Tag Archives: help with writing

Using Apostrophes – its and it’s Part 3

Photo on Flickr by mag3737

In the first post on Apostrophes, we looked at using them with plurals and singular nouns to show possession. The second post looked at using apostrophes with contractions. This post will examine a simple little word, yet the apostrophe is often used wrongly in it.

Its or it’s?

Do you know which is which?

In this case, the answer is simple – disregard the possession rule. So if you have a sentence:

The dog lolled out its tongue.

This is correct. You do not need to put an apostrophe in because you do not need the apostrophe to show possession of ‘it’.

However:

I love going to Spain. It’s a great place to have a holiday – lots of swimming pools and sunshine.

In the case of this sentence, ‘it’s’ is actually a shortened form of ‘it is’ – a contraction. So you will need the apostrophe.

In short when deciding whether to use ‘its’ or ‘it’s’, you need to know whether the word is showing possession or if it is a contraction. Only use the apostrophe if a letter is missing.

Try these out just for good measure. Is the apostrophe right or wrong?

The horse was lame in one of its hind hooves.

It’s OK you don’t need to explain it to me.

The house was old and ramshackle: it’s whole outward appearance was one of neglect.

Its dangerous to go water-skiing when the red flags are out.

Did you get it right?

The horse was lame in one of its hind hooves. – CORRECT

It’s OK you don’t need to explain it to me. – CORRECT

The house was old and ramshackle: it’s whole outward appearance was one of neglect.  WRONG – NO MISSING LETTER.

Its dangerous to go water-skiing when the red flags are out.  WRONG – ‘ITS’ IN THIS CASE IS SHORT FOR ‘IT IS’ SO IT SHOULD BE ‘IT’S’

Using apostrophes can be easy once you know how. This concludes this series of posts on apostrophes.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by mag3737

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Style Guide – A Guide to Using Apostrophes Correctly (Part 1)

Photo on Flickr by mag3737

I saw a question on a writers’ forum the other day. It read:

‘Is it time to abolish apostrophes completely?’

I can understand the writer’s frustration. Apostrophes are one piece of punctuation that it is very easy to get wrong – as demonstrated regularly on pub notices round where I live. Yet in the opening three sentences, I have used two apostrophes and used them perfectly correctly. So it is possible to learn how to use apostrophes. Here is a guide of when to use apostrophes and how to use them correctly.

E.g.         Jack’s computer

Jane’s bag

Both these objects belong to the person mentioned and so we use an apostrophe before we add an ‘s’.

However, sometimes the person’s name already ends in ‘s’ or more than one:

The bag belongs to Jess.

In this case, it is more usual to drop the extra ‘s’. Some writers may include it as a force of habit.

Jess’ bag (but it is still said, ‘Jesses bag’)

Easy enough when dealing with someone’s name but what if it is an animal, an object or even a pronoun?

The lion’s roar was loud.

The mouse’s squeak was quiet.

What if there can be confusion over whether the word is singular (one) or plural (more than one).

E.g.         The girls’ shrieks followed them on the roller coaster.

Here there is more than one girl. The word is plural, so the apostrophe goes on the outside of the word.

What about this?

The girl’s shrieks followed her on the roller coaster.

There is only one girl, so there is an apostrophe and an ‘s’. The use of the word ‘her’ rather than ‘them’ later on in the sentence confirms that there is only one girl rather than two or more.

You know that you might have got an apostrophe wrong if the sentence doesn’t quite seem to make sense. Are these right or wrong?

The boy’s shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girl’s tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ant’s crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

How did you do?

The answers were: wrong, right, wrong, right, wrong. In every case there was another word in the sentence which confirmed whether the initial word was singular or plural.

The boys’ shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girls’ tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ants’ crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

So if you are unsure where to place your apostrophe, then look for other words in the sentence which may help you to decide. Alternatively, decide which would make more sense.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by Mag3737

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A Quick Style Guide

When you are producing your piece of writing for a client, it is best to be consistent with grammar and spellings, particularly when using headings. Here are some of the most common things to look out for.

Headings

The beginnings of words in a heading should be capitalised unless they are small words such as ‘and’, ‘is’ or ‘of’. It is sometimes helpful to bold the heading to make it stand out from the rest of the text. Make sure that if you decide to do this, that all the headings are capitalised and in bold.

The Main Body of the Text

Start with your opening paragraph which sums up what the article will be about. Keep it short and succinct. It does not need a sub-heading over it – in fact your first sub-heading should be at least one paragraph in.

If you are writing for the web, then keep paragraphs short and to the point. There should be two to three paragraphs underneath each heading and of course they should be relevant!

Consistency, Checking and Counting Words

Photo by Martin Hagberg and used under Creative Commons licence

 

When you are writing your first draft, then just get the ideas down and let them flow. Write until you have finished, Then go back over it and read through. Check for spelling errors (be aware of the differences between American and UK spelling and use one consistently throughout). Also keep an eye out for grammatical problems and check out the word count.

Clients are usually very definite about the amount of words used in a piece of writing, but it is important to write in a focused way on the topic. Beware of fluff or filler. Take out any words that are unnecessary, read your work aloud to check for flow and ensure that your sentences are short and to the point rather than long and wordy. This makes them much easier to read.

End your writing with a strong point or call to action. Revise it again and again until you are happy with it.

Finally when you think your work is done, put it away for at least 24 hours before getting it out and reading it again. The distance is important: it allows you to view your work with fresh eyes and improve it.

