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Photo by Stuart Miles

The writing life may be a solitary one but that doesn’t mean you can’t access the help that is out there. This starts with where you choose to compose your work. After you select an article, you have the option of typing directly on Content Runner or writing it elsewhere and then pasting it here. I use a combination of both. Content Runner’s platform allows you to use bolding, underlining, bullet points, and other word processing features in addition to inserting links into your article at the client’s request.

When I do work type here directly, I transfer it to Word after every paragraph or so in case my computer suddenly crashes. I’ve also been known to hit CTRL + X instead of CTRL + C in the past and lose all my work in one clumsy move. When that happens to you more than once, you learn to be overly cautious. Either way, my work ends up on Microsoft Word eventually and that provides me with all kinds of feedback.

Why Word is My Favorite

I do several things after completing each article. The first is to run a spelling and grammar check on Word. It corrects me as I type, but I find that stopping to fix the errors interrupts my train of thought. I have this ingrained habit of writing long and passive sentences that I wouldn’t know to correct if it wasn’t for the review feature of Word. It also provides the following useful statistics:

• Word count
• Character count
• Paragraph
• Sentences
• Sentences per paragraph
• Words per sentence
• Characters per word
• Passive sentence percentage
• Reading ease
• Reading grade level

While this might seem like overkill, it’s writer nirvana for me. As you know, all assignments come with a desired word count. Both Word and the Content Runner platform provide that. Some clients also request me to write content at a certain grade level. I love big words and I cannot lie. That feature helps me scale back on my tendency to be verbose when necessary.

Grammarly and Hemingway

The one downside of Word is that it comes as part of a larger Microsoft Office software program that you must purchase and download onto your computer. The cost is a factor for some people, as is the disc storage space that it requires. For those who prefer a desktop application, Grammarly and Hemingway are both good options. They point out spelling errors, passive sentences, parts of your writing that are difficult to read, and other essential information. I tried using both of these applications for about a month recently when I inherited an Internet-only computer from my late mother. I did end up going back to my laptop with Word installed on it.

The one thing I disliked about Grammarly is that it was always trying to get me to upgrade to a paid subscription. It told me basic errors for free and then said I could only see critical errors if I upgraded. I’m assuming they weren’t too critical because no one asked for a revision and Grammarly itself sent me a report stating I was more accurate than 91 percent of its users. It also pointed out things that were often correct.

My daughter, who is a junior in high school, told me about Hemingway. I can see how it would be useful for someone writing term papers, but I didn’t find it as helpful for the type of writing we do at Content Runner. The Hemmingway app points out:

• Hard to read sentences
• Very hard to read sentences
• Phrases with a simpler alternative
• Passive sentences
• Adverbs

I often got dinged for hard to read sentences because I included list items. I also don’t see the problem with using a lot of adverbs for descriptive purposes. However, everyone has their own preferences and you may favor one of these desktop applications over Word.

Copyscape

Way back in the spring of 2011, which was long before I found Content Runner, another site I wrote for returned an article stating that it didn’t pass Copyscape. I didn’t know what that meant and felt insulted at the insinuation that my work wasn’t original. It turns out that some of the phrases showed up elsewhere on the Internet. This is a common problem, especially when you write multiple articles about a single topic.

Users can enter up to 2,000 words of text into Copyscape and it returns results in about a second. I now run a Copyscape check for everything I write. It costs me five cents a search but that is well worth it to me. I haven’t gotten one of those embarrassing emails since.

Sites to Improve Writing and SEO Skills

I have known I wanted to be a writer since age eight, many moons ago. However, online content writing was entirely new to me when I stumbled upon it four years ago. It had also been a while since I had written any type of article. Let’s just say I had tons of bad habits. Since I really wanted my new career to pan out, I devoted some time each day to improving my writing. I used sites like Purdue Owl and Grammar Girl as well as purchased the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide. The site I wrote for the most at that time required everyone to write in AP style.

I have recently discovered the website Copyblogger that is the Internet’s authority on all things copywriting. Writing for search engine optimization wasn’t a skill I automatically possessed in the beginning. It requires an understanding of keyword density and Google page rankings for starters. Back in 2011, clients placed a greater emphasis on keywords than they do now. That’s because Google frequently changes its rules and now stresses quality content over keyword stuffing. Speaking of Google, just enter a search on learning SEO skills to find many free resources.

I hope these hacks have been helpful to you. Please comment below with anything you use to make the writing life easier.