Category Archives: Revising & Proofreading

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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Filed under Editors, Grammar, Revising & Proofreading

Are You Too Lazy to Write Better?

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Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver

Perhaps the biggest myth about writing is that if you’re good at it, it comes easily. People like the idea that a great writer is an inspired genius and the words just flow. Anyone who writes, however, knows that writing is hard work and getting better at writing can take a lot of time, energy, and maybe sweat and tears. If you find that your writing is in a rut or you’re struggling to improve your work, you may be the biggest obstacle in your way. Are you too lazy to write better?

Writing is Revising

Writing well means getting comfortable with the red pen or the backspace key. If you’re not revising your work heavily, you’re probably not getting much better. If you find that you’re getting sloppy with your grammar or style, give yourself a refresher to re-tune your revising practices. Pick up a grammar workbook and test yourself on punctuation and syntax. Read a style manual, such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to remind yourself of good writing rules. Then, go over your work with a fine-toothed comb. For example, Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method is a great revision method for precise writing. If you’re still struggling, find accountability and help in a writer’s circle or a writing partner. Another set of eyes can help you spot trouble areas and give you new ideas. Plus, having someone else’s feedback can help push you to work harder.

Finding the Focus

We all know what it looks like: you sit down to write and before you even open Word you find yourself on Facebook, Pinterest, and CNN all at once. In our highly-connected culture, laziness can sometimes masquerade as busyness. It’s way easier to browse the internet for hours than it is to sit down and focus on your work. Push yourself to set aside a certain distraction-free window or amount of time each day to dedicate solely to writing. A little discipline can revolutionize your writing by giving you mental clarity and freeing up energy for creativity. If you’re having trouble focusing, even when you set aside time just for writing, you might be interested in The Huffington Post’s tips on How-to Focus. Although you’ll definitely want to log-off email and social media while you’re writing, there are ways that your devices can work for you. For example, use add-ons like Google Chrome Stay Focused to limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites each day. Or, the silly site Written? Kitten! rewards you with an adorable kitten once you hit a set wordcount. Learning how to turn-off the distractions can help you free up time to work and get you out of lazy habits.

Staying well-read

Improving you writing might mean improving your reading. The conventional wisdom is that great writers are great readers. Keep abreast of what’s going on in the culture, so you can tap into the pulse and make your writing relevant. In addition to keeping well-informed, make time to read what other writers are writing. Good writers learn from each other. Spend some time reading good books and reading up on what books are garnering critical acclaim or popular attention. Lists such as the New York Times Bestsellers or NPR’s Best Books of 2013 can help you get a sense of what to read. As you read, keep a journal of writing trends, types of images, phrases you love, or techniques to try. While you don’t want to just copy other writers, experimenting with other writing ideas can inspire your own innovations and help your writing grow.

Endurance: Pushing for improvement

Just like with sports, dance, or learning to play an instrument, practice is the key to getting better at writing. If you’ve been working at it for awhile, you might hit a plateau and feel like your progress is stalling. Or, unlike with a workout or diet, it could be hard to see the improvements you’ve made. Take the time to reflect on your work in a writing journal or by rereading your older writing. Create a space to celebrate your progress, but keep pushing yourself. Endurance and the discipline to push harder is the only real way to get better at anything.

More Posts:

The Queen of Fluff Writing. Stop Her Reign Today

What Every Writer Should Remember from Freshman English

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

Writers—Organize Yourselves! Tools and Tips for Productivity

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Content, Descriptive Writing, Expository Writing, Revising & Proofreading, Web Writers, Writing Careers

The Queen of Fluff Writing. Stop Her Reign Today!

By My Web Writers

Image courtesy of My Virgin Queen

Image courtesy of My Virgin Queen

Fluff writing. You know, that technique you became great at during high school and college, when you were forced to write 700 words on a topic you didn’t understand to begin with? Back then, it may have been helpful to pad your writing with adjectives and redundancies, but not anymore. Particularly if you write for the web, readers have short attention spans and are looking for quality, not quantity. Banish the Fluff Writing Queen and promote the following habits of good writing:

  • Kill the adjectives and adverbs. Unless you’re writing literary fiction, no one wants to read that you should do something slowly or carefully. Is your project special and important? Don’t write it: let your readers surmise these things from the writing itself, not your description.
  • Remove unnecessary words. If you really work at it, you can try to remove words that you just don’t need very much. Okay, now read the previous sentence again, this time removing “really,” “at it,” “try to,” “just,” and “very much.” Did the meaning or flow suffer? No, it’s actually easier to read and to comprehend, now: If you work, you can remove words that you don’t need. Ahhhh!
  • Take out the padding. Shoulder pads are out. So is the padding in writing! Once you’ve written a piece, look over it again. Remove unnecessary words and phrases, maybe even whole sentences. Readers don’t want to see the same thing more than once, or you risk them clicking away to another page.
  • Banish clichés. When all is said and done, you should go the whole nine yards to before realizing that, when all is said and done, a posting should probably bite the dust. How many clichés did you spot in that last sentence? Try weeding out all the expressions/clichés/figures of speech in your articles, unless you’re using them for a specific reason or to contribute to an intentional “voice.”
  • Be direct. Banish words and phrases like “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “it could be.” Write with authority and readers will take your postings more seriously.
  • Use active voice. Writing in the passive voice makes your pieces more wordy and difficult to read and understand. So, instead of writing “The stick was fetched by the dog,” make it “The dog fetched the stick.”
  • Keep focused.  Resist the temptation to go off on tangents and related topics. Stick to the topic of your article, and, if necessary, write separate pieces about the topics they bring to mind. Readers prefer focused, clear pieces that answer their immediate questions simply.
  • Get rid of complex sentences. You’re not trying to impress the English teacher anymore. Keep your sentences short and simple; if you have a long one, chop it into two. It will be easier to read.

