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The Copy Corner: Semicolons

A semicolon, even more often misused than an apostrophe or quotation mark, is visually, essentially a period on top of a comma. Some call it a hard comma. Others call it a soft period. A semicolon separates two independent clauses, but suggests a continuation of a thought. When to Use a Semicolon Writers use semicolons to: Link two related independent clauses “My birthday is Tuesday; I can’t wait to eat cake.” Link two clauses connected by a conjunctive adverb “My birthday is Tuesday; however, I won’t be able to have cake because I’m on a diet.” Ensure clarity in lists with commas “I need to go to the grocery store to get eggs, bacon, and pancake batter for breakfast; lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes for lunch; and chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli for dinner.” When Not to Use a Semicolon People often misuse commas by placing them where they should use a comma or colon or by using them to link unrelated clauses or sentences. Comma Correct: “In other words, you should always use a semicolon correctly.” Incorrect: “In other words; you should always use a semicolon correctly.” Colon Correct: “She needed three things from the store: eggs, milk, and bread.” Read more…

Plan Your Legal Website Content With a Content Strategy

Providing legal website content to your loyal customers, followers, and potential clients is an important step in your Internet marketing process. As a busy attorney, web content is probably the last thing on your mind, which is why it’s important to have a content strategy in place. A little work now goes a long way in the future – brainstorming topics and creating a topic schedule is how savvy lawyers keep the quality content flowing on their website. You know in your practice that time management is an important skill if you want to keep your business running smoothly, and the same goes for your legal website content. One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting all of your daily tasks done is to develop a strategy for completing these tasks – and for your attorney web content, that means creating (and following!) a good content strategy. Why you need a content strategy for your law firm website Content is one of the main verticals for SEO To research and analyze keywords To research and reverse engineer competitor content strategies To research and document your audience To research where and when to publish To research and create your content Read more…

The Copy Corner: The Emergence of “They” as a Singular Pronoun

“No one at the party wore their coats.” “Invite a friend to share their thoughts on the subject.” Do you see anything wrong with those sentences? If you don’t, you probably have no qualms about the adoption of “they” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun. However, if you started vehemently proclaiming, “It should be his or her coat and his or her thoughts!” it might upset you to learn that “they” is the American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year. Why are more people accepting “they” as a singular pronoun? In December 2015, The Washington Post reported it would be changing its style guide to allow the use of “they” as a single, gender-neutral pronoun. Post copy editor Bill Walsh wrote that using “they” is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.” He goes on to say, “He once filled that role, but a male default hasn’t been palatable for decades. Using she in a sort of linguistic affirmative action strikes me as patronizing.” Another reason for the change is the ease it brings to writing. We often write the way we speak, which can be an issue when it comes to things like using “they” Read more…

Lawyers: Blogging is an important outreach to your clients

What are the advantages to blogging on my law firm website?  That extra 20 minutes you take at the end of your day to write a post for your law firm’s blog just may attract your next client. Blogging can do a few things for your firm’s online presence. It lets you share legal information that people are looking for. It can help you in search. It helps you create an authentic brand by sharing your personality, legal knowledge, and expertise. And it helps you build a following that might eventually turn into leads and clients. In fact, back in 2009, a Hubspot study reported that companies that blog have 97 percent more inbound links to their website. And those inbound links can help you perform well in search. More recently, Hubspot’s “State of Inbound 2014” report found that companies that blog are 13 times more likely to generate a positive marketing ROI. Committing yourself to creating an engaging, informative blog can help you achieve real returns on your online marketing budget. How does blogging help your law firm website? Keeps your website FRESH so it performs well in search Having fresh content on your site appeases Google’s love for Read more…

The Copy Corner: US vs. UK vs. Canadian English

In addition to the punctuation differences I discussed last week in my piece about using quotation marks, American English and British English have many more subtle (and not so subtle) differences. Canadian English, meanwhile, is a sort of British-American hybrid, but with French and Scottish influences. Canadian English appears to follow British English more commonly than American English, especially in regards to spelling. But it is its own dialect in and of itself. Each dialect has its own unique grammatical tendencies, spelling variations, and even words that mean something completely different than they do in other dialects. So why should you care? Maybe you don’t. But maybe you have clients in another country and you think it might be nice to brush up on that client’s specific dialect. Either way – what can it hurt? Grammar Rules & Style  The use of the word “rule” is subjective because of how often the language evolves and the rules change (or maybe just how often people ignore the rules). Think of these as rules in a very general sense. There are bound to be Americans who use grammar that is more common in British English, and vice versa. Use of the Past Read more…

