Helpful Writing and Editing Resources on the Web

Easter EggsFinding quality writing and editing advice on the Internet is a bit like an Easter egg hunt: you’re hoping to discover a Fabergé, but you usually find a cracked goose egg that’s been sitting in the sun a little too long.

Nevertheless, you can still stumble upon many hidden gems if you search long enough.  Here are a few of my favorite blogs and websites related to writing and editing:

Copyediting

Copyediting is a paid membership site for professional copyeditors; however, its free blog provides valuable insights into current content issues.

Grammar Girl

Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, is the most famous grammarian on the Internet. She tackles everything from basic vocabulary to obscure linguistic conundrums. But, I must warn you that her site is overrun with popup ads and marketing videos. Despite the advertising overload, the sheer volume of information she provides is impressive.

The Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide

If you need to add a standard citation to a blog post or business report, the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide from the Chicago Manual of Style Online has you covered—without actually cracking the 1026-page manual.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger offers seminars, webinars, and ebooks about content marketing.  Although many of Copybogger’s resources sit behind a membership paywall, its free blog features guidance and inspiration for improving your web presence.

The American Heritage Dictionary Blog and OxfordWords Blog

Don’t forget the dictionaries! Check out the American Heritage Dictionary blog and the Oxford Dictionaries’ OxfordWords Blog for an abundance of language news and grammar commentary, some of which is downright strange.

What writing and editing treats have your uncovered in the depths of cyberspace?

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

How to Add Passive Voice to Microsoft Word’s Grammar Check and Readability Statistics

Last week’s post discussed the difference between active voice and passive voice. The steps below explain how to include passive voice in Microsoft Word’s grammar check and readability statistics.

Please note: These instructions are for Word 2013; however, the steps are similar for Word 2007 and 2010.

1. Select the File tab.

Word 2013 File tab

2. Select Options on the left-hand side of the Backstage view.

Word-2013-Options2

3. Select Proofing in the Word Options window.

Word 2013 Word Options Screen

4. Select Show readability statistics in the When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section.

5. Select Settings.

Word 2013 Writing Styles Settings

6. Select Passive sentences in the Grammar Settings window.

7. Click OK.

Word 2013 Grammar Settings

8. Select Recheck Document in the Word Options window if the document is already in progress. (This step isn’t necessary for blank documents.)

9. Select OK.

Word 2013 Recheck Document option

When you’re ready to run a grammar check:

10. Select the Review tab.

11. Select Spelling & Grammar.

Word 2013 Spelling & Grammar check in Review tab

 12. Change or ignore the results of your grammar check.

Passive voice result in Word 2013 grammar check

13. Review your passive sentence percentage in the Readability Statistics window. (This window won’t appear until you complete the grammar check.)

Passive sentences in the Readability Statistics window

14. Select OK.

And now you know if your writing leans toward passivity or activity!

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Active Voice versus Passive Voice

Mr-Heckle

Mr. Heckle enjoys sleeping on the blanket.

 

Here is a sentence in the active voice: many writers and editors dislike the passive voice.

Before we discuss the reasons behind this aversion, let’s define active and passive voice. In the active voice, the subject does something. In the passive voice, the subject has something done to it.

Here are a few examples:

Active: Mr. Heckle is sleeping on the blanket. (Mr. Heckle is actively doing the sleeping.)

Passive: The blanket will be washed on Tuesday. (The blanket won’t actively do the washing; a person will.)

Active: Mr. Jeckle plays with a toy mouse. (Mr. Jeckle is actively doing the playing.)

Passive: The toy mouse was hidden under the bed by Mr. Jeckle. (The toy mouse didn’t actively do the hiding; Mr. Jeckle did.)

Many writers, editors—and readers—prefer the active voice because it tends to be less wordy and more direct than the passive voice. However, passive voice is very useful when you want to downplay the source of an action. Consider this example:

Active: Generic Boat Company will repossess your pontoon if you do not make a payment within thirty days. (Generic Boat Company will actively perform the repossession.)

Passive: Your pontoon will be repossessed if payment is not made within thirty days. (The pontoon will passively be repossessed by the unnamed Generic Boat Company.)

In the active voice, the focus is on the company doing the repossession. In the passive voice, the focus is on the potential loss of property, which is probably more motivating for the delinquent pontoon owner.

