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- Grammar and usage
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Posts within the category: Writing resources
June 13, 2012
Help me solve the mystery of how I wrote the World's Worst Tweet and killed interest in a great free resource
I really need your help. A few days ago I tweeted about a new resource I'm offering for download at my site, a Guide to Writing for Social Media, which we authored for the Centers for Disease Control. This is a really nice free resource; it's 57 pages long, chock full of great info including chapters on how to write for Facebook and Twitter, how to write texts, and how to use your web content as source material for social media messages.
So when I sent out my tweet about the Guide, I expected a good response -- lots of downloads and a good amount of interacting, mentioning, and retweeting. I even hoped for a little bit of buzz, but what actually happened was ... well ... nothing. Or nearly nothing. One retweet. One. Six people downloaded the Guide, and though none of them are actually my blood relatives, three are such close colleagues that I have to admit they're friends. My conclusion: I have written the World's Worst Tweet.
Under other circumstances, I might be "proud" of this (anti) accomplishment, but given that my tweet was meant to promote a Guide to Writing for Social Media, I am troubled, even alarmed. I need your help: What is it about how I wrote this tweet that enabled me to KILL interest in a great resource? Comment here to share your thoughts about why my tweet is so stultifying. Revise it for me, please. I'll publish your tweet and write a blog post about why you're a great writer!
Here's what I was going for in my (flop) tweet:
- Simple, direct, action-oriented. When there's stuff to do, I always like to feature it, so I started off with "Download."
- Connected. I included the @CDC-eHealth handle to indicate that the Guide has a health communication slant and to tie in to those who follow the excellent communicators at the CDC.
- Detailed. I squeezed in the page count to let people know the Guide is substantive, and I wrote "befores-&-afters" instead of "examples" to indicate that the Guide includes advice on how to transform dull tweets and posts. Oh, the irony.
- Hyperlinked. A nice short link - only one click away from the download.
- Hashtagged. I chose the #plainlanguage tag carefully, as we wrote the Guide for a government agency, and the federal plain language community is thriving. I thought the folks who track this hashtag would be interested in the Guide.
Having explained it, I now feel even worse about my World's Worst Tweet. Help me out here. What went wrong??
September 6, 2011
It's back-to-school season, even for those of us who did not get a new lunchbox, science teacher, or dorm room this year. In honor of students everywhere, and in support of your ongoing efforts to refresh those writing skills, here are links to 20 online grammar and spelling quizzes. Try them all to see if you'll make the grade.
- Online Grammar Quizzes - Cengage Learning
- Online Grammar Test - Dr. K. Siegel, Mount Mary College
- Interactive Online Grammar Quizzes - City Univ. of Seattle
- Grammar Review - Newsroom101.com
- Online Grammar Quiz - Plain English Campaign
- Quiz: Are You a Grammar Geek? - Harvard Business Review
- Grammar Mastery Test - GrammarBook.com
- Triangle Grammar Guide Quizzes - NewsObserver.com
- Online Spelling Bee - Visual Thesaurus
- Spelling Bee Hive - Merriam Webster
Are you smarter than an 11th grader?
We make our kids take them, but can you pass the grammar and usage sections of these tests for teens?
- Identifying Sentence Errors - SAT Practice Test
- ACT Practice Questions
- GED Sample Test Questions: Language Arts, Writing
- Sentence Diagramming Practice (The tony St. Albans School in Washington, DC still teaches diagramming??)
Could you cut it as an editor, teacher, diplomat, or technical writer?
- For editors: Twenty Questions: A Quiz on the AP Stylebook and Test Your Editing Skills: Chicago style
- For teachers: Praxis Pre-Professional Skills Test: Writing and Check Your Spelling
- For diplomats and other international types: Subtest IV: Grammar - United Nations Language Proficiency Exam
- For technical writers: Klariti Technical Writing Test
Have an online grammar quiz to share? Post a comment or e-mail me.
March 29, 2010
My Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing post keeps generating feedback. Most recently, Cate Newton sent me a link to the writing resource page she compiled for the Guide to Online Schools website.
Cate wrote: “We are trying to build up useful resources for students of all ages…. We’ve compiled a list of the most useful grammar, proofreading and writing style guides on the Internet into one, easy-to-navigate article.”
Her writing resources are indeed a treasure trove. Among the gems on her list:
Proofreading tips, practice exercises, and quizzes to test your skills. I aced the Level C (Superstar) proofreading test. But I admit that the question prompts and the multiple-choice format helped me catch errors I might have missed.
The Online Grammar Guide
The comprehensive guide to English grammar created by Jack Lynch, associate professor at Rutgers University, provides an alphabetic listing of grammar and word choice issues. Lynch offers this consoling take on the difference between that and which.
“Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know. If the subtle difference between the two confuses you, use whatever sounds right. Other matters are more worthy of your attention.” He then offers a clear and pithy explanation of the difference.
The University of Ottawa
An online grammar course that covers the parts of speech, punctuation, pronouns, verbs, modifiers, clauses, sentences and spelling. This course lets you brush up on English grammar in the privacy of your office or cubicle.
The Ultimate Style Guide Resources for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE
A list of good Internet style guide links. If The Chicago Manual of Style is your style bible, you’ll love the CMS Crib Sheet that summarizes the manual’s most important topics and rules.