Consistency and care is the key to producing strong work which you can be proud of and which is more likely to please your client and bring in more work commissions for you.

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Applying for a Writing Job

Photo on Flickr by Soapbeard

You’ve checked out the jobs boards, you’ve trolled the best sites and you’ve found a job that you are reasonably confident that you could do. Now what?

Now get up the confidence to apply for it! No job ever applies for itself and if you don’t try then you will never know if you could have got it. Here are a few pointers when applying for a writing job.

Send Your Best Writing


This sounds obvious, but its amazing how many writers don’t think of it: if you are applying for a writing job, then you need to write at your best. This is not a time for spelling mistakes or glaring grammar errors!

If you are applying to a job advert, then read it carefully. Some employers put instructions in the ad to ensure that applicants have read it thoroughly. Follow the instructions: if they ask for a CV then write a CV. If they ask you to call, then call; email then email. If they ask you to put “buckaroo” in bold in the middle of your CV, then do it! (They were probably testing you to see if you read the application thoroughly or not!)

Email as though You Were Writing a Letter

If you are applying through a jobs board, then the first contact is likely to be an email. Although these are usually informal, it will do you no harm to approach this as though it were a formal letter. Begin with ‘Dear’ and the client’s name and end with the appropriate ‘Yours Sincerely’ or ‘Yours Faithfully’. It sets you out as a business-like person. It creates a good impression and sets you out from the rest.

Explain why you are suited to the job and why you should be considered for the role. Keep it brief and relevant – no major life stories here. At the end of the letter, say that you look forward to hearing from them and sign off.

Include Contact Details

Make sure that you include full contact details so that any prospective employer can get in touch with you quickly.

Leave your email for a while before sending it (some people recommend 24 hours – but give it as long as you have got). Read it through again and correct any errors. Reading out loud will help.

Attach your CV if required. Send the email. Jobs boards usually have a closing date, so you could have a week or more to run before notifications are sent out. Keep an eye on the site to see if the job closes early.

If you have written on speck, then you may get a reply quite quickly. It may be “no thanks, I’ll keep you on record”, in which case keep applying to other people.

If you got the job, congratulations.

If there is no answer, don’t wait on it forever – get on with the next application. As previously stated: the more applications you send in, the more likely it is that you will get a ‘yes’.

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Helpful Blogs

Photo by Matsuyuki

The Internet is a great place to be involved in sometimes, especially for writers. No longer do writers have to sit in a solitary place, banging out another article on their keyboard.

Now we can network, share blogs, contact other writers and share details. We can even write a novel in a month!

Contact with other writers is essential so that we can share success and horror stories and help one another. We are no longer restricted to our own locality, but now the world is in our own backyard.

Here are some of the writing blogs that have inspired me. Go check them out and feel free to add some of your own.

http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/ Anne Wayman’s blog which is one of the best ones out there for newbies to read.

http://allfreelancewriting.com/ Jenn Mattern’s blog tells it how it is. She has strong opinions and pulls no punches, but her advice is always sound. Her blog is entertaining and she offers a free e-book – on writing e-books!

http://menwithpens.ca/ Men With Pens show you how it should be done. It’s a great blog with good advice.

http://bloggerillustrated.net/ If you want to understand what SEO, backlinks, and web sites have to do with the writing world, then you could do worse than visit Allyn Hane’s site. He explains it all simply and easily in video.

What websites have you found useful?

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How to Tell if Your Writing is Good

Photo on Flickr by Janos Feher

You’ve written a story. It may have flowed easily from your pen, or it may have come in fits and starts. You have got it in front of you: on a laptop, a notebook or a piece of paper. Now what?

Leave it for 24 hours. Or 48, or for a reasonable amount of time. You want to lose the immediacy of having written the story and to have forgotten some of the details. Then read it through again, trying to read it as a reader rather than the author of the piece. You will pick up on annoying phrases, repeated words, spelling mistakes. Ignore them for the moment and read through the story as a whole. Jot down impressions, ideas. Did it all work or was the thinking behind it a little woolly?

Go through the story again and pick out the weak points. Mark them out. Check out discrepancies, spellings, grammar. On a computer this can be easy as most desk top publishing packages will help you pick out any glaring errors. Make sure that you are working in the correct language so that the spellings are correct as English and American spellings can vary.

Your story is as good as you can make it? Now what?

Some people are happy to leave it there and just keep their stories in a file on the computer or in a drawer. Others want to know: is it any good?

The easiest way to know is to ask someone else to read it through. Did I say ‘easy’? Actually that is one of the hardest things to do! We all own our writing and can be very sensitive about it. Choose someone you trust and who knows you well. You may find that they have something that they would like you to read as well. The main thing when critiquing someone else’s work is to be kind and gentle, but fair. It is a difficult thing to learn.

Another way to find out if your writing is any good is to join a local writing class or group. Many local colleges offer creative writing courses these days and it can be a good way to get to know people with similar interests and a way to have your stories read. It can be a real confidence booster when you come up with a story that everyone enjoys.

There are also online groups which allow you to post stories to be critiqued and to give you the opportunity to critique someone else’s story. Be warned, however that the anonymity offered by some of these sites can be seen as an opportunity to be blunt.

It is good to take risks. Sometimes the result is a pleasant surprise. If you want to get serious with your writing, then seeking others’ advice is a good way to take. It can be difficult to get your confidence at first, but can also become addictive.

Try showing someone else your writing today and add in the comments if you were brave enough to do so.

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