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I Write Like…

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Like many people, I’ve recently been finding amusement and distraction in the rather ingenious I Write Like… site. You can enter a sample of your own writing into the site’s analyser, and it’ll tell you which famous author your writing is comparable to. As amusing as it is, the results do seem rather random. Entering a chapter of fiction, I was told that I write like Tolstoy; entering a chapter of non-fiction, the result was H. P. Lovecraft. This left me wondering whether the site’s analysis was based on some (likely spurious) method of actual text comparison, or whether it was was simply arbitrary, in the manner of Jedi names or porn names.

I decided to run a little test. I cut-and-pasted the opening passages of Dan Brown’s latest tour de bollocks, The Lost Symbol (freely availabe here) into the site. The result?

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So far, so good. (Obviously Dan Brown would take this as evidence – nay, proof – of some conspiracy theory or other and use it to fashion an argument of the convergence of just about everything, but we can safely forget about him now.) Next I decided to try Tolstoy – specifically, the first chapter of War & Peace.

I write like
Leo Tolstoy

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Another success. Tolstoy’s an interesting case, of course, because the text I entered was in English, though the book was written in Russian (with approximately 2% of the text in French) and had thus undergone translation, the result arguably being as much the work of his translator as Tolstoy himself. We can speculate that the site may have based its comparisons on English language versions of books by the likes of Tolstoy, of course, so perhaps the translation is irrelevant. For comparison, I chose the opening chapter of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as my next test subject.

I write like
Leo Tolstoy

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Maybe it just doesn’t have Dostoevsky in its database. The editions of War & Peace and The Brothers Karamazov weren’t translated by the same people, but they do date from around the same time, and Constance Garnett, who translated the version of The Brothers Karamazov used here, did also translate Tolstoy (having known him personally) so perhaps there is some similarity.

Next I decided to try something more modern, and written in English – Stephen King’s 1998 novel, Bag of Bones.

I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

At this point, it seemed pretty fair to conclude that whatever method the analyser is using, it’s probably backed up by a database of most of the available texts for the authors concerned. I entered the first chapter of The Call of Cthulhu into it:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

…and the first chapter of Ulysses.

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Obviously, a database which identifies an author by his work is not really all that thrilling. I was still interested in the basis of the underlying analysis, such as it may be, and how it might be useful in other regards. Authorship of the Bible has long been disputed, so I entered the first book of Genesis:

I write like
Kurt Vonnegut

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Interesting. Not Moses, then? Again, the book has obviously been translated, and heavily re-styled in the process. Maybe Kurt Vonnegut had a hand in that, I don’t know. What about the Quran?

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

That’s an English version, by the way. In Arabic:

I write like
Neil Gaiman

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Doesn’t surprise me. One of the usual suspects, really.

Next I decided to test some newspapers, taking an editorial from each of the following, to see whose writing they were most akin to:

  • The Guardian – James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Daily Telegraph – Arthur C. Clark
  • The Independent – David Fenimore Wallace
  • The Sun – James Joyce
  • The Daily Mail – H. P. Lovecraft

Since his death, H. P. Lovecraft has frequently been decried as a racist and a bigot, with his writing style often characterised as histrionic and alarmist. Seems fitting. Funnily enough, while I was on the Daily Mail site, I noticed the latest column from Richard Littlejohn. Entering Littlejohn’s column into the machine, I was rewarded with perhaps the most interesting result of all:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

A fine tool, with many fine uses, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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  1. July 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Awesome. Nice post, Matt.

  2. July 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Oh, and apparently I write like James Fenimore Cooper… I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing.

  3. July 15, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I’m not sure if I should be insulted, disappointed or perplexed but apparently I write like Dan Brown.

    I am suitably amused by the final result there though Matt!

  4. July 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans so I imagine most people would consider the comparison a good thing, though they’d probably be judging on the strength of the film. During his lifetime, James Fenimore Cooper’s most popular work was The Leatherstocking Tales, which sounds a bit more up your alley, Ant.

    Ragnar, you should see if there’s an I Sell Like… site out there and see if the comparison holds.

  1. July 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm

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