The Grammar Battle

August 13, 2012

I bought my smart phone about a year and a half ago and swore I’d never adopt the abbreviations and made up words that are becoming so prevalent. As a writer, grammar is of utmost importance to me. Typos and misspellings make me crazy. Well, it took about two months of texting before I gave in to the shortened lingo. It’s just so much easier and faster to type LOL, OMG, what r u doing 2nite…

That said, there continues to be a debate (at least among certain age groups) about how we are losing our grammatical and communication skills. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but our modes and means of communicating are certainly changing. I do know that if you’re online at all, there’s a new kind of peer pressure to accept this new kind of “grammar”.

Some days I like it, some days I don’t. However, I have brought my grammatical pet peeves with me to the online world, and outline some of them here. Unfortunately, I now see/hear these in the written word as well as on TV and radio commercials, which makes me think that proper grammar is becoming extinct.

*It’s. Contraction. Stands for “it is”. It is blue. It’s blue.

*Its. It is a pronoun and replaces a noun. What is its name? Its name is irrelevant.

*There. Adverb, adjective, noun or pronoun. Denotes space. There you are. He went over there.

*Their. Pronoun. Possessive. Where is their car? Who are their relatives?

*That v. Which

If you can drop the clause without changing the meaning of the sentence, use which and set it off with commas. If dropping the clause changes the meaning of the sentence, use that.

Pizza that’s less than an inch deep just isn’t Chicago-style.

Pizza, which is a favorite among Chicagoans, can either bad for you or good, depending on how much of it you eat.

If you remove “that’s less than an inch deep” from the first sentence, it becomes inaccurate. If, however, you take out the clause “which is a favorite among Chicagoans” from the second sentence, it still makes sense.

(Example from the Chicago Manual of Style)

Last but not least, could we please remove the words “like” and “you know” from our vocabulary? You know, like, that makes me crazy.

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What Does Your Body Language Say?

July 25, 2011

If you stand or sit with your arms crossed, you’re closed off to what’s being said, right? If someone looks down or off to the side while they’re talking to you, they’re lying, right? Not necessarily, according to Janine Driver, an expert on body language.

I saw Driver speak a few months ago. She’s worked for the federal government, authored books on this subject, and teaches classes and speaks. I’ve also seen her on the Today show a couple times.

According to Driver, many of the old body language myths just aren’t true. She says you have to start with a baseline, and go from there. This works better with people you’ve know for awhile. For example, I’m often accused of being closed off when I cross my arms.  But my friends will tell you that I’m just comfortable standing leaned against a doorway with my arms crossed and my ankles crossed. That means I’m relaxed. An open stance with my legs apart and my arms down by my sides means I’m ready to argue.

If someone never looks you in the eye when they speak, but all of a sudden maintains direct eye contact, this could indicate they’re lying, due to the change. Get it?

The bottom line is to be aware of the body language habits of those with whom you interact. A change in their body language should alert you that something’s not right. Have you ever had that feeling that something is just off? And you don’t know why, because the person is saying all the right things? You just have a bad feeling. Their body language could be sending you signals of which you’re not even aware.

As for your own body language, Driver offered some tips for successful meetings and interactions:

*People like others who they perceive to be like themselves. So, mirror the other person’s behavior a bit. It will make you more likeable.

*Keep your feet flat on the ground during a meeting. Do not cross your legs or ankles. This isn’t because of the old “closed off” idea. Rather, it’s because you will have to uncross or recross them at some point, which will make you look nervous.

*When listening, tilt your head left to look more intelligent; tilt your head right to look more attractive.

*Standing with hands in your pockets can portray confidence, but only if you keep your thumbs out.

*If you’re sitting at a table, and you steeple your fingers, this can exude power and confidence. However, you have to be careful with this, because fingers in a “gun steeple” can indicate aggressive behavior.


*When talking one on one, do not sit directly across from the person. You’ll both be more comfortable if one of you is off to the side, because you won’t feel like you’re staring directly at each other when you talk.

Lastly, Driver says your intent affects your body language. For example, when you’re nervous, you can make others around you nervous by your body language. On the other hand, if you’re grateful, you’ll likely find the other person more open to what you have to say, because your body language will illustrate this.

