All posts by Ian Faight

5 Tips to Proofread More Effectively

Let’s face it, proofreading is a skill that some people have a knack for and others dread. While everyone has their own approach, here are five tricks that may help you become a better proofreader.

Take a Nap

Well maybe not a nap, but take a break after you are done writing. By giving your mind some rest, you’ll be able to come back and proof your work with fresh eyes.

Print it Out

Looking at a computer screen for an extended period of time can strain your eyes. Print your work and you may—like I usually do—find some typos.

Speak your Words

Maybe you didn’t see any missing words or commas, but hearing what you wrote may uncover unseen errors.

Read Backwards

No, don’t read each word backwards, read the sentences in reverse order, starting with the last line of your document. This trick helps because your brain knows what it meant to write, but maybe that’s not what was written.

Call on a Friend

Or a coworker. After you are satisfied with your work, it’s always a good idea to have someone else take a look at it. New eyes may spot things that you missed.

 

Are there other grammar questions that you’d like us to explore further? Let us know in the comments!

business man

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Should it be Capitalized?

Proper capitalization is an important component of well-written content, but are you confident you’re capitalizing words correctly? For the most part, we all know to capitalize proper nouns, such as names, cities, and titles, but as always, there are rules to follow. Here are some quick tips:

The First Word of a Sentence

This is a simple one, but there are some instances where you may be questioning if the first word should be capitalized. For example, capitalize the first word of a quotation that is a complete sentence, but not a sentence fragment.

The football coach said, “We need to go out there and compete.” At times, he said the team “took plays off.”

Family Relationships

Words that designate family relationships should be capitalized when they are used as proper nouns.

I’m taking Dad to a baseball game this weekend. You should bring your dad.

Professional Titles

Professional titles should be capitalized when they precede an individual’s name or when referring to the person without mentioning his or her name. Titles should always be lowercase if they follow a name.

Tom Wolf, governor of Pennsylvania, held a Twitter town hall last month. During the session, people could tweet questions to the Governor. One user asked if a hot dog is a sandwich, to which Governor Wolf replied, “Yes, and a good one, too.”

Days, Months, and Holidays, but not Always Seasons

Days of the week, months, and holidays should always be capitalized because they are proper nouns. However, seasons should remain lowercase, unless they are part of a proper name or title.

Do you have any plans on Memorial Day? It’s on a Monday, right?

It’s going to be summer soon, which makes me wonder, when is the next Summer Olympics?

Directions

Directions can be tricky. Compass directions—north, south, east, and west—aren’t capitalized. Regions, such as Western Pennsylvania, are capitalized.

I drove west for a few hours, but still haven’t reached the Midwest.

 

Do you have any other questions for us to explore that’ll help improve your writing?

Confused About Using ‘Further’ and ‘Farther’?

Today, we are talking about the differences between further and farther, as we continue our series on commonly confused words.

To be fair, both words mean “at a more distant place” and are commonly used interchangeably in most English-speaking countries, with farther being rarely used. However, if you’re a stickler for grammar, they should be used in different situations, at least in American English.

Fear not though, there’s a simple distinction between the two words. Further is used when talking about figurative or metaphorical distances (more time, more effort, etc.), while farther is used for physical distances (more miles, more inches, etc.).

Need a tip for when to use farther? Take the stem word—far—and think about the opening line of Star Wars IV: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Here, this imaginary galaxy is farther—not further—away than the coffee shop down the street. Why? Because we are talking about the physical distance to the other galaxy, whether it is 100 feet or 100 parsecs.

If you’re in a pinch and can’t decide which word to use, go with further.

Are there other grammar questions that you’d like us to explore further?

Confused about using ‘affect’ and ‘effect?’

Affect and effect look and sound almost the same, but that doesn’t mean they can be used interchangeably. Unfortunately, they are two of the most commonly misused words, but figuring out which one to use is easier than you may think.

Simply put, affect is almost always used as a verb, and effect as a noun. Affect means to influence someone or something, or to produce a result, whereas effect is the result of a cause or action.

