martedì 6 dicembre 2011

10 Blogosphere Trends + 34 Handy Grammar Tips


Take our grammar quiz to see whether you’re guilty of some of the most common blogging errors. Here’s how: Take a look at the sentences below about the most blogged-about stories of July (according to Regator, those stories were: Rupert Murdoch, Debt Ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner, Harry Potter, Comic-Con, Amy Winehouse, Anders Behring Breivik, Casey Anthony, World Cup, and Space Shuttle), then determine how many grammar and spelling errors are in each. Try to find them all before you peek at the answers…

As the founder of News Corp, Amanda could care less how many pies Rupert Murdoch has thrown at him.

Problem 1: “The founder of News Corp” refers to Rupert Murdoch, but because of its location, it seems to be referring to Amanda. Tip: Put modifiers next to the noun they are modifying to avoid confusion.
Problem 2:
“Could care less” means that it would, in fact, be possible to care less and that the speaker does care to some degree. Tip: Use “could not care less” to indicate a total lack of concern.
Problem 3:
Passive voice, while not strictly incorrect, is often less direct and concise than active voice. Tip: Use active voice whenever possible. It conveys more information about who is performing the action.
Amanda could not care less how many pies protesters throw at Rupert Murdoch, the founder of News Corp.

The Republican’s believe the Democrat’s should of handled the debt ceiling crisis different then they did.

Problem 1: “Republican’s” and “Democrat’s” should not have apostrophes. Tip: Use apostrophes to create possessive forms, but never to create plurals. Check out the Apostrophe Abuse blog for grammar-nerd amusement.
Problem 2:
“Should of” is incorrect. Tip: Use “should have” rather than “should of.” The same goes for “would have” and “could have.”
Problem 3 (?):
This is murky water, but it could be argued that “debt ceiling crisis” should be hyphenated. Tip: When two or more words work together to modify another word, you have what’s called a compound modifier. Some stylebooks will tell you to hyphenate all compound modifiers, others tell you to refer to the dictionary for individual terms, and still others will tell you to use a hyphen only when it is needed to avoid confusion (for example, hyphenate “man-eating shark” to indicate that it’s a shark that eats guys as opposed to “man eating shark,” which could be interpreted as a guy who is eating a shark). Be consistent and hyphenate when not doing so would cause confusion. Oh, and there’s never a need to hyphenate when using an adverb ending in “ly” and an adjective (“extremely confused blogger,” for example).
Problem 4:
“Then” should be “than.” Tip: Use “then” when you are placing something after something else in time (I wrote this post then went to a party). Use “than” when you are comparing things (in this case, how the Democrats handled the crisis compared to how they should have).
Problem 5:
“Different” should be “differently.” Tip: Pay attention to whether you’re modifying a noun or verb to make sure you’re using the right modifier. In this case, we’re modifying a verb (“handled”), so we need the adverb rather than the adjective.
The Republicans believe that Democrats should have handled the debt-ceiling crisis differently.

House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act that aimed to raise the debt ceiling was put to a vote, for all intensive purposes the vote was successful.

Problem 1: The phrase “that aimed to raise the debt ceiling” should be enclosed in commas and “that” should be “which.” Tip: The phrase is what’s called a nonrestrictive clause, meaning that it could be removed from the sentence and the sentence would still make sense. Any time you have additional, non-essential information like this, use “which” rather than “that.” In these cases, enclose the phrase with commas.
Problem 2:
Instead of a comma, the two sentences should be separated by a period/full stop. Tip: When two or more sentences run together with commas in between them, the resulting monstrosity is known as a comma splice and is to be avoided at all costs. Commas are good at lots of things, but stringing sentences together isn’t one of them. (Note, in that last sentence, that the comma works with a preposition—“but”—to put two sentences together. Commas can work with their preposition pals to do this, but can’t do it on their own.)
Problem 3:
“All intensive purposes” is incorrect. Tip: The correct phrase is “all intents and purposes.”
The House of Representatives voted on House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act, which aimed to raise the debt ceiling. For all intents and purposes, the vote was successful.

