It seems like social media is everywhere these days, and as an online writer it’s important to know what’s what in the world of social media and how to refer to everything properly. The AP Stylebook now has a chapter specifically focused on social media. Here are a few of the most helpful rules. Following them will help your finished work seem more polished and professional.

Facebook: The name of this social networking site should always be capitalized.

Foursquare: This location-based social networking tool should be spelled out as one word starting with a capital F.

LinkedIn: This social network is geared toward career and professional networking. Its name should be spelled out as one word with a capital L and a capital I.

Twitter: This social media site allows users to post messages of up to 140 characters and share links. A Twitter message is called a tweet, and tweet and tweeted can be used as verbs. Only Twitter needs to be capitalized.

friend, follow, like: All of these words, which refer to ways people can connect on social networking sites, can be used as both nouns and verbs. Friend and like are used on Facebook, and Twitter users have followers and follow other users.

unfollow, unfriend: Removing someone from a list of accounts being followed on Twitter or from a list of friends on Facebook. According to AP style, defriend is also an acceptable term, but it is not used as commonly.

check in, check-in: Foursquare and other location-based social networks allow users to share their locations using mobile devices such as smartphones. This is called a check-in. Check in should be two words when used as a verb, and it should be hyphenated when used as a noun.

hashtag: On Twitter, a number sign, referred to as a hashtag, can be used in a tweet to indicate what the tweet is about and to connect it to related tweets from other users. There shouldn’t be any spaces between the hashtag and the accompanying words. For example, #socialmedia could be used as hashtag.

trending: The term, which is usually used as a verb, refers to topics that are getting a lot of attention on social networks, especially Twitter. According to AP style, trending should not be used in an article without giving context and explanation. For example: The topic of the earthquake in Virginia was trending on Twitter yesterday.

retweet: When Twitter users forward a message or link from someone else to their followers it is called retweeting. Although it is often abbreviated as “RT” on Twitter, the word should always be spelled out in articles.

As a writer, it’s usually easy to tell if you need to capitalize a proper noun. Most of them are easy to recognize, such as the names of people and places. Trademarked products are trickier, though, and writers often forget to capitalize them or mistakenly use the brand name when they should use the generic term. (For example, did you know that Dumpster is really a brand name?)

When writing articles for publication, it’s especially important to get this correct in order to avoid violating the trademark. Here are a few of the most commonly misused brand names and suggestions for generic terms that should be used instead, unless you are specifically referring to that particular brand. Some of them might surprise you!

  • Band-Aid  — adhesive bandage
  • Chap Stick — lip balm
  • Crock-Pot — slow-cooker
  • Dumpster — trash bin
  • Frisbee — flying disk
  • Fudgsicle — fudge ice cream bar
  • Hi-Liter — highlighting marker
  • Jacuzzi — whirlpool bath
  • Jell-O — gelatin
  • Kitty Litter — cat-box filler
  • Kleenex — tissue
  • Krazy Glue — super adhesive
  • Kool-Aid — soft-drink mix
  • Magic Marker — felt-tip marking pen
  • Ping-Pong — table tennis
  • Post-it — self-stick note
  • Q-Tip — cotton swab
  • Realtor — real-estate agent
  • Rice Krispies Treats — cereal treats
  • Scotch tape — cellophane tape
  • Seeing eye dog — guide dog
  • Styrofoam — foam plastic
  • Velcro — adhesive fastener
  • Windbreaker — lightweight jacket
  • Zip-loc — zip-top plastic bag

With similar spellings and related meanings, affect and effect are two words that are easy to mix up. It’s a word pair that leaves a lot of people second guessing themselves, but there are a few simple rules that will help you tell them apart and feel more confident that you are using the correct word.


Generally, if you are trying to decide between using affect or effect and you need to use the word as a noun, then you should use effect. As a noun, effect means result. For example, “The effect of obedience school on the dog was obvious.”

The Associated Press and other style guides recommend avoiding the use of affect as a noun. It is occasionally used in psychology as a term for an emotion, but it is not used as a noun in everyday language.


The difference between affect and effect is a bit more nuanced when they are used a verbs. As a verb, affect means to influence, while effect, as a verb, mean to cause or accomplish. For example, “The bad test score will affect the student’s grade.” “The new manager will effect many improvements in the department.”

If you are having trouble deciding which verb to use, try subbing in influence or cause for affect or effect. If influence makes more sense in the sentence, then you should use affect in that instance. If cause makes more sense in the sentence, then effect is the correct word to use.