  • Apollos Hester’s post-game interview had an inspirational effect on me. How did it affect you?

Affect also can mean to act in a way that’s not typical, and effect can mean a private possession. For example:

  •  Normally energetic and supportive, Coach Tomlin affected an air of disappointment on the sideline.
  •  Packing up personal effects is always the hard part of moving.

Before we close this blog out, let’s address why I said affect and effect are almost always used as a verb and noun, respectively. Sometimes it’s the other way around. When used as a verb, effect means to bring about or to accomplish.

  • Coach Franklin hopes the upcoming bye week effects improvement in the Nittany Lions’ offense.

Likewise, affect can be used as a noun—although rarely—meaning an emotional state or implying a mood someone is experiencing.

  • After the Steelers lost to the Browns, I sat on my couch in an emotionless affect.

Would you like us to explore other grammar questions? Let us know in the comments.

6 Tips for a Successful Magazine Pitch

Ok, you have a great idea for an article and you’d like to get it published in a specific magazine. Easy enough, right? Nope. The hard part is pitching it to ever-busy editors. Here are six tips for a successful pitch:

1. Research the magazine and editor(s)

It may seem obvious, but make sure you’re familiar with the magazine. Read past issues, know the audience, study the writing style, and browse the website. Also, review the magazine’s editorial calendar for the themes and topics that will be covered in upcoming issues, and think about where your article could fit.

You likely can find email addresses for editors in the magazine or online. Find an editor that is responsible for your topic or department. Remember, there is more of a chance to get a response from an assistant editor than the editor-in-chief.

2. Pitch a story, not an idea

An editor is probably not going to be interested in your idea for an article on a general topic, such as college football. Instead, try pitching a story on the four dark-horse candidates to win the Heisman.

3. Focus on the subject line

The subject line of your email is arguably the most important component of your pitch. Make it short and to the point. For example, “Possible article for November issue?” or “Article pitch: Four candidates to win the Heisman,” can capture an editor’s interest.

4. Send a pre-pitch email

You may or may not have an existing relationship with the editor, so it could be a good idea to send an email to reconnect or introduce yourself. Tell the editor that you were looking over their media kit and have a story on this year’s Heisman hopefuls that would be a great addition to the November issue. Be brief—two or three sentences—and say you’ll follow up in a week with a full pitch. Sometimes, the editor may ask for the article at this point.

5. Prepare the pitch

Think of the pitch as an audition for the editor to judge your writing ability. Write a few compelling paragraphs, starting with a brief summary of the article. Next, explain why the story is a fit for the magazine and its readers. Include a paragraph with details on planned interviews or other articles you’ve written. The closing paragraph should reiterate the article’s topic and why it’s relevant to the reader.

Don’t forget to proofread the email. Aside from checking grammar, make sure the editor’s name is spelled correctly and the right magazine is listed. One little mistake like that can direct your pitch to the trash and your email address to the ignore list.

6. Follow up

Editors are busy, so be proactive—but not annoying—with follow-up emails. If they give you the green light, congrats! If the editor passes on the article, thank them for their time and ask them to keep you in mind for future articles. Remember, pitching an article is not only about editorial placement, it’s also about building a relationship with the editor and magazine.

Do you have any other tips that have helped you successfully pitch an article? Let us know in the comments.

Are You Using ‘That’ and ‘Which’ Correctly?

In everyday conversation, people use that and which interchangeably without giving the words much thought. However, when using them as relative pronouns to introduce adjective clauses, the choice of using that or which determines the meaning of a sentence. It’s another grammar rule that is more important in writing than it is in speech.

So, how do you know which word to use? Simply put, use that before a restrictive clause and which before a nonrestrictive clause. Easy enough, right?

That

Restrictive (or essential) clauses limit the meaning of the nouns they modify. They add important information, and leaving it out would change the sentence’s meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers that are topped with cheddar sell fast.

In this sentence, we specifically know the bacon cheeseburgers with cheddar sell fast. We don’t know anything about the burgers with a different cheese.

