Category Archives: Revising & Proofreading

What Should You Do When Your Content is Copied?

Life in the Security Experiment Room

My twelve year-old loves smoke alarms.  Some guys are crazy about football.  He knows the stats of almost every smoke detector- whether it’s a BG-12, Simplex, Wheelock, or Gentex.

After he started writing letters to companies, conversing with CMOs, creating reviews, editing videos, and playing around with You Tube, it became clear that his interest would be a gateway to acquiring valuable skills and practical lessons.

He Copied Me!

But then it happened.  A couple kids plagiarized his ideas and material.  One YouTube youngster “borrowed” most of his intro.  Grant invests hours editing these videos, so he was pretty ticked after he discovered the infringement.

“Mom, what should I do?”

I understood how he felt.  This happens to writers all the time.  It’s frustrating- especially when you’re the one who spent time or dollars on the original idea or work.

Plagiarism vs. Fair Use

Just to be clear, if you borrow an idea, quote, picture, or video you should credit your sources. If you want to be official with formatting that credit, read how to cite sources from MLA or APA. However, don’t cry “copyright infringement” if your idea was one that anyone could pick off just by living.  All people are allowed fair use of ideas for educating, discussing, and conjecture. If the idea is already swimming in public, it can be taken and altered.

What If Someone Steals Your Content or Ideas?

#1. Inform the accused what was done.  Define plagiarism for him or her because some people- especially kids, just don’t know.  Plagiarism.com says, “

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ARE CONSIDERED PLAGIARISM:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)”

#2.  Add a © (copyright symbol) with the current year and the owner’s name to the bottoms of your websites, pictures, articles, or videos.  This symbol notifies would-be borrowers that you own the material. Most will ask for permission or provide credit to your page with links.

#3. Ask for credit if you feel that your idea or content was borrowed and be prepared to back up your claim.  But then, simmer down.  If you’re the original and most people know you’re the original, this is your moment to shine.

Look at the MKC commercials from 2014.  Lincoln’s sales soared up by 25%.  Ellen’s and SNL’s spoofs helped to catapult the original. Going viral is good for business.

“Borrowing” is flattery.  Properly documented spoofs or borrows can turn into more views for your channel.  Create brand ambassadors that will grow your channel. When someone copies your content, look at the action as flattery and opportunity. Embrace the marketing boost!

#4. If a serious offender ignores your request to receive a link and hat tip to your page, hire an attorney.  Sometimes, “borrowing” is not so innocent.  If it’s costly and the stakes are high, let your attorney do the talking.

In general, most people want to get copyright right. If you keep a positive attitude and work through the situation, you’ll probably end up with decent backlinks and some new partnerships.  Sharing and take-offs can help your SEO to soar.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Capturing Audience, Citing Sources, Editors, Favorite Websites, Research Tips, Revising & Proofreading, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Website Linking, YouTube

What is a Pronoun Disagreement Error?

He or She Verses They or Themagreement

Often the rules of grammar are forgotten—sometimes even purposely ignored. However, on occasion, some of the rules of grammar simply slip through the cracks and are not properly taught or reviewed. One of the biggest rules of professional or recreational writing is to make sure that your pronouns agree.

If you create a sentence with “if a person” or “when a person,” the singular pronouns “he or she” will follow. If “they” is used to refer to a single person, a pronoun disagreement error occurs.

  • If a person comes into the store unsure of what to look for, you must ask questions to learn what he or she needs to find.
  • If a person comes into the store unsure of what to look for, you must as questions to learn what they need to find.

The first sentence follows pronoun agreement rules, while the second exhibits a pronoun disagreement error. It’s common to hear pronoun disagreement errors in everyday speech.

 

The Case for Gender Inclusive Language

Let’s face it.  Sometimes the reader doesn’t need to envision a he or a she.  Sometimes, we want readers to not consider gender.  Eliminating the reference to gender is appropriate in many circumstances, such as when writing a workplace policy manual.  However, pause before breaking the pronoun agreement rule. There are ways to rewrite sentences so that pronouns are not needed. There will always be strict grammarians who frown upon disagreement errors and who don’t understand the need for gender neutral wording.  Is breaking the agreement rule worth annoying these readers? In most cases, probably not.  Be creative with your wording and work around the rule.

 

Person Agreement

Keep your writing clear and in the proper (and same) person. For example, if you are working on a book and writing in first person, do not let yourself fall into third person writing. It happens and it’s easy to miss, especially when writing fiction. Whether you’re writing in first, second, or third person, pick one and stick to it.

Finally, make sure your writing stays clear and makes sense. If, for example, you’re working on a letter to the newspaper, don’t write something like “They shouldn’t use pictures like that.” Who are “they?” What are the pictures being used? Separate your sentence and thoughts in order to convey a clearer, more concise message.

