If you are assigned to Onsite Blogs on WritersDomain, you doubtless want to get paid as much as possible for your work. And to get the highest score—and therefore the most money—possible, you need to understand our style specifications for Onsite Blogs.
Why do we pay less for articles with style errors when we have editors? The WritersDomain editors have hundreds of articles to edit at any given time, and the fewer things we have to change, the faster we can get blog articles to clients (and the sooner we can pay you). So that our editors can work through articles efficiently, we encourage writers to submit clean articles by paying more for pieces that correctly adhere to our guidelines.
Your mastery of our style is in everyone’s best interest, but unfortunately, we can’t fit blog-length explanations into your feedback. We can, however, go into more depth here. Here are two questions we get a lot, along with our explanations.
1. I get docked for “improper colon use.” What am I doing wrong?
The most common problem we see with colon use is a colon placed at the end of the blog’s introduction. The confusion is likely because our writing guidelines tell writers to introduce lists with colons, and some writers count the headings of articles as items in a list. Section 5.2.3 of the Onsite Blogging Guidelines clarifies:
Your sentence or sentence fragment immediately before the bulleted or numbered list should end in a colon. This principle does not apply to headings that form a list in a blog post.
In other words, if you have a numbered or bulleted list in your Onsite Blog, then introduce it with a sentence or sentence fragment that ends in a colon. For example, we could use a list introduced with a colon to clarify that at WritersDomain, we love many punctuation marks, including:
- Em dashes
- En dashes
Because the Onsite Blog Guidelines state that we should introduce and follow up a list with at least one line of text, we would then make another statement concerning our love for punctuation.
However, since we don’t use colons to introduce headings that form a list, we wouldn’t use a colon to introduce the body of an article.
For example, at the end of the introduction for this FAQ post, we introduce our headings by explaining that this post will answer questions writers often have. You’ll notice that we ended the introduction with a period, not with a colon, in line with the Onsite Blog Guidelines. You can read more about colon use in web writing on pages 202 and 203 of the Yahoo! Style Guide.
2. What are “dummy subjects,” and why are they bad?
You may receive feedback telling you to cut out instances of dummy subjects or existential it or there.
A dummy subject is a pronoun that functions as the subject of a sentence but doesn’t have a referent, which is a word that a pronoun stands in for. Some call dummy subjects dummy pronouns. The most common are it and there. When writers use it and there as dummy subjects, we also call them existential it and existential there, respectively.
For example, you can say, “It’s raining.” In this sentence, it is a dummy subject because you can’t replace it with a noun from the sentence. It has no logical referent (also called an antecedent).
Dummy subjects are grammatically correct because they’re sometimes appropriate. Try saying, “The clouds are raining.” Sounds weird, right?
While sometimes helpful, more often than not dummy subjects clutter up your writing and make it harder to read. Not convinced? Compare these two sentences:
It will then be time for your roofing professional to install new shingles.
Your roofing professional will then install new shingles.
The second version is clearer and more concise, and the dummy subject in the first example doesn’t add anything to the sentence.
The problem with dummy subjects isn’t with the grammar. In fact, writers sometimes use dummy subjects on purpose to shift the emphasis to the action of the sentence or to deemphasize the actor.
The problem is that, in most cases, dummy subjects are not stylistically appropriate. Especially in large numbers, they impede the flow of a piece, bulk up the word count with filler text, undermine concision, and make the point of an article harder to discern.
Quick information is one thing web readers want—even require—and when we cut out unnecessary dummy subjects, we get straight to the point.
Time to improve
Work on these two style matters for the next few weeks, and then compare your writing before and after the experiment to see how you improved. And as always, if you have a question or want to see a particular issue addressed in an FAQ post, let us know in the comments or send an email to [email protected].