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The Copy Corner: Do you really have to follow all grammar rules?

There are a lot of grammar rules out there. Whether you have to follow all of them is subjective. The way I see it: you should follow the ones that are actually rules. So which ones do I have to follow? Apostrophes You should always follow the rule about using apostrophes only to indicate possession and create contractions. You should generally not use them to make a word plural; however, some writers do use them to pluralize lowercase letters to avoid confusion (e.g., dot your i’s and cross your t’s). Also, even though it seems counterintuitive, do not use an apostrophe to denote possession when using pronouns (e.g., its not it’s, his not his’, etc.) Quotation Marks Quotation marks are for quotes; the titles of short works, chapters, etc.; and nicknames. You shouldn’t use them for emphasis or people will think you have no idea what you’re talking about. For example, if you see the following, what do you think? “Quality” legal advice “Fresh” fish This probably makes you question the quality of the legal advice or the freshness of the fish. Use italics or bold for emphasis. Which ones can I ignore? Even as an editor, I ignore some Read more…

The Copy Corner: Tips for Getting Over Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there, regardless of whether you’re writing a paper for class or writing the next great American novel. We’ve all gotten writer’s block and it’s really hard to get past. Fortunately, our experience has given us a few tried and true ways to get over it. Take a Break It’s easy to get burnt out staring at the same thing all day. No matter how hard you try, everything is going to run together and you’ll end up reading or writing the same sentence 10 times and getting nowhere. Take your mind off of it by finding something else to do for a while. Here are a few ideas: Take a walk around your office or go for a jog around the neighborhood. Maybe that jog will get those creative juices flowing. You never know, maybe all you needed was a little vitamin D to get over that block. If so, consider taking your work outside. Read a chapter in that new book you’ve been meaning to start. Knock out a couple of things on your to-do list. Eat lunch — away from your desk. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Just don’t get too into it Read more…

Google Symptom Checker Another “Clue” to Google’s Ultimate Goal

A few weeks ago, Google revealed it was revamping its mobile app to provide more accurate (and less scary) information to users Googling their medical symptoms.  It’s an attempt to combat the unchecked hyperbole that might mislead searchers. Ask yourself if this sounds familiar. You Google a few common symptoms to see if they’re anything to worry about. Then you fall down a rabbit hole. Two hours later, you’re convinced you have some obscure disease last diagnosed 10 years ago on a remote island halfway across the globe. Here’s how Google puts it: “After 20 minutes digging through health forums, chances are you’re overwhelmed by all the complicated medical terms and breaking out in a sweat—whether that’s related to the headache or the overdose of info is unclear!” The new symptom checker will call upon the health conditions it finds in web results, and then check them against the information it collected from medical doctors for the Knowledge Graph. Why should you care, even if you don’t own a medical website? Google Isn’t a Campus Bulletin Board It’s further evidence of Google’s end-all-be-all goal of providing users the best search experience. Google is an information machine. Like any company, it’s Read more…

The Copy Corner: How AP’s New Stylebook is Changing Grammar Rules

If you’ve read more than one of these Copy Corners, you’ll realize that grammar changes quite often. However, it is only quite recently that media organizations decided to run with those changes. Let’s go over a few of the more recent changes: In 2011, the Associated Press announced that it would be changing e-mail to email in its style guide. As of December 2015, The Washington Post changed its style guide to allow use of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. On June 1 of this year, the Associated Press released a new copy of its Stylebook which no longer capitalizes internet or web. So why do these changes matter? These changes may seem small, and individually they are. But all of this together demonstrates how grammar and common usage changes, and reveals an adaptation to these changes by some of the biggest news organizations in the country. For example, it might be cumbersome to write, “Your doctor should do whatever he or she deems necessary to protect you from harm.”  In reality, most people would instead say or write, “Your doctor should do whatever they deem necessary to protect you from harm.” The adaptation by the Washington Post to Read more…

The Copy Corner: How to Keep Your Readers Interested

I’m a skimmer. That means if I can’t find the information I need quickly, I won’t be on your page long. Unless you keep me interested. When I’m interested in an article or a book, I will read for hours. I’ll sit there and read a 10-page article on my phone as long as the content piques my interest and keeps it. You want your readers to want to turn that next page. So how do you do it? Make your content unique. Even if your article is similar in content to others, present it in a different way. Make a table or a bullet list or an infographic. Writing about what to do after an accident? Give your readers a step-by-step list of everything they need to do. Need to lay down a lot of statistics? Create a table. Writing about the legal malpractice claims process and need a way to present it in a way that doesn’t involve paragraph after paragraph of text? Make it an infographic! Most of these things take little to no time at all and make your content so much more interesting. Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short. There a few things I’d Read more…

