About the Writer’s Diet

The original online Writer’s Diet test was developed by Dr. Helen Sword as a supplement to her book The Writer’s Diet. Over the years, many people have contributed to the development and ongoing maintenance of the online tool: Dr. John Hamer, who programmed the original version and took it through several cycles of improvement; Arron McLaughlin and Zac Miller-Waugh, the next generation of coders; Gideon Keith and Tony Chung, graphic designers; and Craig Housley and Steve Leichtweis, boundary riders. Warm thanks are also due to the many friends, colleagues, and strangers who have offered their enthusiasm, advice, and feedback over the years. Last but not least, we are enormously grateful to Dr. Beate Schuler for generously funding the development of the free Writer’s Diet Add-in.


Key Writer’s Diet principles

excerpted from The Writers Diet by Helen Sword


  • Favor strong, specific, robust action verbs (scrutinize, dissect, recount, capture) over weak, vague, lazy ones (have, do, show).
  • Limit your use of be-verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being,


  • Anchor abstract ideas in concrete language and images.
  • Illustrate abstract concepts using real-life examples. (‘Show, don’t tell’.)
  • Limit your use of abstract nouns, especially nominalizations (nouns that have been formed from verbs or adjectives).


  • Avoid using more than three prepositional phrases in a row (e.g. ‘in a letter to the author of a book about birds’) unless you do so to achieve a specific rhetorical effect.
  • Vary your prepositions.
  • As a general rule, do not allow a noun and its accompanying verb to become separated by more than about twelve words.

Adjectives & adverbs

  • Let concrete nouns and active verbs do most of your descriptive work.
  • Employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute new information to a sentence.
  • Avoid overuse of ‘academic ad-words’, especially those with the following suffixes: able, ac, al, ant, ary, ent, ful, ible, ic, ive, less, ous

It, this, that, there

  • Use it and this only when you can state exactly which noun each word refers to.
  • As a general rule, avoid using that more than once in a single sentence or three times in a paragraph, except to achieve a specific stylistic effect.
  • Beware of sweeping generalisations that begin with ‘There’.
© Helen Sword