The passive voice is also helpful when the source of the action is unknown:

The ceramic jar was broken and all of the cat treats were stolen. (The jar and the treats were passive as they were actively violated by a mysterious culprit—or culprits.)

Next week’s post will explain how to use Microsoft Word to identify passive voice sentences and determine what percentage of your writing is passive.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Boost Your Website Traffic with a Glossary Page

Pooped-puppy

Imagine this scenario: While reading a how-to article on plumbing, you come across the term PEX pipe. You have no clue what PEX pipe is or what it does. Your trusty office dictionary doesn’t include plumbing terminology, so you turn to Google and find out that PEX pipe is a flexible polyethylene-based tubing.

As I mentioned last year, Google has become our default dictionary. But really, Google is just the tool that leads us to the definitions we seek; it doesn’t actually provide the definitions. Websites do!

If your business uses industry-specific terminology, you can potentially boost your website traffic by adding a glossary page. While dictionaries attempt to cover an entire language or subject, glossaries are alphabetical lists of terms and definitions related to  specific documents. In this case, the document would be your website.

Although print glossaries are usually text-based, there are no rules preventing you from including images. In fact, your visitors will probably appreciate the addition of pictures, diagrams, and other graphics. Carefully labeled images can also bring in additional web traffic through Google Images.

In addition, you can link glossary entries to technical terms in your blog posts so that you don’t have to repeatedly define difficult words or phrases for new readers.

Here are a few examples of industries (beyond plumbing) that can benefit from website glossaries:

  • Medical, dental, and vision
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Website design and development
  • Cooking and baking
  • Gaming
  • Construction and manufacturing
  • Interior decorating and remodeling
  • Financial
  • Automotive
  • Crafting
  • Health and fitness

I know what you’re thinking: “Why don’t you have a glossary on your site?” I don’t have a glossary because the language of copywriting and editing isn’t industry specific. Nouns, verbs, and dangling participles belong to everyone—even those who don’t want them! But, I always look forward to discovering my clients’ unique vocabularies.

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Understanding Readability Scores

Baby-elephantFirst, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the middle of this post: Many of us avoid discussing readability scores because they reflect on our writing skills and our audience’s reading ability. Frankly, no one wants to be viewed as judgmental. But, I think we should look that elephant squarely in the eye because the purpose of readability scores is not to demean or judge—the purpose is to help us communicate clearly with our audience.

Do you want to skip to the instructions for accessing Microsoft Word’s readability statistics? Click here.

The Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formulas

Readability tests tell us how difficult or easy a text is to read. In the United States, our primary readability tests are the Flesch Reading Ease formula and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level formula. Flesch Reading Ease was created by reading expert Rudolf Flesch and popularized in his 1949 book The Art of Readable Writing.  The formula uses average sentence lengths and average syllable counts to produce a score between 0 and 100, with higher scores having lower levels of complexity. Notice that the scores differ for children and adults:1

Score Readability Child/Teen Reading Level Adult Reading Level
90 – 100 Very Easy 5th grade 4th grade
80 – 90 Easy 6th grade 5th grade
70 – 80 Fairly Easy 7th grade 6th grade
60 – 70 Standard 8th and 9th grade 7th or 8th grade
50 – 60 Fairly Difficult 10th to 12th grade Some high school
30 – 50 Difficult College students High school graduate or some college
0 – 30 Very Difficult College graduates College graduates

In 1975, scientist J. Peter Kincaid created the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula for the U.S. Navy. It converts Flesch Reading Ease scores into grade-based scores.2 Here are a few examples:

  • 0 to 1 equals preschool to first grade.
  • 6 to 7 equals sixth to seventh grade.
  • 11 to 12 equals the junior to senior year in high school.
  • 13 and above equals the collegiate level and beyond.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula has since become a standard for the United States Department of Defense and other government agencies.3

Do you want to skip to the conclusion? Click here.

Accessing Readability Statistics in Microsoft Word 2013

Microsoft Word has a built-in function that provides Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores. The following instructions apply to Word 2013. However, the steps are similar for Word 2010 and 2007.