School House Rock
And finally, if you need a break from the rigors of correct usage, head over to Grammar Rock for animated music videos that teach the rules and make you smile. Busy Prepositions makes sense of the confusing rules for prepositions. You’ll spend the day humming the tune (guaranteed!).
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
February 11, 2010
Chances are, if you are facing a writing deadline, you’ve got a clean refrigerator. That’s because given the choice between writing and cleaning the refrigerator, or writing and root canal, or writing and most anything else, you’ll opt for the non-writing alternative. And there are dozens of ways to avoid writing that don’t even require leaving your desk. Hmm. I wonder what’s in my spam folder?
That’s why, in the face of several writing project deadlines, I was surfing the web looking for advice on how to improve my writing productivity. Turns out, writers have a lot of seat-of-the-pants productivity advice:
- Reward yourself. Set word or time goals and reward yourself for meeting them. For example, set the alarm clock for an hour and do nothing but write. Matthew Stibbe, author of the Bad Language blog uses this ruse: “Write another 500 words [and] you can have a cup of tea and a biscuit.” Other rewards suggested by writers: Jaffa Cakes, cigarettes (creates other problems!), and my reward of choice—Trader Joe’s chocolate covered espresso beans.
- Find the magical hour. Write first thing in the morning or late at night when there are few distractions. “The dark, the silence, no one to distract you, [are] all good arguments for working close to midnight,” says JCN (commenting on Stibbe’s post).
- Use low-tech tools. A surprising number of writers said that using a basic text editor, instead of a full-featured word processor, forces them to focus on words and not be distracted by formatting or graphic enhancements. Those recommended text editors include:
o Notepad, the no-frills text editor that is bundled with Microsoft Windows.
o WriteRoom (for Mac), a back-to-basics lightweight text editor recommended by productivity guru Merlin Mann as the right tool “if you need to get your head out of your butt and put some words on the page."
o Q10, a slimmed-down text editor that lets you set a timer to schedule writing and break time. Q10 consists of one small, portable file. Load it on your thumb drive and write anywhere:
Starbucks, the library the beach.
Note: I haven’t personally used WriteRoom or Q10. But I’ll take them out for a test drive (a great way to avoid writing!) and report on them in future posts.
- Use no-tech tools. Freelance writer Dustin Wax offers a reminder of the merits of the tried-and-true pen and paper. “A lot of people find that the feel of pen and paper keeps their creative juices flowing and their mind focused.” While hand-written text needs to eventually be typed, “that’s a good time to do editing and revision.”
And finally, if all else fails:
- Punish Yourself. Write or Die lets you set a time and word limit. (For
example, 200 words in 20 minutes). Don’t meet your goal? Choose your
punishment—a mildly unpleasant sound or the kamikaze: your writing disappears!
Add your productivity tip to this list. Post a comment or send me an e-mail.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
October 13, 2009
Does the traditional press release format work in the world of 24-hour news, blogs, Facebook and Twitter? Many media professionals think the 100-year-old press release format is ineffective and obsolete. They're calling for a new approach. Read my companion post: The Social Media Press Release: A New Approach to the Old Problem of Getting Noticed.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Social Media Press Release (SMPR)
1. Think modular.
Whether you are using the template approach or a traditionally written press release enhanced with multimedia and social media elements, make sure each component or section of the release can stand alone.
2. Link, link, link.
Optimize links for search engine visibility. If your SMPR is being distributed by a news service, make sure to link back to a landing page or newsroom at your website. Include links to related information at other pages on your website. Link out to social bookmarking and social media sites, such as delicious, Digg, and Technorati.
3. Post content in multiple channels.
In addition to including multimedia elements in your SMPR, post components of your release to appropriate sites for increased search engine visibility. For example, post your videos on YouTube and your photos on Flickr.
4. Write your SMPR content for online readers. They scan rather than read word for word. Write short, use bulleted lists, and write message headings.
5. Use keywords to maximize search engine ranking.
Repeat the keywords in headlines, subheads, and in the text of the social media release.
6. Use visuals.
Include your logo, a headshot of your organization's CEO, maps and charts, and photos of products or services. Also include video. Videos don’t have to be professionally produced. YouTube-quality videos help reporters understand your product, and that helps them explain it to their readers.
7. Incorporate interactivity. Engage in a conversation with the media and customers by providing a way for them to comment or ask questions.
Social Media Press Release: Resources and Examples
- “Anatomy of the Social Media Press Release,”
a presentation delivered at the 2008 Public Relations Society of America conference, explains the concepts behind the SMPR and includes a good annotated sample.
- The National Restaurant Association lists its social media release going back to December 2008,including “Winners of 2009 Restaurant Neighbor Award for Outstanding Community Service“ and “Healthy Kids’ Meals, Local Produce, Mini Desserts Among Hottest Menu Trends for 2009.”
- The 2008 GovGab SMPR announced the first birthday of GovGab, the U.S. government blog. The multimedia elements in this SMPR include audio, commenting, photos of the GovGab bloggers, and links to their bios.
- “Second Life Reforestation Project Qualifies as a Finalist in American Express Members Project,” distributed by RealWire, is a good example of an SMPR that uses the full gamut of social media elements, including video, tags, and commenting.
- Dupont’s release on Nomex® On Demand™ , fiber technology that protects firefighters, is a good example of a wire service traditional release enhanced with multimedia elements, including a YouTube video that shows how Nomex® On Demand™ actually works.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
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