Which

Nonrestrictive (or nonessential) clauses simply provide additional information that can be left out of a sentence without changing its meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers, which are topped with cheddar, sell fast.

In this sentence, we can assume cheddar is on every bacon cheeseburger and they all sell fast.

Did you notice the commas in the nonrestrictive clause example and how they are absent in the restrictive clause example. The rule of thumb is to surround a nonrestrictive clause with commas. If the sentence ends in a nonrestrictive clause, set it off with a single comma. For example, “I ate a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, which was delicious.”

Would you like us to explore other grammar questions? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Our Favorite Pittsburgh Things: Summer

If the intense heat wasn’t a dead giveaway, let it be known that summer is well underway. While we are able to enjoy all four seasons—some more than others—summer offers nice weather and a variety of activities: some that you may have been doing since you were a kid and some that you may not even know about. That’s why it’s one of our favorite Pittsburgh things.

Catch a ballgame

The Pittsburgh Pirates are normally hitting their stride and climbing in the rankings this time of the year. Even if you’re not a fan, enjoying a day at PNC Park and the surrounding area offers a variety of activities, whether you’re into food, music, or a casual stroll along the Allegheny River.

Seek some thrill

Kennywood’s open! Whether you are looking for some thrills, roller coasters, driving recklessly in a bumper car, or feasting on Potato Patch fries, Kennywood offers a chance to relive your youth and make new memories.

Fun in the sun

If you’re not lucky enough to have your own backyard pool, it seems like there is one available in every community. But, if you’re feeling more adventurous, spend a day riding the slides or floating around at Sandcastle.

The great outdoors

While there’s plenty to do in Pittsburgh, sometimes it’s nice to get away from city life. There are countless camp sites, rafting locations, and off-roading sites that are within an hour or two.

Beach bum

Ok, maybe you can’t be a beach bum in Pittsburgh, but Lake Erie is roughly two hours away. Pack up the family or gather some friends and spend a day at the lake and work on your tan. There’s nothing more relaxing than having your toes in the water; bum in the sand.

Those are some of our favorite things about summer in Pittsburgh. What are yours?

PNC Park

PNC Park

Understanding Stock Photos and Images

In a recent blog post, we discussed what you should know about purchasing usage rights for photography. Sometimes, however, all you need is a simple image to enhance your website, newsletter, blog, ad, coffee mug, or…you get the idea.

This is where stock image agencies come into play. While stock photos have their faults, they offer plenty of benefits. Here are the basics that you should know.

Advantages

  • Quick and easy – Stock photos and images are ready for immediate use with a few clicks of your mouse.
  • Variety – The popular stock photo agencies provide easy access to 8 to 13 million images. Check out Can Stock Photo, iStock, Thinkstock, etc.
  • Inexpensive – Stock photos are affordable, starting at just a few bucks. To make things even easier, stock agencies offer several payment options, such as the ability to buy a single photo, packs of credits, or subscriptions. Prices are based on size and resolution, so you won’t be paying for a high-res image that’s suitable for a poster, when you only need it for your blog.
  • Licenses – A stock photo usually comes with a standard license that allows it to be reproduced up to 500,000 times. Extended licenses also are available if necessary.

Disadvantages

  • Not a perfect fit – While you can search pages upon pages of photos, you may not find exactly what you want.
  • Can be dated – Pay attention to any clothing or technology that’s pictured, as they can quickly make the photo obsolete.
  • Not exclusive use – Remember, someone else has access to the same image. It could get awkward if your competitor used the same image in their ad. More on this below.
  • Restrictions – With a standard license, most stock photos come with some restrictions. For example, they can’t be used on merchandise with the intent to sell. Buying an extended license eliminates many restrictions.

Royalty free vs. Rights-managed

  • Royalty free images are paid for once, and they can be used how and as often as you like (up to 500,000 impressions with a standard license). However, you will have non-exclusive use.
  •  Rights-managed images are essentially rented for a fixed fee per use. With a rights-managed image, there are still some restrictions on how you can use it, such as for a limited time or print run, and possibly only in a specific geographic region. However, you can purchase exclusive rights, so that no one else can use the image while you are “renting” it.