There’s nothing more disappointing than toiling away researching and writing an article you’re really proud of only to notice spelling, punctuation or grammar errors in it after you’ve submitted the final draft. Writing that is free of errors looks more professional and helps make your work really shine, but it can be difficult to accomplish if you’re not sure what to look for or can’t find answers to your questions.

Luckily, there is a wealth of resources online that can answer your trickier questions and help you learn more about proper punctuation and grammar. Bookmark the ones you like best so you have a quick reference to go to when you run into a question while you’re writing.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing – Founded by longtime English professor Dr. Charles Darling, this site lets you look up topics by at word and sentence level or browse an index of everything covered on the site. There’s also a list of frequently asked questions and their answers.

Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style – Rutgers University professor Jack Lynch provides an A to Z list of grammar hints and tips, such as a helpful explanation about the difference between “a” and “an” and which once should really be used before an acronym.

Grammar Book – At this site, Jane Strauss, author of “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation,” breaks down grammar, punctuation and capitalization rules and looks at commonly confused words, offering plenty of examples to help illustrate everything.

Newsroom 101 – Brush up on your editing skills at this site, which combines a wide variety of interactive exercises in grammar, punctuation and AP Style with tips and advice. As you take each quiz, it will explain why each answer is correct.

Embedding links in your articles is a great way to help readers get more out of your writing, giving them easy access to additional information without adding a lot of clutter to the page. If you don’t use links the right way, though, they can just cause confusion. Here are a few simple tips to help you (and your readers) get the most out of the links you choose to include.

1.  Choose your words carefully.

The linked text should be something descriptive that clearly explains what the connected page is. Links that just say “click here” or “learn more” are too vague and won’t help readers understand why the link is relevant to them.

Don’t: Click here to learn more about how to embed links in your Helium articles.

Do:  The Help Guide explains step by step how to embed links in your articles on Helium.

Using relevant keywords for embedded links also helps readers find information quickly because links stand out in blocks of text.

2. Stay consistent.

If you want to include multiple links to the same destination, keep the words used for the embedded links the same throughout the article. For example, if you were writing about Helium’s Writing and Editorial Standards, you would want to use that phrase for all of embedded links you include that take readers to that particular page. If you had one link in the article labeled as writing guidelines and another link labeled editorial standards, readers would be confused when the links took them to the same location, and they would wonder if there had been a mistake.

3. Avoid link overload.

Just because you can think of a link to embed in a certain phrase in your article doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. When there are too many links in a story, it gets distracting and makes the text choppy and difficult to read. If there is an embedded link in every single sentence, it will also leave readers wondering which links are important.

So before you take the time to embed a link, stop and think about what it will add to the story. Ask yourself if the links seems off-topic or would only be useful to a small portion of the readers. If the answer is yes, you probably want to skip it (even if it’s a link to something else you wrote). Scaling back embedded links to only the most relevant will help make them more valuable to readers.

Related blog posts on citing sources & links:

How citing your sources can make you a better writer

AP Style tips: How to cite online sources in your articles

As an online freelance writer looking to improve your writing skills, you should be following experts in your field on Twitter. These people and organizations can provide you with inspiration, training and help with writer’s block. It’s also a great way to keep up to date on news in the industry.

Take a moment to enhance your writing skills and follow these experts:

Knight Digital Media Center (@kdmc)

PBS MediaShift  (@PBSMediaShift) (@NewsFuturist)

NextNewsroom (@nextnewsroom)

American Journalism Review (@AmJourReview)

Knowledgewebb (@Knowledgewebb)

Poynter’s Romenesko column (@Romenesko) (@wiredj) (@ModernJourno)

FreelanceFolder (@FreelanceFolder)

Take advantage of these free skills and training. It will not only help you improve your writing, but give you ideas on how to approach different articles.

Don’t forget to interact with these writers, bloggers and organizations. Reply to a tweet. Message them with a question. Or retweet their post to your writer friends to help spread the message.

Interested in learning more? Read our previous post:
10 writer training resources you should follow on Twitter

Follow Helium on Twitter: @Helium, @HeliumWriter, @HeliumVP

You joined Twitter, tweeted some friends and followed some celebrities. Now what? Well if you’re an online freelance writer looking to improve your writing skills, begin by following some experts in your field.

Twitter is an amazing tool to help you get training and advice to develop your talent. By signing on to Twitter you can see what others are talking about, thinking and sharing. For writers, it’s very often free education you’d be a fool not to take advantage of.