Fascinating stuff. For me, I have to be aware of crossing my arms and legs, because I know it gives the wrong impression. What body language do you use that people are misinterpreting? If you really want to know, ask your friends and family. You may be surprised what they say.

What about politicians and elected officials? What about others in the news? Are they being honest? Check out Driver’s blog at www.JanineDriver.com. She does some analyses of people in the news – and gives her insights as to whether they’re lying or being deceptive.

I’d love to hear your body language tips, too. Just post them as comments on the blog. (note: if you post in a linkedin group, your comments will not show up or be retained on the actual blog site)


Keyword Proliferation – not just meta tags anymore

September 21, 2010

The notion of a “keyword” first came to my attention over a decade ago when I was building my first web site. Among the metatags, it was important to put keywords so search engines could/would index your site.

At that time, the sort of informal rule was to use less than 30 keywords (or maybe it was 50); if you used more than that, the search engines “would be suspicious” and you might not get the results you wanted. I put 28 keywords (or maybe it was 48) in the code of each page, not just the home page. Obviously, I was looking for as much exposure as possible. Some people laughed at me and thought I was overdoing it. To me, it was much better to have 28 keywords for indexing than just the 8 or 10 words the others had.

Fast forward to the year 2010, and it’s now necessary to put keywords in most everything.

Usually the top recommendation for optimizing your Linked In profile is the propitious use of keywords. The search function works by keyword, so you need to decide what keywords a potential employer may search for, and include those words in your title, status and profile.

Many employers now review resumes electronically, and if you don’t have specific keywords, a live person may never see your resume or cover letter. Again, you need to focus on what words hiring managers may use.

When I started my blog recently, I hunted around until I found the place to put keywords. In the case of my blog, my keywords are for people interested in the topic(s) about which I’m writing.

Press releases used to be just for the press. You sent your news directly to the reporter or producer or to the wire services. If you put your press release on your web site, it was more of a courtesy than a real marketing tool.

Now, releases can be and are often viewed by the public in addition to the press. As it becomes more and more common to turn to the internet first for information, you need to include keywords in your online communications, such as news releases. Think about what is of interest to your customers. What could they be looking for that you offer?

Twitter, I would suggest, is all about keywords, since you have a limited number of characters through which to broadcast your message.

The bottom line is if you’re interested in promoting your business, you need to think long and hard about the appropriate use of keywords. If you are well versed in the subject, you’ll unconsciously include appropriate keywords as you write. However, it’s important to look at the piece before you publish it and identify the keywords. When you do this, you can decide if all the necessary keywords are included or if you should add more. It’s much easier to write, and then go back and substitute a few words, than it is to try and write something with a whole list of words next to you to include. It’s too stifling that way.

So if you’re trying to catch the attention of a certain audience, as most of us are, you need to add another step to your writing process:

1) Write/edit/check sources

2) Add keywords

3) Proofread

4) Publish


Proofreading: Top Do & Top Don’t

September 13, 2010

You’ve spent days or weeks writing your very important document, and it’s now time to publish it. But first it needs to be proofread.

Since you’ve spent so many hours writing and re-writing your document, you’re not the best person to proofread it. When you read things over and over, you tend to almost memorize them, and you’re less likely to see mistakes. You know what it “should” say, so you can even fill in words in your head that aren’t actually on the paper. This is especially tough for speed-readers, who can’t slow down their reading enough to catch mistakes. Some speed-readers routinely skip the smaller words; other speed-readers skip many more words.

If you have time, set it aside for a day or two, then take a fresh look at it. Or if you’re lucky, you have a proofreader in-house. Most of us don’t.

My solution? Read it backwards – out loud. And spell the words.

For example, if the sentence is “The sky is blue.”, read as follows:  blue, b-l-u-e, is, i-s, sky, s-k-y, the, t-h-e.

Proofreading backwards is very time-consuming, but it will catch any spelling errors or typos. It will not catch grammatical errors. I first learned this proofreading technique when working on technical journals.

