports authors, I think these features would be great and set Scrivener further apart.

Though your suggestion is interestingly more sophisticated than wanting Hemingwayapp functionality, you might be interested in this very recent discussion in this forum:

Prose Editing

And here is something from longer ago:

Grammar and Style Notation

Your post sent me into a programming daydream which ended with me digging around in the Wordnet API again and having to slap myself out of it and go make more coffee.


Yes to the API. Algorithmic writing assistance is a real value add. But it would be just as unwise for Scrivener’s developers to integrate it into the program as it has been to dismiss it categorically, as did KB: “I don’t think it’s Scrivener’s job to help users write well - that’s something the writer should bring to Scrivener.”

What if we’re writing in a language other than English? What if we’re obliged to adhere to a house style? Scriv could never make a generally useful prose rulebook. But if there are outside programs that perform this analysis, Scrivener should be capable of assisting the user in making changes according to these programs’ reports. And the industry should look into a standardized XML whereby grammar and usage scold applications could drive editing applications to ease the correction.

Those who are asking for a rule-based authoring assist have a good case. But instead of asking Scriv’s developers to build it, we should be thinking about third-party tools to that end, and ways that Scrivener might invoke them and respond to them more fluently than it does.

Rgds – Jerome

I take seriously what you’ve written above, Jerome. And I’m persuaded by the logic, if “algorithmic writing assistance is a real value add”. But is it? I’ve tried to use grammar and style apps on and off since attempts at them were first available inside word-processors or separately (probably in the late 1980s); I built a career around writing in the English language; and I even taught the English language long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Hell, I once even knew the difference between a gerund and a gerundive (though I couldn’t tell you now) :slight_smile: .

I can definitely see that in certain short-form, rote-format circumstances where the key task is to communicate a simple, unambiguous message, algorithmic writing assistance could be a bonus. I can also see that when the algorithms have had a lot more work carried out on them, and the data-sets underlying them have been built up still further, they may well incorporate all the knowledge, experience and skill that a writer might need. But today, the trouble is that they lead you up garden-paths when they shouldn’t, and fail to do so when they should. That’s absolutely fine if the writer already has the knowledge, experience and skill to discriminate and “know the right way”. But what if she hasn’t (and what’s the point of them if she has)? What if she’s aiming for ambiguity and subtext rather than in-your-face clarity? What if he or she doesn’t really know what the ideal outcome of their writing should be, but is simply going by sense of smell? What will the algorithms do - unknowingly - to their creativity?

On the contrary, too many writers are missing out…just imagine how much easier Huckleberry Finn would be to read and comprehend if only Twain had had the advantage of one of these programs!

Seriously, Hugh, I think it’s a mistake to dismiss this entire category of software on personal experience. Even the finest authors require copy editors. One need only read Philip B. Corbett’s former column in the New York Times to find errors of grammar and usage — danglers, misplaced modifiers, subject/verb disagreements — and deviations from house style, by writers at or near the top of their trade. Are we confident that software will forever be unable to identify some of these? What about spelling inconsistencies — as opposed to outright errors — within a project? Or the software that seeks to identify plagiarized writing?

Of course these capabilities are not within Scrivener’s remit in an optimal division of labor, but I’d like Scrivener to work well with greps, or any software that analyzes a text for problems and produces a report. As it is, if such a program found a Cavenaugh in a universe of Cavanaughs, and directed us to the 280th word in 1171.rtf, we would still need a project search in Scrivener to find and correct it.

Cheers — Jerome

I agree 150 percent that writers need copy editors. I’ve seen enough raw copy from writers who are well-known on this side of the Atlantic, and one or two who are now also known on the far side, to be certain that some writers, especially in their early years, can produce the most dreadful piles of c**p that offend against almost every known law and practice of spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, style, presentation and comprehensibility. So yes, they need copy editors. I’m just not sure that algorithms are the copy editors they need - yet.


I have been using Scrivener on Linux for writing my novels and will soon use it on Mac. I was about to suggest a similar topic as a wish.
In my case I want to suggest a feature similar to syntax highlighting in gedit, but with custom parameters so I could have dialogue highlighted in a different colour by having it check for pairs such as " ", [ ], etc.

Also a compile option to add line numbers in increments would be nice.

For example:

This describes the vast majority of commercial and technical writing. Add that a lot of that writing is done by non-native English speakers and, well… Most people who call themselves writers don’t need and don’t want this sort of assistance, at least not at the currently available skill level. But making this kind of tool available to people who need to communicate coherently in the course of their “non-writing” work would be a great service to them and to their audiences.


Twain’s skill at dialogue would be destroyed by an algorithm. They do impede creativity and are best used by those who already have the judgment and the knowledge. My students, if given choices for improvement, wouldn’t know how to make the best choice–that’s why skill and knowledge are needed to use them best. That’s why they are students. Still, everybody makes mistakes and algorithms are good for that.

Scrivener is about making something new and the beginning stages of that process. Correction is often the last consideration. From that view, maybe algorithms aren’t needed at all.

I just tried Hemingwayapp. Brrr. I do not like the decisions it makes. For every decision it makes I can argue why I should leave my words as they are and for why that is better. To each his own.

There are some advantages to having plugins -
The project programmer need only maintain the engine.
They don’t need to decide what plugins to make or what they do.
You gain access to a large creative base that can enhance the usability of your product.
The user need never add a plugin and so the function of the system remains the same.

There are of course downsides:
It’s not trivial to create or test. There is a constant battle of how to expose the API and how much should be exposed. I would think for a text based system - it might be a good deal easier - but that would depend on the design.
People often want to blame the application first, then the addon. That gets you into conversations about, removing addons and did the problem go away? - a support nightmare. My inclination would be to provide support to add-on developers but tell users that if they’re having problems they have to remove all add-ons and reproduce the problem. - Even then it’s not enjoyable.

There are several features that could theoretically be done as plugins: I’d love to have that might interest two or three others, maybe more but I wouldn’t count on it.

  1. Dialog color highlights - by speaker. Something like the Notes feature, where you highlight text and then assign a speaker/color set. This would be incredibly useful for me - I can go back and make sure the characters speech patterns are consistent - does he always drop his ending ‘g’, does he consistently get the same word wrong, does he use big words when he shouldn’t, etc. I’d much rather worry about this kind of thing once the story is done, but I have to read everything to make sure I find all the text spoken by a particular character.
  2. Search/highlight non-default fonts - For me, it would be looking all uses of italics.
  3. Highlight quoted text - helps find spots where you missed a closing quote. What I’d really like is to have the background color change when ever the cursor is between quotes - it would need to be a toggle or it would drive everyone nuts.

Each could be done via a plugin or built in and I’d be happy either way.

If you’d like to see what kind of creativity is available, you simply have to look at some of the editors for programmers. If you really want to see what can be gained, take a look at games with mod APIs

I usually write in editors more coding friendly, so I’m used to there being highlights for quotations and parens, so you don’t break up pairs, and spoken text pops out of prose so that it can be threaded and more accidentally lost in paragraphs dont stream of consciousness.

I would find this really useful.

I wanted something like this as well. I was copy/pasting all my scenes into Hemingway and ProWritingAid but it became really cumbersome.

To make my life easier I wrote a mac app that allows you to ‘Hemingway’ Scrivener Projects. You can find it at

Let me know what you think!