It’s that time again — time to congratulate the latest Helium writing contest winners! Let’s have a warm round of applause (virtually, of course) for the writers who came out on top this week.

Musical Instruments

First Place: Susan Klatz Beal

Second Place: Ted Onulak

Third Place: Bridget Webber

U.S. History

First Place: Ted Sherman

Second Place: Nick Ford

Third Place: Donna Hicks

Psychology

First Place: Clare Hughes

Second Place: Christobel Rajesh

Third Place: Darren Bunton

Literature

First Place: Steve Gregory

Second Place: Effie Moore Salem

Third Place: Rose Clearfield

Back to School

First Place: Ellen Page

Second Place: Blair Worthington

Third Place: Rachelle de Bretagne

There are new chances to win every week. Check out this week’s new contests and see what sparks your interest. The new contests include Investing for Beginners, New York State of Mind, Smartphone Apps, College Life, Fall Planting and Little League World Series. Come on, it’s time to throw your hat in the ring!

As an online writer, you’ll often be asked to write using AP style. These guidelines for spelling and word usage are used by journalists all over the world, and it is suggested that Helium writers use them as well. In fact, Helium news writers have to use AP style on the articles they submit. Following a standard style guide, like AP, makes your finished work more professional to fellow writers and publishers alike.

Here’s a look at a few AP style rules that answer some of the questions that come up frequently for online writers. Ever wonder if website should be one word or two, or if email really needs a hyphen? AP style has the answers.

website: This is a rule that was changed recently, so you might be surprised to learn that website should be just one word with a lowercase w. The same rule applies to webcam, webcast and webmaster, but Web page and Web feed are both two words with an uppercase w.

home page: While we’re on the subject of websites, home page, which refers to the front page of a website, is two words.

website addresses: When referring to websites in stories, the AP recommends using the name of the site instead of the address. For example, Twitter instead of Twitter.com or YouTube instead of Youtube.com. Only used “.com” if it is included in the legal name, such as Amazon.com Inc. If a website address falls at the end of a sentence, use a period after it.

blog titles: Titles of blogs are treated differently than titles of books and movies, which according to AP style should be in quotation marks. Blog titles generally don’t need to be in quotation marks, but they should be capitalized. For example, the highest ranked entry on each of the four titles in the “World Population Approaches 7 Billion” writing contest will appear on PSI’s Healthy Lives blog. Blogs that have very unusual spellings, such as all lower case, should be in quotes, though.

email: According to AP style, the word email shouldn’t have a hyphen. This was another recent change that many writers felt was long overdue. A hyphen should still be used for other e-terms such as e-book, e-business and e-commerce, though.

Google, Googling, Googled: Google should be capitalized because it is a trademarked term. Google, Googling and Googled can be used as verbs, but they should still be capitalized.  

cellphone, smartphone: Both cellphone and smartphone should be one word without any hyphens.

Internet: Yep, this still needs to be capitalized.

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

With Google handling more than 88 billion searches each month, it is important that you’re putting your best work in front of those who are searching for it. You may have your own blog which has its own following, but how do you obtain more followers?

One way to do that is to write a guest blog post. Network with other writers in your niche area and offer to write a post on their blog about something you’re knowledgeable about. Is a current topic trending? Share your view. Provide your insights. That blog post will also link back to your blog or website, giving you more exposure.

You can gain a lot more traffic if you guest post on a blog that is a high traffic site. It’s an easy way to build backlinks, build your readership, gain subscribers and to get other bloggers to guest on your blog.

Major websites and companies do this all the time. Do you really think they write all their posts? Of course not! They reach out to other experts in their field to share their news and expertise.

Just doing a quick search on Twitter for “guest blog post” comes up with a host of options for writers, like this one, “Looking for any lawyers, law students or law-nerds for an upcoming guest blog post @Digg.” We’ve even seen people reach out to fellow writers on Twitter, posing invitations like, “We’d love for you to write a guest blog post!”

Blogger Frank Dickinson talks about his fear the first time he approached a fellow writer to guest blog. “What happens if they say no? How do I approach them? Should I have a set of guidelines for them? What’s the best way to get a hold of them?” Dickinson writes in his post, “3 Tricks For Getting People To Guest Post On Your Blog.”

Interact, engage with, and get to know another writer before asking them to guest blog for you. Twitter, LinkedIn and the individual’s own blog are great places to do this. Dickinson also suggests breaking the ice by featuring the potential guest blogger in a write up on your own blog. You can do this by interviewing the person, reviewing their work and writing a post about what you’ve learned, and retweeting their blogs posts.

If they say yes, provide some structure. Give them a length and a deadline. Talk about topics.

Here at Helium we love to feature guest bloggers. Just this week writer M. J. Joachim shared her story. Interested in being a guest blogger for Helium? Let us know!