Take a moment to enhance your writing skills and follow these experts:

10,000 Words multimedia journalism blog (@10000Words)

Poynter school for journalists (@Poynter)

NewsU is the e-learning site of @Poynter (@newsuniversity)

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (@PEJPew)

The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University (@NiemanLab)

Society of Professional Journalists (@spj_tweets)

The Journalist’s Toolbox from SPJ (@journtoolbox)

The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University (@JLab)

The Committee of Concerned Journalists (@journalists)

Journalist’s Resource, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy (@JournoResource)

Writing is a talent, but it’s also a skill you can and should improve by learning new things, or refresh your knowledge. These writers, bloggers, journalism schools and organizations also share informative news about the writing and publishing industry.

Twitter is great because not only can you read the articles, tips and expertise these experts provide, you can also interact with them. Reply to a tweet. Message them with a question. Or retweet their post to your writer friends to help spread the message.

You’ll be sure to learn a few things and even find inspiration to write more.

We’d like to hear from you! Share with us who else you get writing advice from on Twitter in the comments section below.

Many times on the boards someone has reported an issue and we’ve mentioned that it’s a “known bug” and that we’re working on it.  But what is a bug?  A bug is a “glitch in the system” – basically something that sneaked through that causes Helium to behave as it shouldn’t.  But how does this happen?  Are we developers sneaking in easter eggs just to mess with you?  Yes, totally.

I’m kidding.  In actuality what you see on Helium is an oversimplification of what is actually going on.  Helium is actually thousands of lines of code and thousands of specifications – all dictating how it’s supposed to behave.  With each new release both grow and with them the complexity of Helium as well.  To combat this we build a test suite that checks that Helium is still following all the “rules” (specifications) which we run every time we check in some new code.  Even so, stuff slips through.  Interactions you can’t foresee happen.

So next we have our QA/Ops team.  With each new release or fix we deliver a “release candidate” that they dig through making sure not only does it do all the new things it’s supposed to but also that all the old stuff is still there and functioning.  For every bug that you see on live they find hundreds (thousands) that we fix before you ever see the new release.

However, no matter how well you know an application they (and us in development) are only a handful of people.  We can’t imagine all the ways the thousands of Helium users will test and use the site.  What they’ll do that we’d never think of.  And, more importantly, how the new users will approach the site – as familiarity sometimes causes blind spots.  So, inevitably, we release the new build to the live servers and our community does something we never even thought of and poof we find a new bug.

This is just a natural part of development.  Honestly, with the size of our code (massive) and the size of our development/ops team (very small) it’s amazing that we are able to release so much new code and not have more bugs slip through.  What you might also not realize is that Helium is actually not one code base but over a dozen all interacting in interesting ways – with each new code base added to the mix exponentially increasing the complexity of the final entity.  Some are also built in different languages or in different frameworks – with each being a combination of user interface code, middleware code, and database code which have to coexist and interact.  In other words, the simple site you see is an extremely complex co-mingling of various code bases, languages, specifications and interactions – all of which breed the opportunity for bugs to arise.

Or we really are just messing with you and testing to see if you’ll notice.

I hope this helps.

At Helium, we take great pride in our approach to customer service which is run by Operations and falls under the direction of Vice President, John Rozen. There are two customer service departments: tech support and content support. I have been in charge of these two departments at Helium for several years now. Tech support can be reached by emailing , where Cindy Wester, patiently and effectively fields questions and reports instances related to technical issues on the site. Help also deals with all concerns having to do with abuses and or enforcement of, the Helium User Agreement. So some of the things that Help will respond to are user interface “how to” questions, bug reports, payment inquiries, article submission problems, site performance, login, profanity issues etc.

The other wing of support can be  reached at , where Jane Rand efficiently as well as patiently, fields questions related to article content, and the enforcement of Helium’s Writing Standards. You can find the Writing Standards in the new and greatly improved Helium Help Guide which now offers search capability. A link to this can always be found in the footer of most Helium pages as well. Content also handles basic “how to” questions, assigning mentors, badges as well as how to improve things like content quality, bios, article earnings, rating and writing stars, inappropriate content etc.

