A Proofreader’s Checklist

Proofreading can be scary at times because it carries so much responsibility.

The proofreader must deliver a product that is as perfect as humanly possible.

In some businesses, the proofreader is the last person to touch a document, making the final changes before it is published.

Like editing, proofreading can require a light or a heavy hand, depending on the subject matter and the complexity of the text.

Some drafts require only minor fixes – typos, missing punctuation, misspellings – while others require extensive fact-checking in addition to correcting grammatical errors.

The Writers for Hire team has worked through a few kinks in its own processes, and shares the results here.

These tips, which focus on generally accepted best practices, are intended to ease most – but perhaps not all – of the anxiety sometimes surrounding the proofreading process.

1. Begin with a Discussion.

The proofreading process should begin with you, the proofreader, and the editor or client talking through how the project will proceed.

At the outset, you should agree on the preferred style guide and any deviations from or in-house exceptions to the preferred guide.

Most companies use a preferred style guide.

The Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Chicago Manual of Style are the most common.

Despite the preferred style, some documents may require adherence to different guidelines, such as a client’s own style guide.

  • Project-specific guidelines could include:
  • Using European date format (day/month/year)
  • Using 24-hour clock time (0930 versus 9:30 a.m.)
  • Using only words or only symbols for monetary units
  • Abbreviating or spelling out titles
  • Keeping industry-specific usage, capitalization, or punctuation
  • Using specific transliterations or spellings of foreign names and places
  • Making exceptions to AP style, such as using the Oxford comma

But, of course, these are only a few of the various elements that you, the editor, and your client must agree on up front.

Otherwise, you could end up in a vicious cycle of editing each other’s changes back and forth.

2. Print and Read Out Loud

Proofreading the hard copy of a text and pronouncing or mouthing each word can catch many more errors than reading it on a computer screen.

Reading each word out loud identifies missing and repeated words – a very common occurrence.

Checking for consistency in formatting is also easier when you page through a printed document.

  • Other mistakes this best practice helps identify include:
  • Incorrect subject verb agreement
  • Incorrect antecedents
  • Complex sentences that are confusing or too long
  • Commonly misused homonyms and other words (their/there, its/it’s, and affect/effect, for example)

3. Check the Facts

Not all drafts require fact-checking, but for those that do, this is a critical step in proofreading. At a minimum, you should fact-check the following:

  • Official country names and names of individuals, places, and organizations. Enter each into Google to confirm the correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Ages, birth dates, and death dates. Check for errors such as someone turning different ages in the same year, or an event involving someone before they were born or after they died.
  • Dates of events. Check all references to a specific day and date in a specific month and year to make sure they are accurate.
  • Captions of photos and graphics. Make sure they match the text exactly, paying close attention to names, dates, places, and subject matter.
  • Math in tables and graphics. Check what you can calculate using simple math, such as percentages and totals.

4. Look for Internal Inconsistences

Consistency in longer documents can be especially challenging because of the human tendency to read what should be on the page instead of what is there.

As you read, make a list of items to check for consistency against the agreed guidelines. Such a list might include:

  • Formatting, grammar, and punctuation of bullets, headings, and subheadings
  • Capitalization and use of titles
  • Use of first names, last names, or both
  • Capitalization of captions
  • Chronological consistency
  • Use of colons, semi colons, en dashes, and em dashes
  • Formatting of dates and time
  • Symbols or words for numbers and currencies

5. Use the Spell Check and Find Functions

The Spell Check and Find functions are very helpful, but a proofreader cannot rely on them to catch everything.

“ABC Spelling and Grammar” in Microsoft Word, for example, automatically identifies misspelled words, sentence fragments, and common grammatical errors, but it also can suggest changes that are wrong in the context of a document.

Spell-checking will, however, catch all unusual names and terms – because it doesn’t recognize them.

After you have confirmed that the spelling of a word is correct, click the “Ignore All” option.

If spell-checking catches another version of the word, then that word is spelled different ways in the document.

When proofreading on a PDF, use CNTRL A (to highlight all) and CNTRL V (to paste all) into a Word document.

Word will identify misspellings, but it also will catch words that aren’t misspelled because of the way it cuts and pastes in.

This is still better than no spell check at all, however!

Along with spell-checking, the Find function helps ensure consistency by checking for all instances of style choices in spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation.

Searching for specific word and editing choices is easier using Microsoft Word’s “Advanced Find,” which has several options, including “Match case” and “Find whole words only.”

On a PC, click “Find,” then “Advanced Find,” and then “More” to see all the search options:

The “Navigation” pane in Find offers the choice of searching “Headings,” “Pages,” and “Results.”

Searching “Results” returns a list of results within their surrounding text; this option could be useful when checking for consistency in long, complex, documents.

On a Mac, be sure that your Standard Toolbar is open. Do that through “View” at the top, then scroll down to Toolbars > Standard:

The “Advanced Find” can be accessed from the top right “Search” box:

Click on “List Matches in Sidebar” to call up the “Find and Replace” window down the left-hand side of your document. Insert the word you’re looking for into the “Search Document” field:

Choose the gear icon to access a pull-down menu of advanced search options:

Once you’ve entered all your changes, spell-check the entire document a final time to uncover any glitches that escaped your attention.

Take Your Time

Proofreading takes time.

If your client only has a limited amount of time – or budget – to complete the proofreading phase, be sure to find out what the most important elements are, so you know how to focus your time.

And be sure to let the client know if the expectations aren’t reasonable. A rushed proofing job inevitably leads to further corrections

End with a Discussion

Once you are done proofing, be sure to review the changes you made with the editor or client, and discuss any remaining areas of concern that require your attention.

If the document contained tracked changes and comments, bracketed text, or highlights, make sure to remove them if you have addressed the issues.

If not, insert your own comments and raise them with the client or editor.

Write Your Book Without Writing a Word! How to Hire a Ghostwriter to Get Your Book Written

There’s a fairly well known saying, attributed to the influential journalist, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), that states, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

Whether he meant the idea or story isn’t actually worth telling, or not everyone has the ability to tell the idea or story in a compelling way, or both, is hard to say.

Many people believe they have a book inside them just waiting to come out. You may be one of them.

If you have always dreamed of writing a book or seeing your ideas in print with your name on the cover, yet you aren’t a writer and don’t know the first thing about the process of writing a book, do you have options?

Can you still see your book completed and in print with your story written in a compelling, interesting way?

If you are reading this, you have a book in you and you just need to know how to move it from idea to the written page, all without having to learn the necessary writing skills and the months (even years) it could take to produce it.

Getting Your Book Written

The most obvious way to write your book is to pen it yourself.

Writing your book on your own is a great option if you are a hands-on person and you want full control of your book.

But it does require having the knowhow, time (a book can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to complete), and desire to write and complete your project.

You also have to enjoy writing.

The benefit of writing your book yourself is certainly the pride you gain from accomplishing the task.

It also helps build your skills as a writer and you get full control of the words and how the book turns out.

It is also the least expensive route.

The alternative is to hire someone else to write your book – a ghostwriter.

This is a professional writer (or group of writers) who will organize and outline, write, and edit your book from beginning to end.

Ghostwriting is a great option: you get your book written by a professional who knows the process and will work with you to make sure you get the book you’re envisioning.

You get your name on the book, and the ghostwriter takes no credit.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter

Once you’ve decided to go the ghostwriting route, the next step is finding the right ghostwriter.

Your choice will depend on several factors, including your budget, timeline, goals, and even your personality and preferred working style.

There are several ways to find the right ghostwriter:

1. Use a Freelance Bidding Website

There are many freelance bidding websites where you can hire anyone for just about anything.

Writers are a particularly popular commodity on sites like Upwork, Guru, and even Fiverr.

On Upwork alone there are an estimated 12 million registered freelancers (in various industries, not just writing) with only an estimated three million jobs posted annually.

Just type “ghostwriter” in the search bar and you’ll get tens of thousands of writers from all over the world, ready to bid on your project to write your book for you.

This option allows you to be as involved as you want: You can simply give your ghostwriter an idea and let them run with it, or you can provide detailed information and direction.

Using a bidding site is a cheaper option, with many writers available to ghostwrite books for as little as $100.

You can pay by the hour or by the project, and you can often put the project fee into escrow to ensure the project will get done or you won’t have to pay, with milestone check-ins along the way.

Remember, though, that most of the time you also get what you pay for.

Quality can be an issue when hiring freelance ghostwriters from such sites.

There is no guarantee that the writer can actually write, or that they can write your project in the way you envision it.

There might be more limited contact with the writer and you might be hiring someone who speaks and writes English as a second language.

If you choose this option, it’s important to perform a bit of due diligence to make sure that you don’t get an end product that’s unusable, or in need of extensive editing and rewriting.

Always check writer’s reviews from past clients and request a writer with experience fluent in your native language.

If you want to be more involved, make sure the writer is easy to meet or have contact with.

And get periodic updates using the milestone features on the site, scheduling to get sample chapters to review before going too far into the project.

2. Hiring a Turnkey Book Writing Service

A step up from a freelance bidding site, this option is ideal for people who know what they want in their book and who can explain their ideas clearly and easily.

From this option, you have two choices.

You can handle much of the work yourself by organizing your information and then dictating your book into an audio or video recorder.

Once done, you can hand your recording over to a service company; they’ll take your recordings, transcribe them into written form, and send you a book.

If you’d like more of a back-and-forth working relationship, you can hire a service company that offers a more personalized book writing experience.

You meet with one of the company’s ghostwriters and they familiarize themselves with your book idea and the style of book you want.

They then do in-depth, recorded interviews with you to not only get all the information you want in your book, but also to get a sense of your voice.

From there, they transcribe the information they collected on audio and edit the recordings, completing the transcription of your book into written form.

Companies like Scribe Writing or Radius Book Group are examples of this option.

And some of these types of companies not only provide the interview, transcribe, and provide you with a written book, but they will take your finished project all the way through to the layout and printing and offer a marketing plan as well.

Keep in mind, in this process, the service company is basically transcribing the words you speak with minimal or limited editing or revising.

3. Hiring a Professional Ghostwriter

The third option for writing your book is to hire a freelance ghostwriter.

A freelance ghostwriter is a single individual, dedicated to your book.

The right match with a good ghostwriter, can be a rewarding experience, and the arrangement carries a certain amount of romanticism.

Celebrities, political figures, athletes and VIPs from all walks of life are known to hire ghostwriters to write their memoirs or autobiographies.

Good freelancers can be hardworking and dedicated to your project.

Unfortunately, other freelancers can be fickle and peevish if things don’t go their own way, and you won’t necessarily know that until further down the road in your new relationship – sometimes after dozens of hours of interviews.

When choosing your freelancer, a good tip:  A freelancer’s ability to sell themselves to you has little to do with their ability to write your book.

So, don’t jump at the one that sounds the best simply because he or she gave you a good spiel.

Call their references.

Without proper due diligence, you can invest a lot of time and money before finding out the writer doesn’t fit your project or your own working style.

Another tip:  Be sure to ask how much time they can devote to your book, and if they have had success completely projects on deadline in the past.

Remember that when you hire an individual, you are at the whim of his or her timeline.

While some individual ghostwriters spend most of their time writing, others may consider it a part-time job, meaning your project will need to work around their life.

On the other hand, if your writer makes a living ghostwriting, you may have to wait for an opening in their schedule — and even then they may be juggling you and several other projects which can make for a long process.

4. Hiring a Ghostwriting Company

If you want a more hands-on experience with more options, hiring a ghostwriting company might be the best choice for you.

You will still have the opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with your writer (complete with frequent in-person interviews), but you’ll also have the safety net of company management if a problem ever arises.

Plus, with a senior editor available for all stages of your book, those closest to the book (you and your ghostwriter) will always receive objective editorial feedback.

When you are done, the firm will consult on all of your available publishing options – from traditional publishing to print-on-demand services – so you can choose the option that is best for your story.

A ghostwriting company allows for the ability to “go where the project takes you,” in a way that may be difficult with another writing model.

Want to scan hundreds of photos?

Need to track down hard-to-reach expert sources for interviews?

Maybe you want genealogy tracked back to 10 generations, or you are determined to find a needle-in-the-haystack research item only available on microfilm.

You might need a team to sort through hundreds of pages of old legal and medical documents, chronologically sort every piece of material, cross reference it against topic categories and cite it all.

Quality ghostwriting companies are used to receiving out-of-the box requests, and they have the manpower to make them happen, without distracting from your book’s progress.

Finally, because a writing team can share the workload, ghostwriting companies can often take on rush projects and maintain quality, in a way that is simply impossible for a one-man show.

If you’re looking for attentive, white-glove service, lots of interaction with your writers, and an end product limited only by your imagination, this last option may be the best for you.

What Kind of Editing Do I Need?

“Can you edit this?”

It’s arguably one of the vaguest requests heard in the world of editing and publishing.

That’s because there are multiple types of editing, and they often mean something very different to each party in the editing relationship – the writer and the editor.

A basic Internet search of “types of editing” can send you into a flurry of terminology controversies and confusion.

As an example, the Grammarly blog breaks apart developmental and substantive editing into separate definitions, while the Institute of Professional Editors uses another term for developmental editing (structural editing), and lumps substantive editing into that category.

The list goes on and on.

The growing popularity of self-publishing, has only served to contribute to the confusion.

Whether you’re an author seeking to self-publish a book or a corporate communicator finalizing a marketing brochure, determining what level of editing your project needs and effectively communicating expectations to your editor is key to a satisfactory process and end result, says Wintress Odom, owner and editor-in-chief at The Writers for Hire.

“I cannot tell you how many times we get a piece of copy and are asked to, ‘Just proofread it,’ or, ‘Please edit this,’” Odom says. “Most of the time, our clients have a very specific idea of what this means to them, but a lot of people don’t realize that those terms are used vastly differently by different people, so you really have to clarify, or you could get something back from an editor that was not what you expected at all.”

So how do you, as a writer, navigate the editing portion of the process to achieve your desired result?

Let’s explore the types of editing, consider overlapping terminology, and look at some ways to ensure you get what you want out of your editor.

Editing and Proofreading Are Very Different

First, let’s clear up some editing basics.

Editing is a process that shapes and modifies your manuscript or piece of copy to prepare it for publishing.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is a final step to review your copy as it will be printed, with the intent of catching any mistakes that may have been made during editing.

While proofreading is considered part of the overall editing process, having your piece proofread is not the same as having it edited.

Levels in the Editing Process

Most editing authorities use somewhere between three and five levels of editing, including proofreading as a final step in the process.

Let’s review the main categories and some of the terminology you may encounter.

1. Developmental editing

Developmental editing (also often called structural and substantive editing) is the most intense level of editing and could involve vigorous rewriting, so you may also see terms such as heavy editing or content editing used. This is a bigger-picture overhaul of your manuscript for style, structure and flow.

For nonfiction, you need developmental editing if your material is lacking logical flow.  In fiction, you may need developmental editing if you need assistance improving plot and/or character development.  Developmental editing will typically include reworking:

  • Book organization and topic flow.
  • Big-picture transitions.
  • Overarching stylistic choices.
  • Plotline and characterization (fiction).

2. Line editing

Line editing is sometimes lumped in with copy editing below, but it’s a more detailed, sentence-by-sentence edit.

Line editing isn’t focused on the big-picture aspects of the book as in developmental editing, but it may include sentence rewording to address areas such as:

  • Flow or pacing issues.
  • Removal of sections that may not fit.
  • Improving sentence content, style and voice.

3. Copy editing

Copy editing is also a sentence-by-sentence edit, but more technical in nature, focusing on cleaning up your copy to prepare it for publishing. If you are happy with the organization and flow of your piece and think it is ready for technical polishing such as grammar and punctuation, this may be the right level of editing for you.

Not all editors agree on what copyediting entails, but common services might include fixing:

  • Errors and inconsistencies in style (like the Oxford comma or hyphenation consistency)
  • Errors in dates, URLs, page numbers or other pertinent details.
  • Repeated facts.
  • Internal contradictions within the piece.

4. Proofreading

If you speak to a writer, proofreading often includes fixing typos and grammatical errors, as well as all or several of the items listen in copy editing (above).

However for a publisher, proofreading is very different.  Proofreading for publishers occurs only after final layout, and is intended to catch any errors made during the layout process, such as:

  • Missing words or sentences.
  • Odd line breaks or picture formatting.
  • Missing pages or page numbers.

Determining Which Level You Need

As you can see, even within these four categories, there are many overlapping and interchangeably used terms within these levels, and your editor may break them down differently.

In his work with indie authors, Friedlander finds it useful to simplify by dividing editing into two areas of need – the information and the copy.

“If you think your book has problems with the way it flows, it isn’t quite complete and you’re not sure how it compares to other similar books … in the market, then consult with a developmental editor about what you need to shape your book,” he says. “If you’re already over that part, you know what should be in the book, you’ve written books before and you’re satisfied with the way the information flows, then talk to your editor about preparing the book for publication with a copy edit.”

Odom agrees that a consultation with your editor detailing your needs is the best approach.

The key is understanding the general terms out there, and clarifying what that means to your editor as it relates to your specific project.

To help guide your conversation, Odom recommends asking yourself these questions:

  1. What are my goals with the editing process?
  2. What are my biggest concerns?
  3. Am I happy with the book’s overall chapter organization?
  4. Does the logical flow need help (i.e. does it make sense)?
  5. Does the stylistic flow need help (i.e. is it clunky to read)?
  6. Am I comfortable with an editor rewriting large portions of my manuscript?
  7. Would I prefer that the editor stick to fixing egregious errors, leaving the manuscript essentially as-is?
  8. Do I want my editor to fix style inconsistences (such as writing out numbers or consistency in capitalization choices)?
  9. Does the editor need to fact check for me? If so, what types of facts (e.g. spellings of places, historical dates, specific magazine quotes)?

It is true that the editing process can be confusing.

With an understanding of the nuances and variants that go into editing, though, you can arm yourself with the necessary tools to make the relationship with your editor a successful one.

This will, in turn, result in a more successful outcome for your project.

How to Write a Blog Post That People Will Want to Read

Have you ever passed a house that had a really cool front door? It could have been some cool glasswork or just a color that popped. It immediately gives the whole house a more interesting vibe, and it makes you want to see what’s inside.

Your blog is the front door to your website.

Don’t settle for basic brown or white. Give it some thought. Let it add some flair to your site. If you want your website to have that “curb appeal,” you want to make your blog stand out and say, “Come on in. There’s cool stuff here!”

Blogs can be fun or informative, or even profoundly personal. Some draw you in and keep you reading to the very end, while others you barely notice or, even worse, make you bounce out from boredom or disgust. 

Whether you are writing blogs for other people or creating your own, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your readers will actually want to finish reading your blog post. Here’s what you need to know.

Define Your Audience

Who do you want to read this blog? Once you know that, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my reader care about?
  • What are they looking for that brought them to my blog?
  • What emotions are in play?

Understanding your audience is crucial to creating a blog that will give them what they need and keep them coming back for more.

Think about everything, including age, gender, and even financial status. As you put your blog together, consider any factors that may affect how and why someone is on your site and reading your blog.

Choose a Topic Carefully

The topic of your blog is paramount. This goes for the overall concept as well as each blog entry.

Whenever possible, choose a topic you care about so that your passion comes through in your post.

If you’re writing for someone else, though, it may not always be something you care deeply about. However, once you try to understand the audience and why they care about the topic, you’ll find that it usually becomes interesting pretty quickly.

Now, before you can settle on a great topic, you need to clarify what you want to accomplish with your blog. It’s kind of like picking your destination before you choose a car to get you there.

What is your ultimate goal for the blog post? Do you want to entertain, inform, or sell? Knowing your blog’s goal can help you find a topic that will help check all of the boxes.

But no matter what your goal, it’s important to remember that readers want to be informed, and they need to be entertained. That doesn’t mean that it has to be amazingly witty or dramatic but keep it interesting enough to retain their attention.

Find Your Angle

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When you find your topic, you may think, “It’s already been done!” You’re probably right. The internet is vast, and most subjects have been touched on, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have something original to contribute.

Twenty people can all write about the same topic, and all 20 can be interesting if they each take a unique angle. Consider this example:


The Amazing Honeybee 

(Potential Angles)

  • The Intricate Social Structure in a Beehive (They can “create” a new queen if the old one dies!)
  • How Bees Pollinate the World
  • Bee Keeping in Ancient Egypt (This was a real thing!)
  • How One Kid is Trying to Save the Honeybees
  • 10 Ways You Can Help Honeybees in Your Backyard

By finding an angle that is new, interesting, and relevant to your audience, you’re creating something that is unique – and adds value to your blog and your website.

Create a Structure

Good blogs have structure. And the best way to get that structure is by starting with an outline. Some people may not be big fans of this step, but doing an outline first is crucial.

An outline helps you plan out your blog post so that you know where everything goes and how much space each section gets. Once you have an outline in place, it can help you spot gaps where you may be missing information. It can also help make the writing part easier!

So, do yourself a favor and outline. 

When it comes to the content, it’s important to note that people read on the internet much differently than they do when they pick up a novel.

Readers want articles to be broken down into sections that they can easily digest. And to help them identify what they are going to be reading about, each section should be divided by a header that tells the content of the section. 

Your audience also wants content that flows logically, transitioning from one section to the next while using short paragraphs, bullet points, quotes — anything to make it easier for them to consume information quickly.

Craft a Great Opening

The internet is full of content. To keep your readers on your page, you must hook them right away.

Your opening identifies your style and tone. It tells the reader what you’ll be talking about and why they need to read it.

If your opening doesn’t evoke curiosity, amusement, or some other emotion within the first couple of seconds, your reader will click away and find someone else’s blog to read. 

Let Your Voice Shine

Don’t be dull. Blogs aren’t the place for stuffy, academic writing.

Even if you’re tackling a technical topic, handle it like you are talking to a friend. Use the first person to convey your own experience or use the second person to speak directly to the reader. Avoid using the third person as it distances the reader from the blog.

Your readers want to feel like they’re getting to know you. So, let them in!

If you’re worried that you’re going a little overboard with your voice and it’s bordering on obnoxious, stick with it for a bit. Your blog is fighting for attention on a crowded internet. That bold voice of yours may be just what you need to cut through the noise.

If, after a few tries, you see too big of a bounce rate, it may be time to dial it back. Go big first. Besides, you can have a lot of fun writing that way.

Do Your Research Right

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Unless your topic is a first-person narrative of something from your own life, you’ll probably need to do some research.

Don’t fake it. Do your due diligence and get it right. If you get things wrong, you will get called out. That’s pretty much guaranteed. But for every reader who has the guts to point out your error, dozens more will say nothing and just click away from your page.

The worst part is that you’ll lose credibility with those readers, and you may not get a second chance. 

Speak to Emotion

Regardless of what you are writing about, find a way to connect your topic to emotion.

What if you are writing about a technical topic? Then it’s even more important. People are driven by emotion.

A good example of this can be seen in effective advertising campaigns. Take Michelin, for example.

In 1986, Michelin ran an ad for car tires that didn’t tell us about the tread, or the special rubber used. The ad never even showed us a car. It just had a baby resting inside of a tire and a dad talking about tires: “Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires.”

Or even better:

The Dawn dish soap ad that shows people using their product to clean baby ducks at an oil spill. Think about how those images affect the viewer. Is Dawn…powerful? Check. Environmentally conscious? Check. Aww…baby ducks! Check. 

The same is true for your blog post. It doesn’t matter what you are writing about, if you speak to emotion, you’ll take your blog from good to amazing. 

Finish It Strong

Have you ever been to a live concert and heard a band completely nail a song only to flub the ending? No matter what came before, that ending ruined it. It’s what you’ll remember.

Find a good way to end your blog post that ties the information together and hammers your point home. One great way to do this is to find a way to tie it back to your intro. 


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Most writers don’t really enjoy editing, but it separates the good ones from the rest. If you’re not great at editing, make use of the grammar tools available to you like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor. Or, even better, find someone who can help you out.

Typos and goofs all through your blog will guarantee that you lose credibility, and people will stop reading it. It looks sloppy and unprofessional. 

Come Up With a Compelling Headline

Wait. What? Why is the headline so far down this list? Because your best bet at writing a compelling headline that captures your blog post perfectly is to do it after you’ve written the post.

Don’t fall in love with a headline and try to shoehorn your blog post to fit it. That’s backwards, and while it may lead to a lot of clicks, people will be disappointed when they get there. 

You don’t always know where a blog post is going to go as you write it, even if you outlined it in detail.

Writing is an organic process, and every project tends to morph a little bit as you go. And, sometimes, those changes are the best part. Once you’re done, you’ll have a lot of good ideas for headlines. Write them all out and then choose the one you like the best.

Add Great Images

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Take the time to add a couple of strong, emotion-evoking images. They help to break up the text and leave a memorable mental picture for the reader.

Be sure to use high-quality images that will look great and fit the size you need on your screen. Hazy, pixelated images will give your blog the same appearance as a bunch of typos. It looks unprofessional. 

If you have the eye and the equipment to take your own photos, that’s fantastic. But not everyone can pull that off, and that’s okay. There are a number of duty-free image websites where you can source pictures for free or for a small fee. Just be certain to credit where you got them. 

Optimize for SEO

If no one can find your blog, how will they read it? Luckily, today’s search engines put the most value on content that meets reader expectations, so having a great headline and a blog post that follows up on that headline is a great start. 

Here are a few of the other basics you should consider:

  • Do a little research on keywords for your topic and incorporate them into your blog organically.
  • Use subheads and work the keywords in there, too, when you can.
  • Optimize your meta description to describe your blog post accurately.
  • Create a few links to other internal web pages or a few highly reputable external websites.

You don’t have to obsess over SEO to make your post SEO friendly. Focus on writing great, useful content, and you’re most of the way there. Then, add the other elements I mentioned to make it work even better.

Now, Go Forth and Blog!

A great website needs to be constructed thoughtfully. From your landing page to your opt-in or sales pages, you need to look at it from your website visitor’s point of view. Is it easy to navigate? Does it make sense? And most of all, is it interesting?

Your blog can be a tool that helps people find your website and start their exploration. It’s your front door. Make it smart, interesting, and well-written so your visitors will be intrigued enough to come in and stay for a while. Then, when they leave happy, they’ll keep coming back and maybe even tell their friends.  

The Writers Behind Your Fortune Cookie Aphorism

It may come as a surprise to you that fortune cookies are not actually a Chinese invention.

While their true origins are widely debated, it is a common belief that the first fortune cookies appeared in California sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

The real question is, though, who is behind the messages on those tiny pieces of paper hidden inside of the cookies? Is it some kind of all-knowing psychic?

According to this fascinating article from Mentalfloss, many fortune cookie companies actually rely on the wits and poetic words of freelance writers to come up with the witty sayings inside those sweet treats.

In fact, several successful authors actually got their start writing fortune cookie messages!

Don’t be fooled by those seemingly simple prophetic one-liners, though. While writing them may seem like an easy gig, it actually takes quite a bit of talent.

After all, the messages must appeal to a wide global audience, while not being overly specific or scandalous. (Nobody wants to crack open a cookie, only to read that they are going to lose their job or go break their neck!)

So, next time you get Chinese take-out, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the talent and thought that went into your cookie’s fortune.

Who Owns Intellectual Property?

For writers, marketers, content creators, and businesses alike, intellectual property laws can make a huge impact on your company’s livelihood and protect you from having someone else benefit from your work.

This means that someone else cannot publish a copy of your book as their own or that another company cannot steal your proprietary software to improve their own market competitiveness.

However, intellectual property laws aren’t always straightforward.

Who owns work created by an employee of a company? Who owns a published article that heavily relies on an interview of another person?

Navigating intellectual property laws means understanding what is and isn’t protected, as well as what you can do to protect yourself.

Intellectual property is work or an invention that stems from creativity. This includes songs, books, white papers, and ebooks.

In some cases, it is possible to get a patent, copyright, or trademark for your intellectual property.

Intellectual property rights enable you to financially benefit from your work, and to protect it from unauthorized use from others. In the event that someone takes your work and uses it for their own gain, you can hold them legally responsible.

In the past few decades, intellectual property has become murky due to an enormous amount of collaboration and innovation.

Who owns the invention an employee or independent contractor creates for your company? If you interview a source and quote them in your article, do they own part of the finished piece?

In this guide, we dive into the topic of intellectual property and how it could potentially impact your business’s creative work.

What Counts as Intellectual Property?

In general, intellectual property falls into four protected groups:

  • Patents: Patents cover unique processes and inventions.
  • Copyrights: Creative works in tangible mediums, such as music, writing, books, films, choreography, architecture, and art.
  • Trademarks: It protects a product or service from what’s offered by competitors.
  • Trade secrets: Confidential information about a business and its internal workings.

Who Can Claim Intellectual Property Rights?

Any creator can claim intellectual property rights. This includes companies, writers, photographers, musicians, inventors, architects, and choreographers.

Intellectual property rights aren’t infinite.

For instance, in the United States, patents last between 14 and 20 years after the filing date. Copyright protection (since 1978) lasts through the author’s lifetime until 70 years after their death. Trademarks and trade secrets are active as long as you continue to renew them through the appropriate government offices.

Consequences of Intellectual Property Infringement

The consequences of intellectual property infringement can be dire.

If another company steals your trade secrets, your ideas and processes could be used to overtake your market segment and put your company out of business. And the penalties for copyright infringement are up to $150,000 for each and every work that someone infringed on.

The penalties for trade secrets, patents, and trademarks could be even higher, depending on the case.

In some situations, an author could make more money by winning an intellectual property infringement case from someone who stole their work than they originally made from the work’s book sales.

Common Law Precedents

Even without taking official action to protect intellectual property, certain types of content have intellectual property rights established by legal precedents.

This includes when you finish a novel, movie, computer program, or poem.

These are called common law precedents based on previous legal cases. Typically, this includes intellectual property protection for:

  • The person who created it
  • The person who paid for it
  • Improvements made by one party, such as adding new technology to a non-technological product, which are owned separately from the original party that owned it

Subject Matter Experts, Sources, and Interview Subjects

Journalistic interviews are one area of the intellectual property laws in the United States where the ownership distinction is blurry.

In some cases, the interviewer and writer own the resulting content, whereas in other cases, the interview subject does.

While not a guarantee, past cases demonstrate that your source may have ownership of an article if most of the words came from what the source said, word-for-word. In this case, the source would likely own the copyright for the article.

However, giving a single quote or an idea for an article does not give ownership rights.

Social Media

On social media, you generally own the content you post. However, the platforms themselves gain some control of your content once you post it.

Depending on the platform, the social media network may be able to limit how you use your own content.

For instance, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have terms that you agree to by posting content on the platform that gives the social media companies the right to use and sub-license your images.

Right of Publicity

Some states, such as California, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, have the right of publicity laws that protect against a person’s name and image for commercial purposes.

This includes writing a story about a subject that doesn’t want coverage or using a person’s photo in an advertisement without their permission.

If someone violates this and publishes your picture or personal content, you can ask them to take it down and file legal action against them if they don’t.

Right of Privacy

In some states, privacy laws protect someone’s right to be left alone. This includes not exposing confidential information about a person or giving false information about them.

If false information is given about someone, the person responsible could be charged with right of privacy violations and libel.

The laws are different for celebrities, politicians, and other public figures, as people in these positions accept a certain degree of allowable public interest. For instance, taking a photo of a celebrity around town does not necessarily invade their right of privacy.

Quotes and Copyrightable Works

In most cases, written work automatically has a copyright, but speech isn’t necessarily protected.

If a quote is in the public domain, a review or critique of someone else’s work, generic, or part of a national anthem, you can use it. However, if it is copyrighted, trademarked, or from a recognizable speech, you aren’t allowed to use it.

In every case, it is a good idea to assume that something that you didn’t invent or write is copyrighted and provides credit to the author.

Specially Commissioned Works

If you pay another party to create something, the person that commissioned the work (paid for it) automatically owns it.

If you hire a writing company to draft your memoir or write SEO articles, you or your company owns the work, not the writers that wrote it. A contract that details the terms of the deal is enough to protect the buyer.

Community Property

In some states, property acquired during a marriage is jointly owned as community property.

This means that the work created by one partner is owned by both partners. In a divorce, these intellectual property rights and resulting compensation could be split or shared.

For instance, if your husband receives a patent while you’re married and you live in a community property state, you co-own it as his wife.


A copyright owner can give or “assign” a copyright to another person or company.

This can be during a sale or as an employer/employee agreement. An example of this would be when a composer assigns music copyrights to publishers. An assignment must be in writing.

Intellectual Property Licenses

It is possible to grant permission to use your copyright or trademark through a license. Often, the licensor pays the copyright holder money to use their work.

Some examples of this are licensed products, such as shirts and shoes, sold by big box stores. Walmart or Target doesn’t own the rights to a Disney character, but they pay to license it.

Intellectual Property Laws by Country

Countries do not protect intellectual property equally.

Some countries take many legislative measures to thoroughly protect intellectual property, while others are known as large sources of intellectual property theft.

Any country’s intellectual property laws can change frequently, depending on the cases that go through the local court systems.

According to the U.S. Chamber International IP Index, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and France have the strictest and best enforced intellectual property laws whereas Venezuela, Pakistan, India, Algeria, Egypt, and Thailand are known for having the worst.

Surprisingly, China and Russia fall somewhere in the middle, despite having reputations for not honoring international intellectual property laws.

Keep in mind that intellectual property is by country or territory, with some exceptions for copyrights in certain countries involved in international copyright treaties or conventions. 

Filing for a trademark in the United States does not mean that a company in China cannot legally use it.

You would need to file for appropriate protections in other countries, too. If you do not file for protections in other countries, it is possible for other people in those countries to use your work, depending on copyright laws.

Some larger publishers file for copyright protection in the most significant markets, but some countries will not allow you to do this.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The World Intellectual Property Organization, known as WIPO, was established in 1967, and is one of the agencies of the United Nations.

WIPO is an important global voice in international intellectual property rights. It hosts forums and helps to shape international policy. It could even potentially help parties resolve large-scale intellectual property disputes.

At the time of this writing, there are no international copyright laws in place.

Intellectual Property Laws by State

In the United States, there are federal and state intellectual property laws.

Some types of intellectual property, such as designs, are only protected by state intellectual property laws. If you live in a state that doesn’t protect designs, you may not have the same level of protection.

Since there isn’t a national database of state laws, the best way to find out your state’s intellectual property laws is to check state statutes.

Employees vs. Independent Contractor Agreements

In most cases, work created by employees is owned by their employer. However, there are some exceptions.

If an employee creates work outside of their employment or working hours, the company does not own it. For instance, if you work as a writer for a marketing company during the day, your employer would not have ownership of a novel you wrote at night.

For independent contractors, the intellectual property rights do not automatically default to the company paying the contractor, unless there is a work made for hire agreement in place. Without an agreement, independent contractors own their own work, in most cases.

For inventions, both employees and independent contractors own their inventions unless they signed a written intellectual property agreement that assigns the work to the company. There are some legal exceptions if a contractor was hired specifically to invent something.

This does not apply to employees that are hired generally.

Founders vs. Third Party Companies

The intellectual property generated by a company isn’t necessarily owned by the company.

For founders, any intellectual property a founder owned before the company incorporates is owned by the founder. This can include buying the domain name or developing brand names, even if the company goes on to use the website or sell the brand name products.

If the founder does not become an employee, ongoing works created by the founder are often not owned by the company but the founder.

A third-party company that helps a company to design, build, or develop assets will generally retain intellectual property rights, even if your company pays for it.

This includes software developers, website developers, and product designers. To ensure that your company retains ownership, it is important to have a written agreement in place.

Stolen Intellectual Property

If your intellectual property is stolen or used without permission, you can try to file a lawsuit against the other party as a way to enforce your intellectual property rights.

First, you need to make sure that you have secured intellectual property rights. Then, you need to speak with an intellectual property lawyer to start your case.

In some cases, the other party may not realize that they are using your property. Sending them a legal letter might be enough to get them to stop.

For intellectual property stolen internationally, your options will vary based on the other party’s country.

It often starts by enforcing your rights through the other country’s legal system. However, in the event that another country doesn’t recognize your copyright, there are government and nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Standards and Intellectual Property, that can help with intellectual property infringement cases.

Tips for Protecting Your Intellectual Property

There are some ways that you can better protect your intellectual property and ensure that you do not infringe on anyone else’s rights. This includes:

  • Verify that your invention is truly unique before trying to secure protection to increase the chance that you can get a patent by searching for patents, trademarks, and copyrights in the database available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Have employees and contractors sign agreements that clearly identify ownership for work produced while employed or under contract for the company.
  • Ask employees to identify their existing intellectual property claims in writing before onboarding them.

Having a basic understanding of intellectual property rights can help to protect your interests and ensure that you don’t unintentionally infringe on someone else’s rights.

Determining ownership of intellectual property rights isn’t always obvious. The best course of action includes knowing the basic paths of ownership and having signed agreements in place.

The 108 Most Persuasive Words In The English Language

It’s a long known fact that the secret to persuasive writing isn’t in the adjectives, it’s in the verbs.

Copywriters know power verbs sell and convince.

Internally, we have a list of 108 verbs that we’ve been using for a good decade, and we recently thought we should share it with proper credit to the original author.

We found that although the list is being recirculated (and in many cases claimed as original by several different authors!), the original author is, in fact, nowhere to be found.

If anyone knows who wrote this, we’d love to know!

With or without the original author, it’s still a great list…here it is!

The 108 Most Persuasive Words In The English Language

According to legendary advertising man, Leo Burnet, “Dull and exaggerated ad copy is due to the excess use of adjectives.”

To prove it, he asked his staff to compare the number of adjectives in 62 ads that failed to the number of adjectives in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and other age-old classics.

Here’s what he discovered:

Of the 12,758 words in the 62 failed ads, 24.1% were adjectives.

By direct comparison, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contains only 35 adjectives out of 268 immortal words – only 13.1% adjective-to-total-word ratio.

Winston Churchill’s famous “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech rates even lower and has a 12.1% adjective ratio (81 adjectives from 667 words).

Burnett found that similar ratios applied to great works such as The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Conclusion: Use more verbs, not adjectives.

Verbs increase the pulling-power and believability of ad copy.

That’s why it makes sense to keep this 108-VERB “CHEAT-SHEET” close-by whenever you begin to draft your next space ad, sales letter, Website, or email campaign.

Still unsure how to incorporate these verbs into your marketing campaign? Or, perhaps, you just don’t have the time?

Then consider hiring a team of professional copywriters to do it for you! Talented advertising and marketing writers can take mediocre content and use power verbs to turn it into engaging copy that meets goals and produces results.

Copywriter Q&A: Carissa Lamkahouan on the Art of the Pitch

Carissa Lamkahouan has two decades of professional writing experience and has been published in a wide range of newspapers, magazines, and online publications. At The Writers For Hire (TWFH), Carissa is our in-house authority for all things journalism. In this installment of our Copywriter Q&A series, we talked about the process of pitching an article.

Carissa’s advice: Start with the pitch letter. If you can perfect the art of the pitch letter, everything else will fall into place.

TWFH: Let’s start with the basics: What is a pitch letter and why do you need one?

CL: A pitch letter is a letter to a publication’s editor that explains your idea. It should tell the editor why your story idea is important in general, and why their readers in particular will want to read it. I also believe it’s important that you pitch yourself, too. You’re asking them to let you do this story, so explain why you’re the best person for the job.

TWFH: What are the key elements of a good pitch letter?

CL: It’s a lot like a cover letter. Your first paragraph should say, “Here’s what I want to write about, and here’s why it’s important.” The second paragraph needs a hook: Explain why readers will want to read your story. And in the third paragraph, sell yourself a little bit. Tell them how long you’ve been writing; link to a few articles or invite them to look you up.

TWFH: How much detail about the story do you want to include in your pitch letter?

CL: In first paragraph, I get decently specific. Publications get a million pitch letters. You don’t want an editor saying, “What are you talking about?” Spell it out very clearly: “This subject is interesting because XX. Your readers would be interested because XX.” In the past, I’ve also included a line to the effect of, “If this topic doesn’t appeal to you, there are other angles we can pursue, please feel free to contact me.”

TWFH: Does it help to let them know that you’re flexible, topic-wise?

CL: Yes. There was one case where I was hired to write an article on behalf of a client. He wanted to get his company’s name out there. We were pitching to a niche business publication, and the hook we originally came up with was a funny story about his celebrity client. It was a really fun idea, but when I sent my pitch letter I mentioned that we were open to other ideas. And they called me back and said, “This is funny, but it’s not for us.” So we went with a more serious, business-focused angle. 

TWFH: How do you come up with the right hook that will appeal to a particular publication?

CL:Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. Luckily, everything’s online so you can take a look at the type of articles they publish. You’ll see a pattern.

TWFH: So, your hook and pitch letter should change depending on the content of the publication? Can you pitch one topic multiple ways?

CL: Yes. For example, I was going to write an article for a company that focused on creating products for dogs. I wrote pitch letters to several dog-related magazines, but the letters weren’t all the same. For more business- and inventor-focused magazines, I pitched a more general article about how the company founder was an inventor, and how he came up with ideas for new dog products. But I also pitched to pet-related magazines. The company also had a dog daycare business, and for the animal-specific magazines, we made that the focus. Things like, “What is dog daycare? And why do we need it?” I also pitched to a wellness magazine.

TWFH: How did you find a “wellness” hook?

CL: Dog daycare helps with dog depression. It was a completely different angle but still related to the inventor. I focused on the wellness aspect of his dog daycare business. Daycare makes dogs happier. They get depressed if they’re home alone. I interviewed veterinarians for that article, and I relied heavily on interviews with a dog psychiatrist.

TWFH: Can you walk me through the process from start to finish? Do you start by having an idea, pitching it to publications, and then waiting to write it until you know who’s interested? Do you write the article first and then pitch it? Or does the process vary?

CL: It is a fluid process, but it usually starts with an idea from experience I have or something I hear. Or maybe I have a client who wants me to help them get their name out there for whatever reason. I like to have at least two to three potential stories I can write based on just that one idea.

TWFH: Does the process change at all when you’re ghostwriting or if you’re writing and pitching an article on behalf of a client? 

CL: With the dog daycare client I had one publication that liked the topic I suggested, which was the evolution of dog daycare. But they said, “We don’t want it to be all about your client.”

TWFH: And your client was OK with that? Were you able to find a way to mention his company without making that the focal point?

CL: I told him, “The lead is not going to be about your company — but when we mention X topic, we’ll mention you.” A lot of times, clients will be OK with that. You can also ask your client to supply photos, so when these magazines ask for pictures, which they will, you send your client’s pictures.

TWFH: So, the more flexible the client, the better the chances of getting their story picked up?

CL: They might get more coverage if they’re willing to take the focus off of themselves. It helps to explain tell clients, “Sometimes the article might be about your company, and then it might not.” My client was able to get more coverage with articles that mentioned his company or included a photo he sent, rather than articles that were all about his company or inventions.

TWFH: How do you choose which publications to pitch to?

CL: First, look at the subject matter and start with obvious publications. Then start working your angles. Look up publications related to any of those angles you’d be surprised what comes up.

TWFH: What about really super-niche publications that have outdated websites and/or don’t have a “submissions” section or clear info about pitching? Do you just write them off and move on? Do you try to track down contact info?

CL: If they’re niche, I try pretty hard to find an inroad. Most articles in a publication will have an email address for the writer. Try contacting them. I’ve done that. I’ll say, “Hi, I know you’re not an editor with X publication, but can you hook me up?”

TWFH: Does that work?

CL: Most writers will be willing to help. You can also try looking them up on social media, like Facebook or LinkedIn.

TWFH: How many pitch letters should you send at one time?

CL: That depends on how fast you’re trying to turn the article around. If you’re not in a hurry, you can start with five, then send another five in a month. If your topic is something time-sensitive — something that coincides with an anniversary date for an event, for example — you might want to send 20 pitch letters. And this is important: If you’re pitching to magazines in particular, you have to pitch six months in advance. They want stories three to four months in advance. So if you have a date-oriented piece, you’d better pitch early.

TWFH: What happens if multiple publications say they’re interested in your piece?

CL: Do all of them. But there’s the deal: Try to have a different hook or different interviewees on the same topic. You don’t want to write the same article multiple times. If it’s the type of article that doesn’t have a lot of hooks or there are not a lot of ways to write differently about your topic, you can still make it as unique as possible for each publication. It helps to have some ideas up your sleeve ahead of time. For example, find some local sources. If papers in both South Carolina and LA picked you up, find local people to interview. Reach out to local colleges or local experts. Editors know you’re pitching to multiple publications. But don’t ever turn down a publication. It’ll work itself out.

TWFH: What happens if you get zero responses from the publications you’ve contacted?

CL: Follow up. Have a follow-up email already written. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re either going to ignore you or tell you no. If your topic is timely and you’re getting closer to the anniversary event, say, “I wanted to check in, this is coming up. That’s why it’s a good time to run it.” Mention your hook again. Ask if they’d like a different angle.

TWFH: Is there a rule to how often to check in or follow up? A lot of writers start to feel like they’re being annoying or too pushy after a while especially if they’re not getting a response.

CL: Don’t be scared to do it. You’re doing those editors a favor. They don’t want to run around and find story ideas. A lot of them don’t have staff writers. They have pages to fill, and a lot of times writers don’t make their deadlines. And when that happens, they lose their stories and they’re scrambling for a replacement. Again, what can they do? Ignore you or say no.

TWFH: So you really might be helping them out if, say, they end up short on content.

CL: Editors are relying on your submissions. Offer other angles. Be fluid, be flexible, don’t be shy. You should never be shy about pitching. Editors know they’re going to get these pitch letters. They’re expecting to get them. Look at it this way: If you don’t tell them about these fun, cool, interesting stories, they’re not going to know.

I Shot the Serif: Is Font Choice Important?

When I married a man with the very Italian surname of Iacullo, I had no illusions about the spelling and pronunciation mishaps that were likely to follow. I knew I’d have to endure a certain amount of ribbing about the surplus of vowels in the old country and make endless attempts to explain that yes, my new last name really did begin with the letter “I” followed by “A,” and no, it wasn’t actually that difficult to pronounce.

This wasn’t a big deal for me. After all, I’d already spent 30 years with a maiden name – DeLay – that gave me an incentive to be patient with customer service representatives who were sure I’d actually said “Daley” or “Delaney.” (I’d also learned to smile my way through conversations with teachers who delighted in dropping hints about homework deadlines and airline employees who tried to make light of scheduling mishaps.)

A little more than a decade ago, though, things started to get weird. More specifically, I started to get mail addressed to “Jennifer Lacullo” instead of “Jennifer Iacullo.” I also started having to explain to befuddled pharmacists, receptionists, and clerks that they should check to see whether my information had been misfiled under “L” rather than “I.”

I didn’t quite understand why this kept happening – until I installed Microsoft’s Office 2007 suite on my computer.

One of the first things I noticed about the new software was a change in the default font used for Microsoft Word. The venerable Times New Roman was out, replaced by an upstart sans-serif font that went by the name of Calibri.  

I had no real objections to this change at first. In fact, my initial impression was that Calibri was somewhat more elegant and less blocky than sans-serif stalwarts such as Arial and Helvetica.

But then I saw what happened when I typed my married name.

In Times New Roman, “Iacullo” had been relatively easy to read. Each individual letter had a different appearance, and the serifs made it easy to tell the difference between the upper-case “I” and the lower-case “L.”

In Calibri, “Iacullo” was a more slippery target. Without the serifs, the two letters in question looked virtually identical:

Once I saw Calibri in action, I realized that Microsoft Word was hardly the sole offender. I noticed that most online forms used Arial or another sans-serif font that made little distinction between the upper-case “I” and the lower-case “L,” and I deduced that most of the confusion occurred in situations where people had to read my contact information on a screen and then write it out by hand on another form. I then asked myself whether I could avoid this problem by using only lower-case letters when filling out online forms but concluded (regretfully) that I wasn’t willing to forsake proper capitalization, even if there were no serifs available to plead my case.

Visuals matter

On one level, the above is a purely personal anecdote – a mildly humorous tale about the collision between Italian last names, web designers’ preference for visually crisp fonts, and my own stubborn adherence to the rules of capitalization that I learned so long ago.

On another level, though, it is a plea to remember that visuals matter.

Certainly, there are reasons to go with sans-serif fonts. When you’re tired or distracted or hustling to meet deadlines, it’s easier to fall in line with the default choice – to let Microsoft Word compose your letter in Calibri, for instance. And when you’re a web or app designer who wants every pixel on the screen to be clear, it’s logical to use a sans-serif font such as Arial, which will never have the fuzzy look of serif fonts such as Times New Roman.

But the world doesn’t end at the edge of our screens. The words we see on our monitors and on our smart devices don’t always remain in the digital realm. Even when we’re trying to maintain a paperless office or rely exclusively on electronic records, sometimes we have to write information down by hand or retype it on another machine. If so, mistakes can happen – especially when we’re in a hurry and just trying to jot down what we see. And sometimes the price of such mistakes isn’t just the exasperation felt by people in my situation (or by people such as my friend Ilana G-, who has told me that she regularly receives mail addressed to “Llana G-”). There can also be consequences such as delays in picking up urgently needed medication for hospital patients in critical condition and difficulties in obtaining accurate contact information for potential new clients.

Likewise, sometimes we have to take the information we obtain from screens and turn it into printed material, such as a quarterly earnings report or a legal filing. And if we print it in sans-serif fonts, we run the risk of turning out material that will be difficult to read. (On paper, serif fonts tend to be easier on the eye and the brain because each letter has a distinctive look.)

The good news is that there is a simple two-part way to avoid the negative results discussed here. First, when typing something up, ask yourself how the text is likely to be used. If it’s going to stay on the screen and never go offline, sans-serif fonts are likely to be fine. (Indeed, they may even be preferable from a visual standpoint.) If it has to be printed out or transferred to another format, consider using serifs to enhance readability – or look into sans-serif fonts such as Optima, which use subtle visual cues to suggest serifs without compromising their clean lines.

Five Common Web Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Web copy can be tricky to master: It has to sell, but it can’t feel too salesy. It has to be packed with useful, relevant information, but it needs to be succinct and easy to scan. It has to differentiate your company, product, or service — but at the same time, it can’t feel like it’s “all about you.”

We’ve found that there are a few common web writing mistakes that come up again and again with web copy. In this post, we’ll explore five of the most common ones — and share our strategies for avoiding them.  

  1. Mistake 1: Ignoring navigation

    It’s tempting to treat content and layout as two separate things, but we’ve found that the most effective websites begin with an integrated approach. When you have a solid grasp of your site’s navigation and layout, you’re better equipped to write content that fits into that navigation in an intuitive, seamless way.

    A few questions to consider:

    How will visitors navigate your site?
    What information will they be looking for on each page?
    How can you ensure that visitors can find what they need easily?
    Will your most important copy points appear “above the fold”?
    Can you use design elements like callout boxes and sidebars to highlight key points?
    Is your copy broken up in a logical way?
    Do you have too many pages? Too few pages?
    What action do you want people to take after scanning the page?

  2. Mistake 2: Super-long copy 

    Good web writing should tell your customers what they want to know in the first two sentences. Remember, website visitors come to a site to gather information. If they have to read paragraphs of unnecessary fluff to get to the “meat” of your product or service, they’ll probably move on.

    Here’s an example:

    “You need a car to get you to work. You need a car to take your kids to school, for trips to the grocery store, and for epic road trip adventures. You need a car to live your life – but you don’t need to pay top dollar for it. That’s why Two Brothers Used Cars specializes in certified pre-owned vehicles – guaranteed to save you money.”

    The above paragraph is long and meandering, and it wastes valuable real estate stating the obvious: Your readers already know why they need a used car. They want to know why they should buy a used car from Two Brothers Used Cars.

    Here’s a better option:

    “Two Brothers Used Auto has thousands of pre-owned vehicles at wholesale prices. Reliable. Affordable. And all used cars come with a year-long free maintenance package. Come take a test drive today.”

    Our advice: Resist the urge to “ease” in to your copy. Jump in, be bold, and get right to the point — your readers will appreciate it!

  3. Mistake 3: The “Wall of text”

    People read differently on a screen than they do on a printed page – their eyes flit around the page, scanning for information. Copy that appears too dense — also known as the dreaded “wall of text” can be a turnoff.

    In fact, if your web copy looks too dense, readers will likely give up and move on.

    Here are some ways to break down those “walls” and make your copy more scannable and web-friendly:

    Use bullets to highlight important points.
    Use bolded headers.
    Break up paragraphs (limit each paragraph to three to five sentences, max)
    Use visuals like infographics, tables, or photos
    Use callout boxes and sidebars to highlight information
    Use lots of white space
    Insert links to relevant pages

  4. Mistake 4: Wordiness and fluff

    One way to keep web copy succinct: Avoid filler fluff and unnecessary words. Some hard-nosed editing can help streamline your copy. Scan your draft with these questions in mind:

    Is there a single, better word that you can substitute for two words? For example, you could use “boring” instead of “not interesting.” You could use “to” instead of the wordier “in order to.”

    Can you eliminate any fluffy, meaningless phrases? Don’t tell readers that your sales team is “committed to excellence” or “dedicated to success.” It’s much better to say something meaningful, like the fact that your sales team has a combined three decades of experience or has completed hundreds of hours of advanced training.

  5. Mistake 5: Showcasing features, not benefits

    Emphasizing the benefits of your product or service is more important than emphasizing features – that’s because benefits persuade, features only inform. Benefits are relevant to customers, features aren’t.

    For example, let’s say your company sells high-end wristwatches: Details like “illuminated dial,” “digital alarm,” and “solar-powered battery” are features. But why should a potential customer care? This is where the benefits come in: The illuminated dial means you can tell the time in the dark. The solar power means that you never have to replace a battery. The digital alarm means that it can pull double duty as an alarm clock or a stopwatch.