Make sure that your pronouns agree by watching your numbers, gender, and in what person you are writing.  Avoid vague references such as “When they wrote about the arrest,” so questions are not left open. Your readers should not ask who “they” are or what “that” is, they should have clear word pictures. By following agreement rules, you will communicate with clarity. ~Holly

Leave a comment

Filed under Grammar, Revising & Proofreading

How to Hook Readers without Swearing in Headlines

hookEverywhere you look, people are playing fast and loose with language—even on “family”-oriented sitcoms! Inappropriate language and cussing are becoming more and more commonplace, but that doesn’t mean they are in any way acceptable in articles or blogs. As writers, we should be able to use a wide array of language to catch the attention of the audience without cussing or using inappropriate language.  The headline is the part of the article that will make readers want to read—don’t waste that with poorly-chosen or inappropriate words. Here are some tips to catch readers’ attention without swearing.

Use clever wording to hook readers. Alliteration is always an amazing answer to your search for alternative wording! Alliteration, as demonstrated in the previous sentence, is the repetition of a letter (or sound) of words in a phrase, such as “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.” This requires you to flex your creative muscles in order to find the best words to use, but it also works as a great attention-getter in articles or blogs. Hooking readers with alliteration can also play throughout the article to keep hold of the attention of the readers and refer back to the title, making the article well-rounded and well-written.

Use an informative quote as your headline. Not only will this give readers a small insight into what your article is about, but it will show your readers that you’ve put in effort and done research as well as involving the community to produce a complete article. So many articles and blog posts these days are incomplete or poorly researched, so by showing readers that you put effort into writing because you enjoy it, it is likely that the work will shine through in the article and your readers will feel more engaged. Involving other members of the community also helps keep the attention of the readers, because they will be able to identify more with the article and it will be more important to the readers.

Reveal just a tidbit about your article. Paint a picture and reach out to the emotions of the readers. The goal of an article’s title is to pique the reader’s interest and reveal what will come in the article that will interest them. For example, if you’re writing a human interest piece about how the “downtown” portion of your city is taking shape, but it’s affecting pedestrians and bicyclists, try to portray the way in which the changes are affecting them. Try something such as, “Downtown Changes Mean Pedestrians and Cyclists Must Cross Paths.” The readers do not yet know whether crossing paths is a good thing or a bad thing, so they’ll keep reading to find out. The next challenge is keeping them interested paragraph after paragraph.

Use a question as a headline. “Will Changes to Downtown Spell Disaster for Small Businesses?” This asks a question that pertains to the community, the article, the readers, tugs at emotions, and may open up a new window of discussion. The audience will continue to read the article to find the answer, reasoning, and various expanded explanations as to why the question was brought to light. To ensure the undivided attention of the audience, use each paragraph for a different explanation or different reasoning before you answer the question at hand. Don’t overdo it, though, the reader will still want a quick, somewhat concise answer that won’t take them 45 minutes to sort out.

Overall, there are many ways to hook the attention of an audience without resorting to inappropriate language.  Alliteration, quotes, or questions and painting pictures for your readers to “pique and reveal” will create interest in your article.  Keep their attention throughout the article, which is the ultimate goal of any writer. PR Daily reminds us not to waste the space or take for granted the power that comes with a good headline because poorly-worded headlines are often simply skipped over by readers. Ask an editor to review your article to double-check that your headline works.

Get those creative juices flowing with the next article and write a strong headline to hook your readers! ~Hollyheadline

Leave a comment

Filed under Capturing Audience, Expository Writing, Introductions, Narrative Writing, Newsletters, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, Words Which Sell

Wince and then, Extend a Little Grammar Grace

Who would have thought that scanning the #grammar hashtag on Twitter could be entertaining?  Today, I ease-dropped and whoa, the honesty.  It must be one of those days.

 

From grammar heckling…Grammar bullying

 

to grammar bullying,grammar police

 

Thank you, people, for making grammar a little more interesting on a dreary, Monday afternoon- the day after spring break. I ate popcorn, pet the dog, and kicked back to read your stuff instead of focusing on my own.  For a moment, I forgot that I’m ridiculed at home for hanging on to my Blackberry because I fear giving up buttons and typing accuracy. Just reading Will’s post below reminds me why grammar and spelling seem so important.

 

Why grammar is important.

 

Are you judged when you write social media content?

Yup.  Er, I mean, “Yes, you are judged.”

Is that so bad?

Well, that depends on who you are.  If you’re the President, it’s a plus if your people are nearly perfect communicators.

If you’re a vampire looking to impress a date, you need to be on your best grammar behavior.

