Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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

Archive for the category “Punctuation”

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.



A Punctuation Poem

Sadly, it’s not by me.  A writer calling herself blueslite published this on a site called Bubblews.

It’s called “Can I Interest You in a Punctuation Mark?”

Bubblews is an interesting little site for generating residual income.  You can post short articles, long articles, reviews, recipes, pictures – just about anything, and you get paid for likes, clicks, views, etc.  Social networking that pays you to play!  I can live with that.

Of course, as a freelancer already, I don’t have as much time to spend there as I’d like, but it’s been fun so far!

Another Argument – This Time Over Punctuation

Ah. There is a vicious argument going on over at Linked In. It concerns whether to use one or two spaces after a period. The originator of the discussion, one Shereese , quotes Farhad Manjoo from Slate magazine, who says:

“Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.”

Mr. Manjoo’s entire column on this subject can be found here. I strongly suggest reading it, as it is well-thought-into. Unlike the young woman quoting him, Mr. Manjoo looks at both sides of the argument. He notes the arbitrariness of both schools of thought, and discusses the history of spacing, as well as why typographers prefer single spacing after periods.

Like many of us, I learned in school that when typing, one places two spaces after a period. Of course, I learned to type long before word processors and computers were common in offices. I first learned on a portable manual typewriter, then (in college) upgraded to an IBM Selectric typewriter. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the office I was in replaced typewriters — first with word processors, then a year or so later, with computers. And when we got the computers, no one ever said anything about changing how we typed.

A year or so ago, I began hearing that it was no longer considered proper to use two spaces after a period. (And, I note, that I still have not heard about using only one space after a colon.) I have checked with a few friends who are professional proofreaders, and they have told me the following: “It is no longer necessary to leave two spaces after a period because computers are designed to do the kerning that typewriters were not.” However, I have not, until recently, heard people assert that those who use the double space are just plain wrong and ignorant.

Again, the arrogance of the young raises its head — assuming that anyone who does not do things their way is wrong, and deserves derision. The truth is that if you learned to type using the double space, it is probably ingrained in your habits. And, just like any other habit, it takes time to break it and retrain yourself to do something different. Mind, the arrogance of the old is no bargain either. It amounts to, “This is how I learned; therefore, it is written in stone that I am right.” The style manuals are not much help either. Some say that both methods are correct; some favor one or the other.

If you are a professional content provider, I would suggest checking with your clients to see which method they want you to use. You would check the client’s style manual or writers’ guidelines before submitting work, anyway.

As I have said before, language evolves — even formal, written language. And, while I do not like some of the changes, I neither make the rules nor write the style guides. I am trying to ingrain this new convention, since the reason makes sense to me, but after 45 years of using a double space after a period, it may take some time.

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