Grammarly Speaking

With titles like “8 Scrumptious Words to describe your Thanksgiving Dinner” and “The Top 9 Grammar Mistakes in Fifty Shades of Grey – and How to Fix Them,” Grammarly’s  blog puts a new spin on promoting proper grammar usage.


Grammarly is an online grammar and spelling checker that  helps users find and correct writing mistakes. It checks for  more than
250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations.

Visually, the blog is very appealing. It has a very simple layout but one that offers a lot of content.

In addition to the latest, writing tips, it also features “trending” tips down the right hand side of the page.

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As a writer, I am always looking for ways to improve my copy and Grammarly offers tips in a fun way with eye-catching headlines that make readers take notice.

A modest call to action is located in the middle of the page in the form of an invitation to sign up for weekly emails.

Yet, the blog is just one way Grammarly offers tips.

In addition to a website, Grammarly also has strong social media presence including Facebook and Twitter pages.

Recently, Grammarly hosted a “TweetUp” on Twitter to discuss the sometimes uncomfortable subject of correcting grammar mistakes made by others in places like social media or the workplace.


More than slap on the wrist, Grammarly puts a practical and fun spin on improving copy.






















When Advertisements Attack: Information Versus Intrusion

In the internet’s infancy, advertisements were few and the surfing was easy.

That was before advertisers discovered that they could leverage search engines and just about every website that would allow advertisements and ads in news’ clothing.

Generally, ads are a good thing. They bring attention to good and services available to those looking for them.

Yet in this age of big data and analytics attached to every part of web life, those once innocent ads can be unintentionally malicious.

Think of the consumer who checks out a website with a “news” article on a product or service and assumes it is news based, overlooking the strategically placed, yet overlooked, “Ad” label

That’s when ads can attack.

As consumers of information, we must be mindful of the company or person who is promoting the information and make sure that we read carefully to make sure the info is not just a carefully veiled advertisement.

Newsgathering in the Digital Age

There was a time when a reporter’s “ready” kit include a reporter’s notebook, a pen, a pencil, a tape recorder and a map to their destination.

In an era where the shock-value of job cuts has worn away and in some cases become expected, those journalists who have remained have been forced to experience their own convergence.

Say hello to today’s 21st Century reporter: the face of newsgathering in the digital age.

Paper notebooks have given way to digital ones. Where the line between photographer and reporter was once so clear, it has now blurred and in some cases disappeared as more newspapers are asking reporters to provide video from the scene and live-post on social media as news unfolds.

Newspapers and magazines are cutting the days/months they publish and in some cases they are moving online altogether. The experience of feeling newsprint between your fingers is going the way of the dinosaur.

Even the definition of a “reporter” has changed as the public – citizen journalists armed with smartphones – snap pictures and video of breaking news, posting it over social media and sometimes out newsgathering the newsgatherers.

The 24-hour news cycle has been one of the biggest changes because no longer do readers have to wait until the next issue or top-of-the hour newscast. All we have to do now to follow breaking or trending news is to click on our computers, tablets, phones or watches.

In this 140-character, get-it-to-me-now new news world, I wonder if the grizzled veteran and long narrative style of writing – both newsroom staples – stand a chance.

Data-mining Yields Golden Nuggets of Information

Ever wonder how the grocery store check-out coupon dispenser seems to always know your favorite brands?

Chances are it is your store loyalty card at work capturing your purchases and allowing the store to use that data to print those coupons – a parting gift you give yourself.

Retailers use these loyalty coupons as a way to rack up future sales. It is an example of how businesses have transformed information into a form of currency.

Yet it is not just grocery stores. Think about all the times you have used a search engine, visited a website or posted on social media. Someone somewhere is reaping the benefit of the data breadcrumbs left behind.

While some could argue that all this data mining could be construed as an invasion of privacy, not all data-gathering is bad.

Think about all the improvements made in the areas of transportation, business and industry based on gathering data.

So the next time you are in the checkout lane, take a closer look at those coupons.

Digital Divide Beyond the Numbers

Conversations about the digital divide often center on numbers: the number of people without access to resources such as a computer or internet service.

Yet, the digital divide’s legacy may be felt in a decreased diversity of thought among content contributors with the absence of disenfranchised voices.

More than just chatting up friends on social media, the internet has become a valuable tool for job seekers, students and others as traditional information sources – faced with dwindling resources – move to the web.

An estimated $55 million Americans are without reliable home broadband internet access, according to federal government statistics. In my home state of Pennsylvania, nearly a quarter of households do not have internet access, according to U.S. Census data.