The Copy Corner: Using Quotation Marks

Just as with apostrophes, many people confuse the correct way to use quotation marks. Here is a very simple explanation: use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations (words that another person has spoken or written) or the title of a short work. Do not use quotation marks for indirect quotations (paraphrasing) or emphasis. Correct: “Early Bird” by Shel Silverstein “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles John said, “I am going to read.” Incorrect: “Do not” take my book without asking. “John said he was going to read.” Instead of using quotation marks to provide emphasis for “do not,” in this example, consider using bold, italics, or underlining to provide the emphasis. Do not/not/not take my book without asking. Where to Put Punctuation When Using Quotation Marks Where you were born could affect where you place your punctuation – inside or outside the quotation marks. But first, let’s look at the style of quotation marks used in American and British English. In American English, we use double quotes for the initial quotation and single quotes for any quotation within the quotation. For example: My friend told me, “Your mom said, ‘Come inside right now.’” In British English, it’s the opposite. My friend Read more…

The Copy Corner: Do you use the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma is the final comma in a list of three or more things. Here’s an example: With Oxford comma: “We went to the store for eggs, bread, and milk.”. Without Oxford comma: “We went to the store for eggs, bread and milk.” Also called the serial comma, it has been the subject of debate for some time. Should you use it? Should you not use it? Any Google search will return countless articles on why you should use it, why you shouldn’t, and why it doesn’t matter. Personally, I use it. But there isn’t really any “rule” that says you have to use it too. Who uses it? Whether you use it may depend on your profession. For example, journalists who follow AP Style do not use serial commas; however, most law professionals demand it. According to The Serial Comma in Interpreting Criminal Statutes, published on the American Bar Association’s website, many authorities, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, state legislative and congressional manuals, and many style guidelines, actually require the use of the Oxford comma. Many entities and professions that do not tolerate ambiguity recommend the Oxford comma. The MLA, the Chicago Style Manual, and the U.S. Read more…

The Copy Corner: The Greengrocer’s Apostrophe

The English language is confusing and its punctuation can be even more so. Each day I see commas and semicolons used incorrectly, but the most frequent infraction? Apostrophes – a lot of people misuse them and don’t even realize it. Do you? There are correct and incorrect ways to use apostrophes, a few of which I’ve listed below. Correct Ways to Use Apostrophes Using an apostrophe is correct when the object of your sentence possesses something or when you are creating a contraction. Possession: “The dog’s leash was red.” Creating a Contraction: When creating a contraction, the apostrophe takes the place of omitted letters. “Do not” becomes “don’t” “Should have” becomes “should’ve“ ”Cannot” becomes “can’t” Incorrect Ways to Use Apostrophes Pluralizing Words: Called the “greengrocer’s apostrophe,” people often incorrectly use an apostrophe to pluralize something (writing “apple’s” instead of “apples”). Pluralizing Letters: In most cases, this is incorrect; however, the Purdue Online Writing Lab states that you can use an apostrophe to create the plural of lowercase letters, such as p, t, i, or q. Capital letters are still a big no-no, though. Pluralizing Numbers and Decades: When you want to create the plural of the number one, just put Read more…

The Copy Corner: Write for Your Audience and Your Readers Will Thank You

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to write for your audience. Industry jargon and technical language just becomes part of your everyday speech. But it’s not the best way to talk to your audience when you’re building web pages. Some website owners use language their audience finds complicated, or produce pages that make sense to them, but that don’t fully consider user intent and expectation. Your audience is on your site looking for answers. They don’t want to have to “translate” your text into terms they can understand. Worse yet, if they don’t find the information they came for, they’ll probably leave and get it elsewhere. So, what answers does your reader want or need? Why is she on your site? You need to know what your reader wants – why she’s on the page and, more broadly, your site. For example, if she searches “Common Questions after a Head Injury,” she probably wants answers too. So make sure you have a list of answers along with those questions. We’ve come across pages with similar titles that were just lists of questions with no answers. If your reader expects answers and only gets questions, chances are she’ll leave and won’t be Read more…

The Copy Corner: Organizing Your Page Gives Readers What They Want

While revamping websites, I have realized that many businesses do not take the time to organize the text on their pages. Though organizing written work is a basic skill most of us learn by the time we’re in high school, it seems to be one that is widely underused. Sure, organizing your thoughts before putting them out into the World Wide Web takes time and effort. And, the process can feel like a chore, but having logical, organized pages gives your readers the information they need in a clean, inviting fashion. Make sure your ideas are structured and flow well. In good writing, your ideas should be coherent and follow a logical path. In other words, it is best to keep like things together and finish discussing one topic before bringing up the next one. Even if you follow a classic writing structure of an introduction, body, and conclusion, if your thoughts are not clear, your reader will feel as though they are on a rollercoaster. Use transition words. Transition words should act as traffic signals and road signs for your readers. A good transition shows contrast, draws a picture in your mind, or signals the end of one thought Read more…