 

Grammar to get a date

 

If you’re a celebrity, the beating for a writing faux pas could be so bad that you might find yourself in a post entitled, The Thirteen Celebrities with the Worst Grammar on Twitter.  Grammar gaffs are almost as embarrassing as tripping on your dress at awards shows. But then, if you’re a celeb, you know that any PR is good PR.

 

What if you’re a writer and you- gasp- spell something wrong or miss a punctuation mark?  Your brilliant mind might never be discovered.  You, my friend, might even end up on the Famous Thinkers Who Couldn’t Spell list with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Yeats. Oh, the ridicule.  Take time to look at your spelling and grammar checker before hitting send.  Inevitably, most of us judge and are judged by how we write.

delete for grammar police

 

Thankfully, almost everyone is compassionate to youngsters, wounded warriors, and the elderly who struggle to communicate.  We cheer them on- ignoring conventions.

That’s the best in us.

Why don’t we extend this grace to others?

I don’t know.

I do know that we give magnanimous gifts when we encourage rather than discourage.

And, we could all use a little grammar grace now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Editors, Grammar, Revising & Proofreading

How Much Does Grammar Matter to Google and Bing?

Copyright 2014 My Web Writers

Copyright 2014 My Web Writers

We’re often ask us how much punctuation and grammar matter to search engine results. The short answer is, “Yes, grammar, spelling, and usage do matter.”  It’s like asking a business professional if he or she will be judged on his or her clothing at work.  While some offices are more casual than others, you’ll be judged. Google’s grammar dress code might be slightly less formal than Bing’s, but both search companies value articles that users can read without hindrances.

Google’s Content Quality Guidelines

We wrote a whole content quality series based on Google’s content guidelines after Panda came out in 2011.  Check out the four parts to learn more about Google’s quality content checklist. You’ll want to make sure that you double check spelling and grammar, as well as provide authoritative support and elaboration.

Bing’s Position on Common Errors

Duane Forrester of Bing, wrote a post February 20, 2014 that establishes Bing’s position on content quality.  If you haven’t read it, yet, take a moment to do so.  In a nutshell, Mr. Forrester suggests that if your content is littered with common errors, the reader will be frustrated and the poor quality will affect your search results.  Web pages with grammar or spelling mistakes won’t float to the top of Bing.

My Web Writers is available with several editors if you need help proofreading your copy.

Article Evaluation Template

If you’re just looking for a little guidance, download this article evaluation worksheet and ask someone else in your office to score your articles with it. Use the rubric to solicit general feedback from others or just use it as a general checklist to review before publishing. I used this template for student peer review when I was teaching English 101 years ago.  The template was originally published by D.C. Heath Grammar and Composition, which was sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Originally published by DC Heath and Company

Originally published by DC Heath and Company

Remember, even the best writers borrow a second set of eyes before publishing! Revising and proofreading are just standard actions steps.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grammar, Panda, Revising & Proofreading, SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Nothing Fits “All of Your Needs”

The phrase appears everywhere.  Our service or products will fit “all of your needs.”  Wow!  This is it.  I’ve hit the Holy Grail.  ALL of my needs.  Where do I sign up??  I need a new wardrobe.  I need someone to wash my dog.  I need more time to watch Shark Tank Tuesdays.  I need a vacation.  And on and on…

The reality is, nothing fits “all of your needs.”  Not any one person, company, or product.  A search of Google yields about 121,000,000 results for “all of your needs.”  That large a number says that there are a lot of people and businesses that believe they can do it all.  (Humorous sidetrack:  the number one search result on Google for “all of your needs” returns a link to a Bible passage from Philippians 4:19 that says, “And my God will meet all your needs.” Score one for the big guy.)

Delete trite phrases

Delete trite phrases

One of the lessons that should be taught to content writers during their Marketing 101 course is to avoid using the phrase “all of your needs” in copy.  Forever.  In fact, there should be a law against using such a trite phrase that’s guaranteed to underdeliver.  Besides “all of your needs,” the Harvard Business Review released their own Bizspeak Blacklist of overused word phrases that display an absence of actual thought.  Some offenders:

  • Think outside the box

  • Mission-critical

  • Hit the ground running

  • Push the envelope

  • Value-added

  • Level the playing field

SHIFT Communications took overuse of a trite phrase one step further and sampled 62,768 press releases from 2013.  Their goal was to find the top 50 most overused words marketers penned in press releases.  Do you use (or overuse) any of these:  new, first, most, leading, best, great, largest, better, special, or better?  If so, you are not alone.  They made the 50 most overused words in press releases list for 2013 along with mobile, professional, current, real, and top.