Big pat on the back for Helium! And its writers!

Earlier this year, Helium was named to Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2009, in the Jobs and Markets category. Check us out on their website.

Writer's Digest badge

Special thanks to all our members who sent in emails to Writer’s Digest telling them how important Helium is to the online writing space and as a resource for new and experienced writers.

For anyone unfamiliar with Writer’s Digest, it is a highly respected magazine, website and resource for writers. Here’s a quick blurb from the website’s “About Us” page:

Every issue of Writer’s Digest magazine is devoted to helping writers develop their craft and hone their publishing acumen. Since 1920, Writer’s Digest has chronicled the culture of the modern writer and we continue this great tradition through relevant first-person essays, interviews with bestselling authors and profiles with emerging talent. Writer’s Digest also features practical technique articles, and tips and exercises on fiction, nonfiction, poetry and the business-side of writing and publishing.

Truly, our writing community’s dedication and continuous efforts to write well and raise the bar on Helium are paying off. All of Helium’s members deserve praise and congratulations.

And don’t forget to let Writer’s Digest know what Helium can offer writers for 2010!

It’s not often that we get a unique earning Marketplace opportunity such as this and we want to get the word out to absolutely everyone.

This week in Markeplace, publisher Real Estate Experts is offering $200 for the top article in 48 titles. Additionally, the next 50 selected articles within each title will also receive $5. (Essentially, everyone stands to earn some dough for writing.)

There are three titles for 16 regions throughout the U.S.

  • How has the recession impacted real estate in your city?
  • Tips for the first-time home-buyer in your town in tight economic times
  • Buying foreclosed real estate in your city

We’re targeting the following regions:

Northern California, Southern California, Arizona, Texas, the Rockies, the Midwest, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, the Southeast, Georgia, the mid-Atlantic, New England, Northern Florida, Southern Florida, and the Pacific Northwest.

When you get to Marketplace, be sure to scroll through to find the three titles in your region. Better yet, after you’ve written to those three, do a little research and write about some other areas or write about areas you may have lived in, in the past. Either way, you increase your chances for a tidy sum.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. The deadline is just six days away. And if you have any questions, be sure to read the title guidelines as well as post in our forums. Good luck!

The idea of responsibility can be difficult to define. What does it mean? Why is it important? These aren’t questions that can be easily addressed or agreed upon.

There are a lot of differing opinions and beliefs involved. And while we may never uncover any definitive answers, we believe the topics are still worth exploring.

Starting Monday, March 16, Helium is going to team up with ResponsibilityProject.com for a writing contest around issues of everyday moral choices. We’ll post 15 titles for a week, giving writers the chance to win $100 first place, $50 second, and $25 for five third-place.  Winners will be announced March 27.

In these rough economic times, examining our moral core might be the most profitable thing we can do.

Look for the Responsibility Project Contest starting March 16 on the Helium Writing Contests page.

Until then, limber up!
Get the jump on thinking about responsibility (and maybe earn that Upfront Payment and Empty Title Bonus) by checking out the titles in these channels:

Another success story!

Our congratulations to Holle Abee, who was written up in her local paper, The Tifton Gazette, for earning more than $5,000 for her writing in 2008. And she did it writing an average of just an hour a day!

Holle is a renaissance woman, with many interests—great for sharing her expertise throughout Helium. To date, she has also sold a staggering 45 articles in the Marketplace.

Whether you have many interests or like to concentrate on just a couple of topics, read our press release and the article linked to above for tips on how you can make Helium work for you.

Way to go, Holle!

Paul Lines is considered a senior Helium member no matter how you slice it. Hailing from England, he’s helped with the Steward program, advised on community and content issues, and he’s the epitome of how a member on Helium can use the website to achieve writing greatness. His participation on Helium.com goes back to when the site first started.

Paul has allowed us to post this letter to our team, which recounts his success on the site in the last three years.

When I look back over the three years spent with Helium I need to say that it has been one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life. The friendship of the staff and other writers is something that I feel is really special. There is so much that I have gained from this experience and so much still to enjoy and learn.

Reflecting on this three year journey I realise than the site and I have come so far, and yet both have retained their original values and objectives. For me the journey has been filled with a number of milestones.

On site:

◊    Articles – now approaching 1500 with my target this year being to increase that to find the time to increase that to at least 4,000
◊    Marketplace – sold a number of articles and am looking to increase this to at least one a month in 2009
◊    Contests – won a number lost a few
◊    Writers help – gained a lot from others and hopefully given a lot of help and guidance as well
◊    Earnings – total is now approaching $5,000 – let’s see if I can break through an annual amount of $5,000 this year
◊    National Press Club (NPC) membership – not bad for a UK writer and another Helium first
◊    Work referenced – Recently a student writer on the site asked if he could use one of my articles as a reference for his thesis, providing a link to the article. I agreed to this as free of charge (which I hope is within the rules).