You can also have someone read the document to you  – either backwards or forwards. For example: The, capital t-h-e, sky, s-k-y, is, i-s, blue, b-l-u-e, period. 

Obviously, if you’re reading forward, you are more likely to catch grammatical errors.

And don’t, don’t, don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker and grammar checker. Use it as one tool, but don’t use it as your only tool. A spell checker can’t tell you if the word should be “too” or “to”. It won’t tell you if the word is “there” or “their”. The grammar checker may catch some of these words, but it won’t catch them all.

You may also want to REMOVE some words from your spell checker. For example, if you use the word “gape” frequently but have mistakenly typed it as “gap”, remove “gap” from your spell checker.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  Hopefully, after reading this post, you won’t.


Is LinkedIn a Myth? A few tips and ?s

August 25, 2010

Have you or anyone you know gotten a new job through LinkedIn? I don’t know of anyone who has found a job that way, but I keep hearing over and over that LinkedIn is the place to be.  Examples and instructions abound on how to present the best you so that recruiters will find you:

Recruiters search daily to fill open jobs, so be sure to optimize your profile so you show up in their searches.

Searches are accomplished through keywords, so ensure you have the correct keywords in your profile. 

Keyword searches specifically look at your status/title, summary and specialties.

Include descriptions and accomplishments with each of your previous jobs.

Target companies at which you’d like to work, and find connections who already work there.

Find connections at companies for which you have a job lead.

Go after multiple recommendations; this looks better.  Increase your number of contacts; this looks better. On the flip side, I’ve also read that neither of these things matter; it’s the profile that’s important.

Who knows? Do you? Are the recruiters looking here? Is LinkedIn the latest job hunting ground? Or is that a myth?


Plagiarism Police in an Online World

August 18, 2010

I’ve never been one for depriving individuals of the right to free speech and free expression, nor am I a huge fan of “big brother”, but I’m beginning to think we need some online plagiarism police.

“Plagiarize” – as defined by Webster’s

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Those of us online feel varying degrees of freedom in sharing our ideas, thoughts, words and pictures. Many times it seems as if those with the least to say feel the most free in sharing. But in a professional world, how much should we share online?

In his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” , David Meerman Scott talks about posting his ideas on his blog, which can prompt intelligent discussions. However, his editors worry that he is “giving away” all his ideas. Scott counters this with a claim that the online discussions helped improve his books. I can see both sides to this, but I have to admit I’m with his editors. I wonder how many of his ideas have shown up under someone else’s name.

In school, if you changed every 3rd or 5th word or something like that, then you technically weren’t plagiarizing. That was the rule. So, what are the rules online? Just like with any other community, many of the rules are decided by the members of the community, but you always have unethical members. Since it’s so easy to link and point back to sources, I think it’s even more unethical (and stupid) not to attribute the original sources. Of course, all the online resources can also enable plagiarizing.

I was reading a blog by Angela Hausman on 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Social Networking . It’s a good blog; she has some interesting things to say. Unfortunately, another person liked the post too much. The author found her exact words posted on someone else’s blog as original content. Shame on that person. Angela is looking for ways to reduce intellectual property theft, and I agree it’s an important issue that should be addressed sooner rather than later. You can read her response to this “Rip Off” on her Rip Off Blog.

Tae Hyun Moon has been posting in some of the Linked In groups a new electronic resume format. It has some excellent ideas and has generated quite a bit of interest. Again, there’s a but… I’m not comfortable posting my resume online since a so-called friend decided to copy my summary, specialties and job descriptions almost word for word into her own resume. I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, and I was appalled that someone just entering the communications field would find nothing wrong with using my words on her resume. She said I should be flattered. I’m not.

On the flip side, Tae Hyun Moon noted that he is attempting to introduce a new format for resumes, and would like this spread far and wide. In this case, he wants people to copy his format, in the hopes it will create a new generation of electronic resumes. I hope this will be successful.

So what are the rules? And how do you police against online plagiarism? I don’t have the answers, but I bet someone online does.

8/18 note of interest: Mackinac Center says school consolidation study by MSU professor for Booth Newspapers may contain some plagiarized material


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