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The Self-Help Checklist for Blog Content Writers

 

This week, as I begin my thirteenth year of part-time tutoring at the Ivy Tech Community College English Learning Lab, I’m culling information from the Study Power Leader’s Guide the school offers as a resource to my students. The “Report Evaluation Worksheet”, I thought, was particularly apropos for blog content writers….

Has your topic been focused as a question, issue, or thesis?
At Ivy Tech, I often find that students have difficulty knowing the difference between the topic of a paper and its thesis. Suppose they were instructed to write about graduation cap tassels.  That’s the topic.  But what about tassels?  Are they silly? Important? Should we hold on to that tradition? (The answer is the thesis, or the “slant” the paper will take.) The same set of decisions will determine the focus of a blog post.

Is your approach original and imaginative?
Your client’s business blog, I remind content writers, is part of their brand, and it needs to put the best aspects of their business or practice forward with fresh, relevant content that engages readers. Blogging requires applying a thinking process. When business owners or professional practitioners blog (or coordinate with a professional writer), they are verbalizing the positive aspects of their enterprises in a way that people can understand, putting recent accomplishments down in words, and reviewing the benefits of their products and services. The very process provides self-training in how to talk effectively about their business or practice.

Are your ideas supported with useful examples, quotations, etc.?
You can use quotations in blog posts to reinforce your point, show you’re in touch with trends in your field, and to add value for readers (by aggregating different sources of information in one business blog). Still, I remind both owners and their content writers that the idea is to make their own cash register ring, which means it’s their own voice that must come across strong throughout the post..

Are your punctuation, spelling, and capitalization accurate?
Whether you’re a college student or a blogger, anything that puzzles readers interferes with readers’ interest and engagement defeats the purpose of the writing. Proper spelling and punctuation helps readers know what you think, what you do, and what you’d like them to do about it (give you a good grade or click on your blog’s Call to Action).

Using the Study Power Leader’s Guide worksheet can help blog content writers become leaders in their field!

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In a Blog, is Someone One or Two?

One Plus One

“Beware of common grammatical mistakes, like subject-verb agreement,” cautions Helen Coster in Forbes. Rule to remember:  The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Use a singular verb form after:

  • Nobody
  • Someone
  • Everybody
  • Neither
  • Everyone
  • Each
  • Either

“We can agree that a verb agrees with its subject in person and number,” The Lousy Writer reminds us.  Examples include:

  • “No one except the ticket holders is admitted.”
  • “Every one of us is anxious to build a business.”
  • “The famous museum with its thousands of artifacts was destroyed.” (There is only one museum.)

What’s more, The Lousy Writer explains, the meaning rather than the form of the subject controls the number of the verb.

  • “The movie ’The Godfather’ was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.” (There is only one movie.)
  • “Fifty dollars is too much for those sneakers.”  (There is one sum of fifty dollars.)
  • “The committee is ready to boycott.” (The committee consists of several persons, but we refer to it here as one group.)

Using plurals and singulars can get quite tricky, Learner’s Dictionary authors admit, especially when a sentence has more than one subject per verb. Here are three examples:

  • (two singular) The dog and the cat bother me. (bother is a plural verb)
  • (two plural): The dogs and the cats bother me.
  • (one singular, one plural) The dog and cats bother me.

In blog content writing, of course, the idea is to avoid confusing the reader and get the point across. Avoiding common grammatical mistakes and making subjects agree with verbs is one healthy habit we content writers can cultivate.

Remember: the number of the subject determines the number of the verb!

 

 

 

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Blog Writing With the Oxford Comma

punctuationWith the Say It For You focus this week on proper grammar and spelling for blog writers, I couldn’t resist mentioning the Oxford comma. The who? you ask.

Wherever there’s a list of things, you’ll find commas to separate the items.  Provided you’re a believer in the Oxford or serial comma, you’d include it right before the final item in the list.

Newspaper reporters (and I was a newspaper columnist for many years) typically don’t use that last comma. The AP Style guide we use in the two colleges where I work does not require the Oxford.  As for me, I do prefer to use that last comma, for the simple reason that it helps avoid confusion.  The absolute last thing blog content writers want is to create confusion.  To the contrary – our whole purpose in life is to clarify the situation so that online readers feel comfortable and see themselves using our clients’ products and services.