Questions? Leave us a comment.

Understanding Usage Rights for Photos and Images

At lot of creative planning and thought goes into developing a newsletter, brochure, ad, or other marketing collateral. You and/or your designer probably spend a considerable amount of time selecting the perfect visuals for your work, which almost always involves “buying” photos.

First, let’s be clear that when you purchase a photo from a photographer, you’re actually “licensing” it for use within specific parameters, unless you buy its copyright. When negotiating with a photographer, it’s important to accurately disclose how you will be using the photo to avoid paying for usage rights that you’ll never use.

Here are some general usage terms to cover:

Market Categories: How will you use the photo?
Editorial use includes using the photo for educational or journalistic purposes, such as newspaper or magazine articles.
Commercial use involves using the photos to sell or promote a product or service, and is the most expensive category. However, if you are using the photo for promotional efforts, but not in a print or digital ad or billboard, you can normally fine tune your needs and lower the cost.
Retail use refers to photos that are purchased or commissioned for personal use, such as family portraits, weddings, etc.

Usage Rights: How many times and in how many ways will you be using the image?
Limited: If you plan on using the photo in one brochure and printing a specific quantity, then you probably only need to purchase limited rights.
Unlimited: Unlimited usage rights grant you the ability to use the photo an unlimited number of times for the uses that you’ve negotiated with the copyright owner. However, unlimited usage rights do not give you the ability to transfer rights to a third party for their use.
Copyright: If you want to own the photo and do whatever you want with it, then you can purchase its copyright for a hefty fee.

Exclusivity: Do you want others to be able to use the same photo?
Non-Exclusive rights mean that a photo can be licensed to other people or companies at any time.
Exclusive-to-Industry rights mean that a photo cannot be licensed to anyone else within the same industry.
Exclusive rights mean that a photo cannot be licensed to anyone else during the length of your license.

Time Period: How long will you be using the photo? Licensing agreements typically last for one year unless otherwise specified.

Geographic Region: Will the image be used within your company, city, state, nationally, or internationally? As the audience size increases, so does the licensing cost.

Lastly, remember that images—like music—are intellectual property, and any image seen in print or on the Internet is protected by U.S. copyright law, with or without a copyright notice. This means that images found through a Google search cannot be legally used without purchasing usage rights or acquiring permission from the owner—no matter how harmless your blog or tweet may seem.

In future blogs, we’ll take a look at stock photos and where to find images covered by a Creative Commons license.

Questions? Leave them in the comment section.

Is It Who or Whom?

While thinking of a topic to blog about, I was looking at headlines on a popular news website when I saw, “Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?” I smiled, but then I clicked the link and read, “Who might Phil Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?” My smile turned upside down.

Who vs Whom

While “who” and “whom” are both pronouns, many people do not use them correctly. The rule of thumb is to use “who” when referring to the subject of a clause—the person doing something—and “whom” when referring to the object—the person having something done to them.

There’s a really simple trick to help you figure out which pronoun to use. If the question can be answered with “he” (she, they, or we), then use “who,” but if it’s answered with “him” (her, them, or us), then use “whom.” The “m” in “him” and “whom” is the trick. Simple.

Who/Whom will Jackson hire to coach Knicks?

Jackson is the subject and the soon-to-be coach is the object. Jackson will hire “him,” so “whom” is correct.

Who/Whom might Jackson want as his first Knicks coach?

Here, the new coach is still the object. Jackson might want “him,” so “whom” should have been used.

Who/Whom will start in goal for the Penguins in game four?

Here, the goalie is the subject. “He” will start in goal, so “who” is correct.

Because many of us do not think fast enough on our feet, the distinction between “who” and “whom” is generally less important in speech than it is in writing. Unfortunately, since people aren’t taking the time to learn the difference between the two pronouns, the use of “whom” may disappear altogether.