4 Steps To Avoid Trite Marketing Phrases

  1. Describe what makes your item or service unique from others like it.  This is your chance to take a 30-second elevator pitch and translate into a few short sentences.  Some items to cover in your written description may include a guarantee, something that will be fixed, benefits when used, and specialties that will stand out from the crowd.

  1. Wrap your product around words that trip the senses.  Effective copy crafts words that make the reader believe they cannot possibly live without the product or service.  Paint a word picture that appeals to one or more of the five senses.  Create a sensory experience with words that let’s the reader see a vision, remember a smell, or desire to touch.  For inspiration, click on a few of the products from one of the best eCommerce brands today that knows how to appeal to the senses.  The Duluth Trading Company uses humor through the words on their t-shirt product descriptions.  One solves the problem of confronting the unsightly shock of happening upon someone with a much-feared “Plumbers Butt.”

  1. Share a true story or testimonial.  For marketers, nothing is better than word-of-mouth referrals where one customer sells another on a product or service.  BazaarVoice, a leader in gathering product or service reviews, reports that items with positive feedback convert 12.5% better than those without.  Let the praises of your customers sing for others and add their words in a quote format to your marketing copy.

  1. Appeal to the imagination.  The art of poetry is lost.  Bring wordsmithing back with words that evoke images for your products or services.  Words to Use is a website that can help remove writer’s block and find the right words about anything.  Can you describe a rose?

While you won’t be able to entirely eliminate trite phrases from your writing, editing with a mind toward using words with sizzle will bring your marketing prose to the next level.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Content, Descriptive Writing, Narrative Writing, Revising & Proofreading, The Writing Process, Words Which Sell, Writer's Block

Create Prize-Winning Sentences by Micro-editing

Image courtesy of Joanna Penn- http://www.flickr.com/photos/38314728@N08/

Image courtesy of Joanna Penn- http://www.flickr.com/photos/38314728@N08/

When was the last time you read a book you couldn’t put down? Did it heightened every emotion? It probably created offered detailed imagery so that you were transported another place and time. How is a capable author able to captivate followers through even the longest of novels? It’s all in great writing, and even better editing.

How can you incorporate visual writing into your prose? Start with a flashback to your freshman English class- nouns, subject-verb agreement, adjectives, and adverbs. The basic writing tools are right there. But how do you take it to the next level?

Read. Reading opens your eyes to worlds where your body may never actually travel. It exposes you to experiences you might never live. Reading educates. And incorporating that education into your own writing can make you better.

Depending on your writing style and goals— business, blog, business blog, fashion magazine, traditional journalism—find someone you’d like to emulate and read their work. Follow great business writers and leaders on LinkedIn. Catch up on engaging bloggers on The Huffington Post. Read The New York Times cover to cover.

Once you’ve launched your learning and practiced your writing, go back over your work with a fine-toothed comb. Mastery of writing comes down to the nitty-gritty and micro-editing. What is micro-editing?

First, let’s look at the word macro. According to thefreedictionary.com, macro is “of great size; large.” In writing, “macro” refers to the big picture, the overall emotion and story that is being told. Micro, defined by the same source, is “very small or microscopic.” Yes, a fine-toothed comb, indeed.

Review each word in every sentence. What is necessary? Consider whether this word or that word adds to the overall article. Check your modifiers to see if they’re overused. Very and really can really get very annoying. Then, check your verbs. Review subject-verb agreement, especially after you make edits to other parts of your text. Can you use an active verb in place of a passive one? Active verbs are often shorter, to the point, and keep the reader more engaged.

The English language is perhaps one of the most challenging, even for native speakers. It’s filled with homographs and homophones. Need that freshman refresher course again? A homograph is a word that has the same spelling as another word, but a different sound and a different meaning, such as tear (like in crying or what you do to paper), wind (something that blows or something you to do your watch), and bass (a type of guitar or fish). A homophone is a word that has the same sound as another but is spelled differently and has a different meaning, such as your/you’re, to/two/too, and they’re/their/there.

Carefully review punctuation. Should you use a comma or semicolon? Include the Oxford comma or not (this one may be dictated by your client)? Get help from online sources such as The Punctuation Guide if you need a refresher course, or refer to the AP Style Guide or Chicago Manual of Style.

Make an effort to review your work down to the minute details. Read the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, as inspiration. Micro-editing (or the lack of) drove author Lynne Truss to write an entire book about the grave condition of our grammatical state.

Continue your practice to become a great writer, because as Ernest Hemingway put it, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” ~Joanne

Read these other posts:

Writing in APA Style

The Basics of Writing in MLA Style

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

Learn from Websites with Above-the-Fold Content

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Editors, Grammar, Revising & Proofreading