Ann Edwards, writing in grammarly.com, appears to agree with me. Edwards offers an example of how a reader might misinterpret matters in the absence of a clarifying Oxford comma:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

(Without the comma, the sentence might be interpreted as meaning that you love your parents, who are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty, rather than your loving four people – your parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.)

Another example is offered by grammarbook.com:

 Her $10 million estate was split among her husband,   daughter, son, and  nephew.”

(Without the last comma, you might imagine that the son and nephew had to split one third of the estate, rather than understanding that each relative got one fourth of the whole estate.)

The Oxford isn’t always necessary to make the meaning clear, I explain to blog content writers. Here’s a sentence where you’d understand, even without the comma, that there are four pool care activities being mentioned:

“You’ll need to add chemicals, monitor chlorine levels, scoop out debris
and prepare the pool as the seasons change.”

Still, I was happy to learn, the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA and US Government Printing Office all advocate the use of the Oxford comma, even though the Associated Press advises against.

Anyway, my own thought about using the Oxford Comma is, “Above all, create no confusion!”

 

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If You Could Use Proper Grammar and Spelling, That’d Be “Grate”

proper grammar in blogs

Kimberly Joki, in her grammarly blog, lists some of the “worst writing mistakes you can make at work.” Even if you are someone who isn’t bothered by a misplaced comma, she says, there will inevitably be coworkers and clients who will notice and who will judge your quality of work by your mistakes, she points out, adding the advice to “Be smarter than you were in primary school.”

Joki offers a list of pairs and triplets which are often mixed up:

  • There/ they’re/ their (“They’re” means “they are”. “There” refers to a place. “Their” refers to something owned by more than one person.)
  • Your/ you’re (The difference, Joki explains, is that “Your” talks about you owning something, while “you’re” talks about you being something.)
  • Effect/ affect (When you’re talking about the change itself, use “effect”; When you’re talking about the act of changing, describe how that thing “affects” you.)
  • Between/ among (“Between” refers to two entities sharing something, “among” to three or more sharing something.)

Christina Wang of Shutterstock.com agrees. “No matter where you work or what you do, everyone needs to know how to write effectively for business these days,” she says.  “And yes,” she adds, “that includes paying attention to grammar.”

Wang’s no-no list includes a couple of others:

  • Using “I” instead of “me”.  Don’t say “Thanks for meeting Steven and I for lunch yesterday.”  (It should be “Steven and me”.
  • Using unnecessary apostrophes.  “That company’s presentation is full of great idea’s.” (Apostrophes show possession, not plural.)  “You’ll love it’s strategy.” (“It’s” means “it is”’ “its” is a pronoun.)

As blog content writers, if we could use proper grammar and spelling, that’d be just g-r-e-a-t!

 

 

 

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Blogging the “Real Truth” About Your Business

Is coffee good or bad for you? Turns out the answer is quite complicated, as Jenn Wood explains in Mental Floss coffee potMagazine.

“Excessive coffee consumption can lead to anxiety, depression, and frequency of psychophysiological disorders,” stated the journal article “Advances on Alcohol & Substance in 1984. Yet, by 2015. a study reported in “Heart” showed that “moderate coffee consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of subclinical coronary athereosclerosis.”

“Individuals with a genetic variation associated with slower caffeine metabolism appear to have an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks with higher amounts of coffee intake,” warned the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2006. Yet, by 2011, the Archives of Internal Medicine was reporting that “the risk of depression was 20 percent lower among women who drank four or more cups of coffee.”

“In the last decade alone, scientists have published hundreds of papers attributing both harms and health benefits to coffee,” observes Christie Aschwanden in slate.com. There’s one problem with all the studies, she says – they are observation, finding associations without establishing causality.

Helping readers sort truth from myth is one important use for business blogs.  In the natural order of business, many of misunderstandings about a product or service present themselves, and shining the light of day on misinformation shines light on your own expertise in your field.

Even when (as is the case with the ongoing good/bad coffee debate, there is no final answer, blog content writers can summarize the different schools of thought and recap the research that is being done in the field. That in itself can go a long way towards making your blog a “go-to” place for readers seeking information relating to your industry or profession.

Is blogging good or bad for you and your readers?  No complications there – the answer is a resounding yes.  Even where there really is no one “real truth”, it’s helpful to discuss what we know so far and how your business or practice is using the information that is available as of today.

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