The Truth about Legal Directories

In our recent webinar, Jason Hennesey and I review the top legal directories and show you how to research and negotiate with the directories courting you for your business. Using tools like SEMRUSH we show you how to reverse engineer the value of each page and keyword you are targeting on the directories. Watch the live training video to learn more. Are you using any of the top legal directories? AVVO, Lawyers.com, FindLaw? Would you benefit from a free consultation and audit of your SEO strategy? Register for a free 45 minute SEO audit by clicking here.  

The Copy Corner: Did you know that reading makes you a better writer?

Stephen King once wrote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I couldn’t agree with him more. And it’s not just one man’s (and one woman’s) opinion. A study by professors at University of California, Berkeley proves that reading has a favorable effect on cognitive skills and vocabulary. And I have some ideas on how that happens or, at the very least, how it happened for me. Have you ever come across a word in a book and not known what it meant? (Many times.) Did you look it up? (Every time.) Did you then try to use it in conversation or writing? (Definitely, with mixed results.) How else does reading affect your writing? It shows you different writing styles. Reading different types of content, or content from different types of mediums, exposes you to different writing styles. For example, reading Game of Thrones is different than reading an article in The New York Times; reading The American Journal of Medicine is different than reading The Tell-Tale Heart. Even reading different publications across the same medium can expose you to different styles. The New York Times, for Read more…

The Copy Corner: Are you writing for your medium?

Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of papers, articles, columns, and blogs. And one thing I’ve become well aware of is that you need to consider your medium before you begin writing. What’s a medium and why does it matter? A medium is the platform you use to deliver your message, e.g., newspaper, blog, research paper. Some people write just to write and never consider how to format their work to fit the medium. For example, in my 16-17 years of schooling, I wrote dozens of research papers and was taught to write those papers in the five-paragraph, eight-sentences-per-paragraph model. And while that works in some instances, contorting your work to fit this model doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need more paragraphs and sentences, sometimes fewer. This may be true when writing a legal document or an article for a website or newspaper. For example, legal documents often have long sentences or paragraphs because they often contain a lot of very dense information. And those reading these documents often want or need the detailed legal discussion. This isn’t a universal truth, but it’s generally accepted that legal papers may contain longer, more complex sentences and paragraphs. But website content may Read more…

The Copy Corner: How many of these misused and misspelled words and phrases did you know?

One great, but also quite frustrating, part of the English language is how often it changes and adapts. We see this often in what we call mondegreens, eggcorns, and malapropisms. A mondegreen is a misheard phrase or lyric. E.g., “Reverend Blue Jeans” instead of Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” or “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” instead of “Hold me closer, tiny dancer,” from Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” An eggcorn is a misheard phrase that still maintains its original, intended meaning. E.g., Doggy-dog world instead of dog-eat-dog world. A malapropism is a substitution of a similar sounding word that creates a nonsensical meaning. E.g., “He preceded through the intersection,” instead of proceeded. Here are some other common misheard and misused words and phrases: Hone In This is one that isn’t very well known and chances are you, like me, were using the “incorrect” version all these years. Many people use hone in when they should be using home in. However, hone in isn’t just incorrect; it actually means something totally different. While the definition of home in is to direct your focus toward a target (i.e, a missile homes in on a target), the definition of hone is to sharpen Read more…

The Copy Corner: Writing Resources for All Writers

A lot of writers and editors have a treasure trove of resources they refer to daily. We decided we’d like to share some resources we use and that our friends use. We hope they’ll help you. The Elements of Style The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr. is arguably the most helpful of all resources. This little wonder can answer pretty much any question you have about usage, grammar, form, and composition. The Book on Writing Paula LaRocque’s The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well will teach you how to structure sentences and paragraphs to really make your writing flow. On Writing Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft gives writers advice on taking writing and life seriously, interspersed with stories of what inspires King and changed his life. The Little Red Writing Book The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal has tips for writers on the four pillars of writing: structure, style, readability, and grammar. ChompChomp.com ChompChomp.com has tutorials, exercises, courses, tips, and rules on all the grammar rules you can think of. The Purdue Online Writing Lab The Purdue Online Writing Lab has tips for all writing styles Read more…