Turn on the readability statistics function:

1. Select File in the toolbar.

2. Select Options on the left-hand side of the Backstage view.

Options in Word 2013 Backstage view

3. Select Proofing in the Word Options window.

Word 2013 Word Options screen

4. Check Show readability statistics.

5. Select Recheck document if the document is already in progress. (This step isn’t necessary for blank documents.)

6. Select OK to save your changes.

Show readability statistics in Word 2013

Access the readability statistics:

1. Select Review in the toolbar.

2. Select Spelling & Grammar.

Spelling & Grammar option in Word 2013

3. Complete the Grammar Check if it has not already been completed.

4. Review your scores at the bottom of the Readability Statistics window. (This window won’t appear until the Grammar Check has been completed.)

Readability Statistics screen in Word 2013

Applying Readability Scores to Your Content

How should we apply readability scores to our own content? Truth be told, there is no right or wrong answer because everyone’s audience is different. Microsoft Word recommends keeping general content between the seventh and eighth-grade level.4 Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services requires that most of its material be written at the tenth-grade level.3 And, consumer insurance forms in Texas must have a Flesch Reading Ease of 40 or higher, which is appropriate for high school graduates.5

But comprehension is based on more than sentence length and syllable counts. Subject matter, content structure, and our own cultural knowledge all influence our understanding of what we read. So, instead of sticking to one specific number, consider using readability scores as guideposts that can help you create clear content that meets your audience’s unique needs.

I’d love to hear if your business has a readability policy based on a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch Reading Ease, or another formula.

(In case you’re wondering, this post’s Flesch Reading Ease score is 53.5 and its Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 9.0.)
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1. Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing (New York: Harper & Row, 1949), 149-50.

2. “Flesch–Kincaid readability tests,” Wikipedia, last modified February 28, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch%E2%80%93Kincaid_readability_tests.

3. “Readability – Frequently Asked Questions,” Oregon.gov, accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.oregon.gov/DAS/pages/readability.aspx.

4. “Test your document’s readability,” Office.com, accessed March 13, 2014, http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/test-your-document-s-readability-HP010354286.aspx.

5. “Adoption of Flesch Reading Ease Test,” TDI.Texas.gov, accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.tdi.texas.gov/pubs/pc/pccpfaq.html.

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

How to Remove Extra Spaces from Word Documents

Many of us over the age of thirty-five endured a high school typing class on a (gasp!) real typewriter. In between nerve-wracking speed tests and paper jams, we were taught to put two spaces after periods in order to make individual sentences easier to identify.

Today, the extra space is frowned upon in almost all situations, but those of us who survived an entire semester with one of those metal monsters may find it hard to break the two-space habit.

If that’s you (and it’s certainly me), here is a quick way to delete double spaces from a Microsoft Word document. Please note, the images shown are from Word 2013; however, the steps are the same for Word 2007 and Word 2010:

1. Select Replace in the toolbar.

Replace tool in Word

2. Select the Replace tab in the Find and Replace pop-up tool.

Word's Replace Tab in Find and Replace popup

3. Place your cursor in the Find what text box and press the space bar twice to add two spaces. (The text box will appear empty.)

4. Place your cursor in the Replace with text box and press the space bar once to add one space. (The text box will appear empty.)

5. Select the Replace All button to replace all of the double spaces with single spaces. You can also choose the Replace button to replace double spaces one at a time, or you can choose the Find Next button to locate the double spaces without actually replacing them.

Replacement options in Word Find and Replace Popup

And of course, hit Save after every major change!

If you’re a typewriter survivor also, I’d love to hear about any other antiquated habits that haunt your modern-day typing, texting, or screen tapping.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

How to Choose a Master Dictionary for Your Business Blog

WordPress Proofread Writing Button

WordPress Proofread Writing function available through Jetpack

Most blogging platforms provide basic spell-check functionality. If you’re using WordPress 3.6 or beyond, the spell-check is built into the Jetpack plugin and is accessed through the Proofread Writing button, as shown above. Many third-party plugins and browser-based add-ons also provide spell checking. However, the underlying technology supporting these functions changes frequently; therefore, the source dictionaries also change.

Rather than rely on the whims of developers (whom we bloggers still very much appreciate), choose a master dictionary that you can reference any time spell-check gives you a questionable suggestion.

Regular home and office dictionaries will usually suffice for general use; however, collegiate (college) and unabridged dictionaries are the best choice because they are much more comprehensive in both the number of words included and the depth of each entry.