There are several things that you can do to improve your experience with us as well as make the process more efficient and helpful. Here are a few primary things to consider before you send your email:

  • Always search in the Helium Help Guide before contacting us. Often there are graphics and detailed explanations there, which can offer a better as well as quicker answer than we can provide in an email.
  • Always contact us from the email address that you have registered to your account on Helium. In order to give you any account specific information we must be able to verify your identity. We receive an overwhelming amount of emails from users who we have to write back to, asking them to write from their registered email address.
  • Always provide links to pages where your issue occurs. It is important to note that pages which demand that you are logged into your account, such as your My Helium page, My Articles, and Earnings & Payments pages, we cannot access. In those cases, a screen shot is extremely helpful. If you don’t know how to do this, a quick Google search for “screen shot” will render results with instructions for both Mac and Windows.

Our mission at customer service is to provide swift, helpful,one on one interaction with our users. Personally, I don’t know of many, if any other web applications that provide the type of individualized customer service that Helium does. As a business, Helium is in a constant state of improvement and expansion of user functionality and capability. Helium customer service provides direct individualized support of these ongoing efforts and helps maintain one of the most important elements of Helium … community.

Today begins the first in what I hope to be a semi-regular series of “guest blogs.”  I asked several higher profile and/or personal favorites of the Helium community if they wouldn’t mind contributing.  The contributor is none other than Piper Wilson.  Piper is one of our more… quirky helpers in the community and, from what I’ve seen, very well liked as a result by the community as a whole.  If you like her contribution, you should check out her articles on Helium.

And now, for the main event:

Many of you know me from the Helium Discussion Boards here at Helium.  I am a volunteer moderator for them, and I also run the Writer’s Critique Forum.  I answer questions, provide suggestions and help folks find the answers they need.  What that really means is that I spend an inordinate amount of time running around the Helium Discussion Boards sticking my nose in here and there.

We interrupt this blog to bring you the following announcement.

Come one, come all to the Featured Daily Peer Critique forum and post urls to the Feature My Article for Critique thread! And now a word from the Writing Critiques Forum:

I invite you to come over to the Featured Daily Peer Critiques in the Writing Critiques Forum.  You can submit the url of any article for suggestions to help you improve your articles.  Specifically, I need folks willing to submit to the Featured Daily Peer Critiques if you’d be willing to do that.  If you don’t feel comfortable submitting any of your articles, please come by anyway and throw your two cents in to help out other members.

We now return you to your blog already in progress.

So sorry for that rude interruption, folks!  Where was I?  Oh, yes.

This afternoon, I received the following email from a new member.

“I am new here.  I see your name often in the community.  I know I am supposed to know this, but what exactly does a post mean?”

I remember what it was like when I couldn’t figure my way around the boards.  It feels remarkably similar to what I feel like when I go to Betaville, but that is a topic for another blog entry.

I came up with a visual analogy to illustrate my answer to her.  I became enamored of the analogy, and asked Eric to let me blog it.  First, I’ll explain the overall “geography” of the Helium Discussion Boards with my analogy.  In a later blog, I’ll describe the tools that I use to navigate around them.

Geography – The Helium Discussion Board has the following “places” in it.

  • Index
  • Sections
    • All Things Helium
    • All Things Not Helium
    • Channel Forums
    • Helium Archives
    • Helium Discussion Board Info Center
  • Boards
  • Child Boards
  • Walls
    • Sticky Threads
    • Threads
      • Posts

Now the analogy.

Imagine that the Helium Discussion Forum is a building.  When you walk inside, the first thing you see is the Index; directions that tells you how to get where you want to go. This is like the foyer or entryway.  There are five hallways leading away from the foyer/Index.  These are the sections.  As you proceed down each hallway, you find smaller corridors branching out from the hallway.  These are the Boards.  Some of the corridors have sets of stairs you can follow. These are the Child Boards.  Lining the corridors (Boards) or the stairs (Child Boards) are walls that have threads hanging from them.  The threads closest to the top are more prominent than the threads a bit farther along.  The prominent threads are “Sticky” and the rest are regular threads.

This is where the posts that our new member asked me about come in.  Posts are the messages that appear in threads.

Imagine that someone hangs a piece of thread on the Wall, and posts a piece of paper with whatever they want to say on it.  Then someone else comes along, reads the original post and wants to answer the first.  They post a piece of paper with their statement on it under the original post.   When you click on the thread, it will open and you will see the posts that people have made.


The foyer (Index) looks like this.


The first hallway (Section) looks like this.


The first corridor (Board) and sets of stairs (Child Boards) look like this.


The first Wall (Sticky threads and regular threads) look like this.


TO BE CONTINUED…                 (no, that’s not a threat)