In Pennsylvania cities, with 65,000 or more residents, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, more than 20 percent of households are without access.  Leading the list is Reading, a city located west of Philadelphia, where 38 percent of households do not have internet access.

Companies like Comcast and Verizon have programs in place to help bridge the gap but the answer may lie in areas where grass-roots community groups have stepped up to provide assistance.

More than just offering an introduction to the internet, these organizations are introducing inner-city youth to technology careers, technology creation and entrepreneurship, according to the August issue of Ebony Magazine.

In Chicago, Starter League teaches participants about building web applications and partners with the Chicago public school schools to train teachers how to code so they can pass it along to students.

Hack the Hood, in Oakland, California, introduces low-income youth to careers in technology by hiring and training them to build websites for real small businesses in their communities.

As more groups like these sprout up, the digital divide has a chance of lessening and everyone can fully participate in other access-related, hot-button conversations such as net neutrality.

The Comment Section’s Evolution: Path to Extinction?

Comment sections have been used by websites to give readers a platform to provide their point of view about an article and serve as a feedback tool for content owners.

More recently, some comment sections have transitioned from bully-pulpits to becoming a haven for bullies. That has forced some websites to call a time-out, some closing down the sections for a cooling-off period and others removing them altogether.

The Verge recently decided to turn off comments in a decision Editor-in Chief Nilay Patel said was due in part to the tone of comments becoming too aggressive and negative. It also disrupted his staff’s ability to interact with their audience.

The Poynter Institute, in a July article, reported that other media organizations have taken similar steps. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch closed down comments for its editorial section late last year after receiving “a glut of incivility” following the Ferguson, Missouri riots.

Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have eliminated comments on news stories.

While at first blush it may smack of censorship to some, the question soon becomes whether there is a need for comment sections at all.

Those with strong opinions need only find their way to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and others to make their voices heard.

Social Media: Many Things to Many People

Social media has many different definitions depending on who you ask. Some respond  in technical terms while others define it by how it functions.

I like to think of it as a bridge with a two-lane road populated by those who create content that others want to receive.

But more than just a tool for information exchange, social media has become entrenched into our culture in ways that early users may not have expected.

It is how we receive our news, keep tabs on friends and family as well as how we develop new personal relationships and other interests.

Social media has also evolved into an important tool for businesses and consumers. Good or bad, a business can take the temperature of the customers its serves by keeping tabs on its social media outlets.

Receive bad service? Consumers can post on sites like Facebook, Twittter, Reddit and others. In many cases, companies will respond to the concern very quickly.

These companies understand the damage that a negative impression blasted on social media can have on their reputation.

But social media can be used to spotlight extraordinary service delivered to consumers. That can boost a company’s reputation in a positive way.

While some rail against society’s over reliance on social media, it has forever changed the way we communicate with each other.

Smartphone Cameras: Capturing the Full Picture?

A rash of police confrontations captured by smartphone video cameras in recent months has rekindled the debate over whether such images tell the whole story.

From traffic stops, sidewalk arrests to seemingly unruly teens at pool parties, every few weeks a new video appears that calls into question the actions of people on both sides of the dispute.

With the advances in smartphone technology we have become a nation of citizen journalists with our fingers ready to push play, maybe just not fast enough to capture each and every moment of an event that would have us take sides.

As humans, we bring our own unconscious biases along when forming opinions. Our personal experience would have some of us view all suspects as criminal and all police as just – or vice versa.

No matter what side of the issue we come down on as media consumers we need to ask ourselves a few key questions before forming an opinion: What happened in the seconds before the smartphone’s owner pushed record? What happened after the recording stopped?

In our 24-hour news cycle where these images are replayed, dissected and analyzed, how does the point of view of the media – liberal or conservative – shape the public discussion?

This is not to say that the public should not record or question the actions of police but just pause long enough to consider all sides.

Who Would We Be Digital Free?

On warm summer nights like these, adults in my neighborhood would gather in the biggest backyard for cold refreshment and the hottest music coming from a record player.

Vinyl was all the rage those days long before cassette tapes, portable music players and digital music. Funny how just a few short years ago the digital devices we take for granted now didn’t exist. No social media to check. No emails. No cell phones.

One of the first topics in our Intro to Digital Communications class at Syracuse University was on digital convergence. We have so many more options to receive information, news, entertainment – smart phones, smart watches, tablets – with even more advances to come.

I often wonder what would happen if it all went away.

How would we get our information? Would newspapers make a rebound? Would we read more books? Would we talk to each other more? Would we have actual conversations? What would our fingers do without a keyboard to strike?

I’ll think about that tomorrow. Now, where did I put my iPhone? Time for some Nina Simone.