If your readers are primarily North American, consider the most recent versions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The American Heritage College Dictionary. If your readers are largely English speakers outside of North America, consider the Oxford Dictionary of English.

And if you don’t have room on your desk for a giant tome, you can also subscribe to the complete online version of Merriam-Webster Unabridged or the Oxford English Dictionary. The American Heritage College Dictionary doesn’t have a premium online subscription service, but it does offer paid Android and iOS apps.

Happy blogging!

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Please note: This is not a sponsored post. The Amazon.com links are provided purely as a convenience to my readers.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Basic Copyediting Marks

Today, Microsoft Word’s track and review features are the editing tools of choice. But, red pens and hand-marked edits won’t journey to the land of dinosaurs and VHS tapes as long as we still use real paper from time to time.

Here is a simple graphic demonstrating ten basic copyediting marks:

Ten Basic Copyediting Marks

There are several other copyediting marks that perform advanced functions, such as moving and italicizing text, but the ten marks shown above can handle many common situations.

Please let me know if you would like to see a similar graphic showing advanced copyediting marks!

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Book Review: Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho

I really enjoyed Blog Inc., but Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle were rather disinterested.

I really enjoyed Blog Inc., but Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle were rather uninterested.

My Very Occasional Book Review series continues with a look at Blog Inc. Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deandgdeelert Cho.

Blog Inc. covers a wide variety of topics including choosing a blog platform, monetizing your blog, and leveraging your blog to publish a book (as Joy Deandgdeelert Cho did). The book also includes eighteen short interviews highlighting successful bloggers from a variety of creative fields. It concludes with a two-page section listing the names and web addresses for all of the resources mentioned throughout the book.

The Positives
Blog Inc. provides a broad overview of blogging without getting mired in the mechanics of a specific platform, while the interviews offer an inspirational glimpse into the various paths different people have taken to become successful bloggers. In addition, the author openly discusses one of the most difficult aspects of blogging—negative comments from readers.

The Drawbacks
Most of the interviews showcase people in crafty or artistic industries, so those of us in more sedate fields, such as accounting, plumbing, or copy editing, may feel left out. However, I don’t believe that Joy Deandgdeelert Cho meant this omission as a slight or as an indication that blogging is only for artists, but rather that she interviewed people within her own creative circle.

The Verdict
I think Blog Inc. is a worthwhile read for anyone who is new to the blogosphere. Seasoned bloggers may want to take a pass unless they are seeking inspiration from the interviews.

Stay tuned next week for a pictorial blog post! (Hint: I will be sharing a bit of editing-related artwork.) And, if you missed it, please check out my previous review of The Grammar Devotional by Mignon Fogarty.
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Please note: This is not a sponsored post. The Amazon.com link to Blog Inc. is provided purely as a convenience to my readers.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.

Content Localization Tips

Globe-Old-World-America_editLast week’s post introduced content localization, which is the process of tailoring content for specific areas. Sometimes content localization requires complete translation, and sometimes it adapts the existing language for cultural or geographic differences.

If your business has international customers or clients, you may want to localize the following material:

  • Website content
  • Website interfaces (e.g., menus, call-to-action buttons, contact forms)
  • Blog posts
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Business cards
  • Product descriptions in print and online catalogs
  • Scripts for telephone and online customer service representatives
  • Scripts for radio and television commercials
  • Print and online advertisements
  • Signs and banners
  • Instructions and manuals
  • Case studies and white papers
  • Warranties
  • Legal notices

Here are a few suggestions for individual entrepreneurs or small businesses that may not have access to a dedicated localization team:

  • Recruit a member of the target audience—or someone very familiar with the target audience—to analyze the content for cultural or geographic issues (before translation, if translation is necessary). If you have a lot of material, you may need more than one analyst.
  • Review all of the graphics, photographs, audio files, and videos associated with the text.
  • Hire a professional translator from the target audience or a translator very familiar with the target audience.
  • Conduct usability tests with a variety of people associated with the target audience.
  • Reevaluate localized content on a regular basis, particularly if your target audience lives in an area with frequent political or cultural shifts.

Remember that your international clients or customers may appreciate some of the cultural or language differences that appear in your content, particularly if you are in a creative industry. As such, you should be wary of completely sanitizing your own geographic or cultural voice.

My Very Occasional Book Review Series will return next week with a look at Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho.

 

Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.