Its hard to except that they’re will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans literally cried their eyes out when they found out this film would be the last.

Problem 1: “Its” should be “It’s.” Tip: Remember that apostrophes stand for letters that are missing, so “it’s” means “it is” or “it has.” See the letters the apostrophe is replacing? Without the apostrophe, “its” is possessive and means “belonging to it.”
Problem 2:
“Except” should be “accept.” Tip: “Accept” is a verb that generally means to “to willingly receive, agree to, or hold something as true.”  “Except” is usually a preposition and means “excluding.” Imagine that the “A” in “accept” stands for “agree” and the “x” in “except” draws a big “X” over something that is not included.
Problem 3:
“They’re” should be “there.” Tip: Go back to the tip about apostrophes standing in for missing letters. “They’re” actually means “they are” or “they were.” You can see the letters that the apostrophe is replacing. “There” refers to a location. It has the word “here” inside of it, which might help you remember the difference between it and “their,” which is a possessive pronoun meaning “something that belongs to them.” “Their” also contains a word holds is a clue to its meaning: “heir,” which implies ownership.
Problem 4:
Fans did not literally cry their eyes out (I hope). Tip: Don’t say “literally” unless you actually truly mean exactly what you are saying. There is an entire blog devoted to the misuse of this word.
It’s hard to accept that there will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans cried when they found out this film would be the last.

Comic-con is a place where a fan can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars like the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds, the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves, and the Immortals cast.

Problem 1: There’s a noun/pronoun agreement problem. “A fan” is singular but the pronoun “their” is plural. Tip: Things can get awkward when a writer is trying to use “their” rather than “his or her” to avoid gender bias. It does manage to avoid gender-specific language such as, “a place where a fan can get autographs from his favorite stars,” but it also makes a grammatical mess. In many cases, the best choice is to make the noun plural to match the plural pronoun. You could also eliminate the pronoun (“…a fan can get autographs from stars…”).
Problem 2:
“Like” should be “such as.” Tip: This is a nitpicky one, and few would be bothered if you used “like” in this situation. But technically, “like” means that there will be stars similar to the stars listed, whereas “such as” means that those exact stars will be in attendance.
Problem 3:
The commas after “Reynolds” and “Graves” should be semicolons. Tip: When you have a list of items with commas, separate those items with a semicolon for clarity. The Oatmeal calls this use the “super-comma.”
Problem 4:
The titles of movies and television shows should be italicized. Tip: Use italics for longer works such as novels, television series, albums, blogs, etc. Use quotation marks around the smaller works that make up those longer works, so things such as chapter titles, episode titles, song titles, blog posts, etc.
Comic-con is a place where fans can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars such as the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds; the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves; and the Immortals cast.

Irregardless of your opinion of her music we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far to young.

Problem 1: “Irregardless” should be “regardless.” Tip: “Irregardless” is not a word—or at least not a standard word that is widely accepted and doesn’t make you sound silly.
Problem 2:
A comma is needed after “music.” Tip: Introductory phrases or words that come before the main clause, are separated from the main clause by commas. That’s a bit of an oversimplification. Purdue OWL has a fantastic and extensive page on comma rules if you want to geek out.
Problem 3:
“To” should be “too.” Tip: “Two” is the number after three. It’s the only one of the three homophones with a W, which, when flipped onto its side, looks a bit like a 3. “Too” means “also” or “excessively.” Let the extra O remind you that you’re adding onto something. “To” is the correct spelling for all other uses.
Regardless of your opinion of her music, we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far too young.

Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his “demands” are met. His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.