Other Posts:

How to Write a Big Impact Proposal in a Short Amount of Time

Five Tips to Grow Your Email Audience

Voice: How to Change Your Writing for the Client or Audience

Editing Tips for Better Marketing Phrasing

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Filed under Content, Grammar, Introductions, Revising & Proofreading

Marketing Finesse; Edit for Content Phrasing

By My Web WritersEdit for content phrasing

The “t’s” may be crossed and the “i’s” may be dotted, but this alone doesn’t make for exceptional content. Proper grammar is only one component of great writing; of equal importance is how the words are phrased. Even the most compelling message can be lost amidst sentences that lack style, emotion and energy. Furthermore, content phrasing can have a large impact on SEO and search engine ranking. For all of these reasons, content phrasing is the final marketing “finesse” that should be placed on every piece of content that represents your brand or business. Here are several ways in which you can learn how to edit effectively for content phrasing.

First, identify your call to action. Even the best content will fail to convert visitors into customers unless it has a clear call to action. Take a critical look at your content. If you’re not able to identify this call to action within the first paragraph, this is a missed opportunity. It makes sense to place the call to action at the end of the content, since this is the “take-away” you’d like to leave readers with; however, it must appear sooner and more frequently than once at the very end. Instead, clearly announce your call to action right after introducing the main message. Ideally, this should be within the first paragraph. Then repeat this at least once more at the end of the content. Also try and weave it in to another paragraph or two, rephrasing it slightly to add interest.

Second, don’t be passive. Sure, this is great advice for life, but in this instance it should be applied to content phrasing. Content that feels dull, boring or uninspired most likely uses passive verbs instead of active verbs. Especially in the public relations/media relations world, professionals avoid passive verbs and replace them with active verbs as often as possible. First read this sentence: “Our custom web site was created by John Smith, our in-house web guru.” Now compare it to this: “Our in-house web guru, John Smith created our custom built web site.” The first sentence uses a passive verb while the second uses an active verb. It’s a subtle change, but goes a long way toward making content “pop.”

Third, bust out your dictionary. There are so many ways to convey the same message, so why settle for saying it the same way as everyone else? Use a dictionary and thesaurus to find synonyms that can replace overused and worn out words. Doing this also provides a benefit for search engine optimization (SEO). By using phrases that are unique and specific to your topic, you will have less competition for Google rankings and your content will appear higher in search results. For example, content focusing on the phrase “best social media strategies” will have far more competition for search engine ranking since it’s such a general and popular term. On the other hand, “best twitter strategies for hair salons” is a more specific way to approach the topic and will have significantly less SEO competition.

Fourth, get a second opinion. If you are the writer, it is hard to also be a critical editor to your work. Phrases that are awkward or unclear may not appear that way to you since you wrote them and understand them fully. It’s important to have a co-worker, friend, or professional editor review the content to draw attention to phrases that don’t quite sound right. Again, these may be phrases that don’t include a single grammatical error, but that doesn’t necessarily make them ready for publishing. A trusted second set of eyes (ideally someone who would also be considered your target audience) is invaluable for fine-tuning content phrasing.

Finally and most broadly, your content should reflect the overall voice of your brand. Look at any well-marketed brand and you should be able to quickly identify the voice or tone of the content that transcends all of their marketing materials. For example, MailChimp.com has a voice that is fun, casual and a bit sarcastic – and definitely a monkey theme! Once you work with MailChimp long enough, you begin to expect this voice and associate it with the brand. It’s memorable, but most importantly it’s consistent. The same message written without MailChimp’s distinct voice could say the same thing, but customers would be more likely to block it out and less likely to remember it. For MailChimp, their voice has become a point of differentiation. Their content is carefully developed and edited so that it always maintains this voice.

Good luck and happy editing!

~Stephanie


Other Posts:

The Art of Combining Sentences When Editing

From Blah to Fab, Freshen Up Your Web Copy

Adding Content to their Website Increased Our Client’s Keyword Reach

Twenty-five Effective, Call-to-Action Phrases in E-commerce Content

Which Verses That – Do You Know the Difference?

Attention to Details- What is Quality Content? Part 4

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Filed under Editors, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing