Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the category “Editing”

Writing for the Web*

I learned grammar in the 1950’s/1960’s. We parsed (diagrammed) sentences. We learned that complex compound sentences were the mark of educated people. We used colons, semi-colons, ellipses, etc.; and revered the Oxford comma. Our sentences were full of filler (we called it “nuance”). Unmodified nouns (except for proper names) were rare.

That was then.

In many ways, writing is now taught 100% differently from then. Concise, pithy sentences are the goal. Writers avoid adverbs when possible. Adjectives are for those getting paid by the word for fiction. The less punctuation needed to make a sentence clear, the better.

Do I like it? Not one bit! Do I follow these guidelines when web writing? You bet your sweet hiney I do.

The truth is, whether we writers want to admit it or not, good web writing is different from other types of good writing.


Good web writing aims to get the reader to do something: order a product, click on a link, share something on social media. Web writing is the textual equal of sound bites. It breaks up ideas with “calls to action.”


Good web writing also utilizes Search Engine Optimization. This is using keywords, or keyword phrases, to cause search engines like Google to recognize your work. This practice is part art, part statistics. You want to use keywords that are the things your audience will use to search for your product or service. However, you want to use them judiciously, so you don’t trip the search engines’ algorithms against keyword stuffing. You also need to know what your client wants. While most clients want a 2-3% keyword density, there is always the chance they will want a different amount. Not adhering to the client’s preference can get your work rejected.


Good web writing is also relentlessly positive in nature. You do not ignore issues.  You just find positive ways to state them. “Our hotel is perfect for when your family wants a quiet getaway,” as opposed to “Our hotel is miles from the center of town.”


Another aspect of good web writing is only promising what the buyer can expect. Rather than saying that your pan is nonstick, say that the pan’s surface is resistant to food sticking. Rather than saying it is “heat-resistant,” say your pan is “oven safe up to ‘X’ degrees.”


The aim of every client is to have you turn out unique writing. This means that even if they provide one sentence product descriptions, they want you to write between 100 and 300 words about their product so that it does not copy what anyone else has written. Your best investment to achieve this is an anti-plagiarism program, such as Copyscape. When I do web writing, I use Copyscape Premium. For $.05/search, it makes sure that when I submit any writing, it will come through as clean. Since plagiarism is one of the quickest ways to get fired in web-writing, I consider Copyscape an essential. There are also free or low-cost applications, like Hemingway, that highlight style errors. If you are considering web-writing as a career, such an app is one of the best investments you can make.

Most companies provide style guides if they have large amounts of work. This ensures uniform results no matter how many different writers are on the project. The most common style is APA (American Psychological Association) Style. You can find out more about APA Style here.

The good news is that proper web writing is not hard to learn. If you learned to write when I did, you may have to break a few habits: Two spaces after a period has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. Few clients want you to use the Oxford comma, but the ones that do are almost religious about it. You can change these habits; your web writing will be the better for doing so.

*NOTE: Just for the heck of it, this post has been run through both Hemingway and Copyscape.



Your grammarian has recently edited two manuscripts. One was a horrible piece, wooden characters, “said bookisms,” all sorts of mistakes. The other was a wonderful story with good strong characters, an excellent plot, and an intriguing opening.

Unfortunately, thee two manuscripts had one thing in common. Neither of the authors seems to know how to format a manuscript.

Now, formatting a manuscript is not rocket science. I know that some of you are going to say that I shouldn’t be too hard on these writers, because I can’t expect new writers to know such things the way professional writers do. I don’t expect them to “know” it. I do expect that if they are serious about writing, they will pick up a book and learn it.

When I started writing for publication, I had no idea how to subit a manuscript, so I went to the library and photocopied the section from Writer’s Market on the standards for a manuscript. And I wore that photocopy out referring to it until I did learn.

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems today, especially when it comes to writing, is that people have forgotten that standards were developed to ease communications between people. They are not just a dead bunch of rules to learn by rote, no matter how silly some of the rules seem to those who are not writers.

Now I’m not saying rules don’t change. As I think I’ve noted, sometimes there are good reasons for changing rules, like the differences that technology made so that two spaces are no longer necessary after a period. Sometimes, the rules are merely stylistic, and will vary from publisher to publisher, like a preference for (or against) the Oxford comma.

Anyway, at some point when I am not in deadline Hell, I will probably do a column on how to format a manuscript.  Until then, keep writing and if you need to learn how to format a manuscript, please either obtain a copy of the current Writers Market, or borrow one from the library, or check the various resources available online.


Your Grammarian is Taking a Break this Week…

…because she is editing a manuscript that is actually delightful.