Problem 1: The quotation marks around “demand” are not needed. Tip: Putting something that is not a title or direct quote in quotation marks implies that the term is false. With that in mind, check out the well-maintained Unnecessary Quotes blog for a laugh.
Problem 2:
The list’s structure is not parallel. Tip: When you make a list of items, they should all be the same part of speech.
Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his demands are met. His demands include cigarettes, civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government. (Second sentence could also be corrected as: “His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and seeing the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.” Either option fixes the parallel structure problem.)

The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial use to be frightened for their safety but the judge decided not allow the juror’s names to be released. Some are nervous anyways.

Problem 1: “Use to” should be “used to.” Tip: “Use to” is never correct. When said aloud, “used to” can sound a bit like “use to,” but remember that when you use this phrase, you’re talking about something in the past tense, which is why it ends in “ed.”
Problem 2:
There should be a comma after “safety.” Tip: As mentioned earlier, commas can’t put two sentences together on their own, but they can work with prepositions such as “but,” “and,” and “or” to join two sentences.
Problem 3:
The apostrophe in “juror’s” should come after the S rather than before it. Tip: If a word is both plural and possessive, put the apostrophe after the S unless the word is plural without an S (“children” for example).
Problem 4:
“Anyways” should be “anyway.” Tip: Banish “anyways” from your blog. It’s not a word.
The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial used to be frightened for their safety, but the judge decided not to allow jurors’ names to be released. Some are nervous anyway.

I wish I was better at betting on soccer. I layed money on the U.S. womens’ team, so I had to go to the ATM machine.

Problem 1: “Was” should be “were.” Tip: The term for this grammatical mood is the subjunctive, and it’s like the fairy-tale of grammar. You’ll find it where you’re talking about something wishful that has not yet happened, and in those cases, you’ll use “were” rather than “was.” Another example would be something like “If I were in charge, I’d do away with all these rules.” Though the second example doesn’t explicitly convey a wish, it is wishful thinking in action.
Problem 2:
“Layed” should be “laid.” Tip: “Layed” is not a word, so that makes this particular instance easy, but let’s not lie: The “lay” vs. “lie” thing isn’t simple. It’s a bit more problematic than some of the other easily confused words because the past tense of one is actually the same word as the present tense of the other. Confused? Me too. It’s my grammatical Achilles’ heel. The always-brilliant Grammar Girl wrote nearly 600 words on the topic, and her charts and examples will do a far better job of explaining than I can do in a brief space.
Problem 3:
The apostrophe in “women’s’” should go before the S rather than after it. Tip: We said above that if a word is both plural and possessive, the apostrophe goes after the S unless the world is plural without the S. In this case, the word “women” is plural without an S, so the apostrophe goes before the S.
Problem 4:
“ATM machine” should be “ATM.” Tip: The M in “ATM” stands for “machine,” so “ATM machine” is redundant. The same goes for “PIN number,” “HIV virus,” and “please RSVP.”
I wish I were better at betting on soccer. I laid money on the U.S. women’s team, so I had to go to the ATM.

The fumes, which were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches, will take thirty years and $96 million dollars to clean.

Problem 1: “Which” should be “that” and the commas should be removed from the first sentence. Tip: Without the clause explaining that the fumes were left over from the shuttle launches, we don’t know which fumes the sentence refers to; that means it is a necessary or restrictive clause. As you might recall from above, if you cannot remove the clause without losing the meaning of the sentence, the clause should be introduced with “that” rather than “which” and does not need to be set off by commas.
Problem 2:
The word “dollars” is unnecessary. Tip: Like “ATM machine” above, “$96 million dollars” is redundant because “dollars” is represented by the dollar sign.
The fumes that were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches will take thirty years and $96 million to clean.

Well, how’d you do? Were you able to find all 34 errors? Are there other common grammar errors that plague you? Share them in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.


3 Questions to Ask Before You Publish Your Next Blog Post

“Warning: this post may cause dizziness.”

This is not a warning you want to put at the top of a blog post. But guess what? Many should.

Why? Because some blog posts leave visitors feeling dizzy and confused.

They come in with the intention of either being entertained or learning something. But they leave saying, “What the heck was that?”

Part of the reason readers feel this way is because the author has “Lost syndrome.” What is it exactly?

Well if you watched the series Lost, you probably felt exactly that at the end of many episodes. Lost. Why? Well I have a few theories. But the top one is this. I think the writers were creating the story as they went along. That may or may not have worked for them, depending on who you ask.

But for bloggers, this is not a good idea.

You want to have a focused message that you can deliver to the focused eyeballs on your site.

Focused eyes on an unfocused message? Not only will your readers feel confused, they’ll possibly be a bit dizzy from trying to piece together your message. That is, if you even have a message.

So before you hit Publish on your next blog post, here are some questions you can ask yourself to increase the chances of getting your message across.

Knowing your target audience will help you create a clear message that directly addresses them.

It’s far better for a few targeted readers to read your content and take action than it is for many un-targeted readers to read it and do nothing.

Fix your sights on your desired audience and speak directly to them. Address the emotions they are feeling and the questions they have on the subject you’re writing about.

Build a bond with them. Put yourself in their shoes and then speak to them directly. Address the emotions they have towards your subject. And answer the questions that are burning inside of them.

When you can bond with a person to the point that they say, “This person actually gets me,” you have taken a huge step towards getting that person to trust you and listen to what you have to say.

In order for your readers to clearly understand your content, you should clearly understand why you’re writing it.

It’s great to do a brain dump into your notebook or journal, but that’s probably best kept for your eyes. Remember, just because something you write makes sense to you, it won’t necessarily make sense to your reader.

Understand why you are writing the post. Then, as clearly as possible, present the content to your readers.

If you aren’t sure why you are writing your post and want to do it anyway, it might be a good idea to let your readers know beforehand. That way, they aren’t left scratching their heads when they get to the last word of what you have to say.

Your readers shouldn’t need a secret decoder ring to decipher what you want them to do after reading your content. Clearly state the action you want them to take. If you leave it up to them to figure out, they probably won’t.

What do you want them to do? Click a link? Buy something? Leave a comment? Share your post?

Let them know in simple terms. People are much more likely to take action when they know exactly what to do and how to do it.

By asking yourself the three questions above you’ll deliver a clear message that your readers can understand and take action on. This will help separate you from the pack of blogs that leave people scratching their heads and wondering what just happened.

How does your most recent post perform in light of these three questions? Let us know in the comments.


lunedì 5 dicembre 2011

5 Simple Font Changes to Boost Readers, Comments, and Shares on Your Blog

You may not realize it, but the font settings on your blog can have a huge effect on how many people read your content.

And how many people read your content has a huge effect on whether a post goes viral.

How huge? Well, by some accounts I’ve read, just one common mistake with colors could reduce readership by a factor of five. And if you’re not making that mistake, you’re probably making at least one of four others. So in this article, I’ll give you the five most important best practices for presenting text to keep readers glued to your content, and away from the old back button.

At the very top of the the pile of legibility problems is font size. Back in 2005, Jakob Nielsen reported that in a survey of web design problems, bad fonts got nearly twice as many votes as the next contender—with two-thirds of voters complaining about small font sizes.

Sadly, nothing has changed since then. A random sampling of new blog designs at SiteInspire (a web design gallery showcasing the best of the best designs) shows that the average font size for body copy is 12 pixels. Some as low as ten pixels. None over 14 pixels. Similarly, if you randomly sample offerings from the popular Elegant Themes or ThemeForest, you’ll find that every single theme sets post content at 12 or 13 pixels.

And of course, other theme creators tend to follow the lead of the bigwigs.