The writer has done much right — a very strong opening that drew me in even before I got to the story proper; a POV character that is not perfect, but is interesting, and in interesting circumstances; support characters that are fully-fleshed out; showing rather than telling.  Honestly, it’s the first time I have ever edited a manuscript where I am putting in more comments about why something is perfect than why the small things that aren’t need to be tweaked.

This project is truly one of those that gets savored while worked on, and I am really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Anyway, I want to get bak to it, so see you when the editing is done!

Your Grammarian is Feeling Much Better Today

I did start this post on Saturday, but I ended up taking a short nap — that lasted five hours!

Got paid for the first manuscript, and even got a second — which is much better in so many ways. Good, strong story and characters; good, transparent writing that doesn’t get in the way of the story; and an author who clearly did his homework, but doesn’t have to dump his erudition on the reader. I’m really enjoying working on this one.

The new computer is working smoothly which is a godsend, especially after having to do my last month or so’s work by borrowing the roomie’s computer in order to have workable internet service.

One of the problems with recovering from congestive heart failure, with fluid in the lungs, is that I need a lot more sleep than I used to. And I need to remember to be kind to myself. My energy now crashes out fairly suddenly, and when it does I need to stop, quite literally. I’ve had to go home in the middle of get-togethers with friends, and I’ve had to stop mid-writing to go and take a nap. It’s annoying but — at least for now — it’s my reality, and I need to take care of it.

I’m working my way through the pile of library books slowly. Finished Fr. Andrew Greeley’s The Making of the Pope 2005, and am now reading John Shelby Spong’s Jesus for the Non-Religious and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Both are interesting, so far. Will talk about them when I am through.  I also have Seanan McGuire’s A Local Habitation on my iPhone, as well as Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. I’m also working my way through Dr. Phil McGraw’s Life Strategies, which is very interesting. I should note that I am disposed to like Dr. Phil — he calls for action instead of whinging, which is refreshing int his world where so many people feel that endlessly complaining about a problem is the same as doing something about it.

Anyway, that’s it for this week, I think. See everyone next time!


Your Grammarian is Particularly Grouchy Today…

I have spent much of this week editing a manuscript. Sadly, not one of mine, but when you get paid to edit, you edit.

However, it was rough going, largely because the author, who shall remain nameless, had no clue about how to format it.

It was not double-spaced. Some paragraphs were indented, others not. Some of it was right & left justified, some of it ragged right (which is, btw, the correct way). The writing was wooden and full of said bookisms. The three parts of the novel bore nothing to show how they were related. The characters did not engage the reader. Chapters did not begin on a new page. Oh, and instead of putting the page numbers in a header, the writer inserted page breaks and manually typed in the number at the top of each page.

So, what I want to talk about a bit is manuscript submission.

In the event you are planning to submit a manuscript to a publisher, there are a number of conventions that you should follow.

  1. Double-spacing. the manuscript should be double-spaced.
  2. Identification and Numbering. The first page should contain the author’s name, address, phone number, and e-mail address in a header, right-aligned. Pages two through the end of the manuscript should contain the author’s last name – title – page number in a header, also right aligned. If you don’t know how to set this up, go to headers in your word processing program, and set up for right aligned headers, with first page different, and type in the page two to end header, then go back to the first page and add your first page header.
  3. Spelling and grammar. The manuscript should be spell & grammar checked, even if you ignore some of the grammar changes the program suggests.
  4. Thoughts. When your characters have thoughts, they should be set off from the regular text. Some people choose to italicize the thoughts; others set them off in either <> or [] brackets.
  5. Said Bookisms. There are so many ways to treat dialogue that putting “he (or she) said/he (or she) noted/he (or she) replied/etc.” should generally be avoided. Have your character complete an action, walk away, pick something up…anything but using said bookisms over and over.
  6. Justification. Manuscripts should be submitted left-aligned (also known as right-ragged). The only exception for this is when a poem relies on the shape of the lines on the page.
  7. Chapters. Each chapter should begin on a new page. Chapter headings should be centered and in bold.
  8. Foreign Words. These should be italicized the first time they are used. Also, if your novel is set in 17th Century France, you should not use the Italian word for an object. Find the appropriate French word, or just use English.
  9. Page Breaks. Only use page breaks when necessary: between sections and at the end of chapters. So: Title Page, page break, Table of Contents, page break, Section Title (if used), page break, Chapter One, page break, etc., page break, Epilogue, page break, index (if any), page break.

That’s about all I can think of offhand, but I am sure there are other points  to remember, and — if I think of them — I will do another post.

See everyone next time.



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