But as usability and typography expert Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects points out, 16 pixels is the font size that browsers were intended to display by default—and it is not big. 16px text on an average screen looks about the same size as 12-point text in print. That’s the default size for most magazines, as well as all word processors, because it’s the size people find most comfortable to read. Many people—especially those over 40—find it very difficult to read smaller text. As Reichenstein observes:

There is no reason for squeezing so much information onto the screen. It’s just a stupid collective mistake that dates back to a time when screens were really, really small … At first, you’ll be shocked how big the default text is. But after a day, you won’t want to see anything smaller than 100% font-size for the main text. It looks big at first, but once you use it you quickly realize why all browser makers chose this as the default text size.

Fortunately we’ve pretty much moved past the days when content authors thought that fuchsia on blue text was cool. But white on black text, known as reversed type, is still pretty common. As are variants like white on some other dark color.

Reversed type reduces not only the number of people who’ll bother to read your content, but also their comprehension of it. This is because it strains the eyes. Staring at reversed text for an extended period tends to create a kind of “glare” effect, where you feel like the letters are too bright to look at. Depending on what research you consult, studies show that light on dark text reduces your readership between 50% and 400%.

Why risk losing so many readers? Black or very dark gray on white looks clean, and there are plenty of great themes that use those colors.

Here’s another little-known rule that a lot of blogs break. In order for your eye to easily follow one line to the next, you want no more than 75 characters in each line. This is called the line measure. Beyond a measure of 75 characters, it’s hard to track the end of one line to the beginning of the next without getting lost.

On the other hand, if you have a measure of less than 45 characters your eye will get fatigued quickly, because you’ve barely started to read one line when you have to jump to the next. You feel like you never get a chance to rest.

For this reason, your ideal post content area will have lines of text about 60 characters long. Of course, you do also have to take aesthetics into account. On many blogs, the “ideal” measure leaves a huge gap on the right margin, or makes the text seem squished into a tiny area. I use a measure of around 70 characters on my own website for exactly that reason. But if you’re pushing past 80 characters, you’re reducing your readership—guaranteed.

Fortunately this is a less common mistake. If you’re using a professional theme, you probably don’t need to worry.

To give you an example, I’ve set this paragraph at the default line height (also called leading, after the strips of lead used to separate lines of text on old printing presses). It feels cramped and uninviting to read, and it’s hard to follow the lines from one to the next because they blend into each other.

On the other hand, this paragraph is set with a line height of 200%—equivalent to double spacing in a word processor. I’m sure you’ll agree that the lines here feel way too disconnected from each other, and unless you’re submitting a research paper this is not the way to go.

Finally, this paragraph is set with a line height of 150%. That means that for every pixel of font size, there’s one and a half pixels of distance between the lines. This turns out to be pretty reliable sweet spot for most fonts you’re likely to use on a blog—but feel free to experiment between about 130% and 160% to see what works best for your own content.

This last tip isn’t exactly a font issue. But it fits into the same general category. Bloggers routinely include images in their posts. Whether or not that’s really a good idea is a topic for another time—but for now, let me just give you one piece of advice.

The left margin is sacred. It’s how we track text down a page in the Western world. It’s the “ground” out of which the lines grow (often to quite different lengths), and it’s the foundation for our eyepath as we read down the page.

But if you break the left margin, that all goes to hell. Your eye has to scan around to try to pick up the new margin, so you can keep on reading.

In other words, every time you left-align an image, you put a speed-bump in your reader’s path. And you’re compounding the problem by dragging his attention away from the text with your visually dominant image. Needless to say, readers who keep being distracted and having to relocate the left margin often don’t read to the end of a post—so they often don’re share it or comment on it.

By “drop caps” I mean initial capitals, where the first letter of the first word of your post stands out much bigger than the rest. According to research conducted by Ogilvy & Mather, this increases readership of a piece by an average of 13%.

Drop caps aren’t built into most blog themes, and they can be tricky to do on the web, but if you’re up to a little coding, check out this tutorial on how to create them.

Now is the time to head on back to your own blog and see which of these five important best practices you’re not practicing. Then, fixum! But don’t forget to share the changes you’ve made in the comments below!



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