Support for others:

Unfortunately I have not been able to help on the site as much as I would have liked due to work commitments, but I have always tried to where I can. I have communicated with dozens of writers and offered help and guidance.

The same is true of the time I spend on the community boards but I do keep watch on the posts that appear here and, where I feel I have something of value to contribute, particularly in regards to unfair criticism of Helium or other writers, I will take the time to make a considered response.

I sometimes think that there are three main issues that some writers tend to forget. The first is that Helium or any other site for that matter is not a free ride to earnings. In terms of effort it I consider it to be a dual task. Helium puts in the effort in providing the site and all its tools, as well as seeking to expand the opportunities for its writer. However, the writer as a supplier has to equal that effort in terms of content, quality and effort. Unless the writer puts in the effort neither the quality of their work nor their earnings will improve. If there is lack of success it is the writer who needs to look inwards at his or her own efforts.

Secondly, there is a need to remember the global appeal of writing. There is a wide range of readership levels which Helium appeals to and one has to direct articles to appeal to all of these levels. None is better or worse than another is and we, as writers have to accept that this range or readership exists and not blame quality factors for the positions we see our articles rest at within titles.

Thirdly, I think that often, especially when criticising others, there are writers who forget that we are all at different stages of the writing journey. There are writers who are more advanced than me, and those who have yet to reach my level of experience and knowledge. My take on this is that I applaud those who are at a more developed stage and reach out the hand of help to those who are behind me on the writing development steps.

Showcase

Perhaps the least known, but to me at least, one of the most important an inspirational aspects of Helium is its potential as a showcase. Less than a year after joining Helium I secured full time work as a freelance technical writer. Last year these opportunities alone provided me with an income that was well in excess of $75,000 at current exchange rates. This year so far I have already produced over 100,000 words for these sources in January, and February is looking set to continue on a similar vein.

To me this is a value of Helium that is often overlooked. It also has to borne in mind that I have achieved this without any online promotion of my work whatsoever. I personally have no idea how to promote my Helium work in the Internet environment and assume that, if I did my success could be further multiplied.

Other

2009 is set to produce yet more writing milestones for me. Firstly, I have set a programme in place to publish four novels, which again I will put the effort into to ensure that they achieve my aims for them. I do not intend for them to be “also ran’s” or “dust collectors.” Secondly, there are discussions being muted for me to become involved in the co-authorship and publication of one or more technical academic book, so it will be interesting to see how that develops.

Success?

Success to me is equated with opportunity and effort. For me Helium has provided the opportunity. You all at Helium have provided the keys to many doors of opportunity, However, all of these keys would have come to nought had I not opened the door and put the effort into turning that opportunity into success. Not everything I have tried has succeeded but more have done so than failed and that is all one can ask for in life.

Maybe I should write a book called “How to gain true value from the Helium experience.”

Please accept my apologies for the verbosity of this letter. However, it was difficult for me to provide an overview of the value of my 1097 days with Helium in a few words.

Thank you again for your much appreciated comments

Kind regards

Paul

A lawsuit between Gatehouse Media and the New York Times Co., owner of the Boston Globe has recently been resolved.

According to numerous news sources, Boston.com and it’s new “Your Town” websites were accused of scraping headlines, ledes and links from Gatehouse’s “Wicked Local” websites.

Web scraping or harvesting is described as a method to extract content from a website. – From www.kneoteric.com/knowledge-base/glossary/glossary.html

While scraping is not inherently evil, it can present issues of plagiarism and other editorial and business issues. There are a lot of websites that compile or aggregate certain headlines and content with much success and it’s perfectly OK. However, as Boston.com and Gatehouse’s web sites were in direct competition in the same regional market, the federal court in Boston decided that in this case, scraping was not entirely on the up-and-up.

The case may also set a fascinating precedent that has a far-reaching affect on editorial websites and linking behavior in general. More importantly, it is a case that should be considered extremely important for Helium writers who use links in their articles to great (and not so great) effect.

As Helium does not allow plagiarism at any level, scraping of content word-for-word is strictly prohibited. However, members are allowed to link to related sites and articles that fit into the context of what they are writing about. It is also OK to summarize or paraphrase certain passages on other sites that you may link to. In either case, this will ensure that you are not copying editorial property of another company or person.

Referring to headlines in your article is a different case. If you have an article about, let’s say, the reproductive habits of the Duck-billed Platypus and to support a new finding on a recent scientific article in somewhere, It is OK to write something like:

New findings have been recently made regarding the season that the Duck-billed Platypus prefers to mate. In the article called “Name of Article” [with link inserted] in the “name of publication” so and so states that…

Titles on Helium should also be looked at differently. Many readers and writers may find that a title on Helium may also exist on Associated Content, About.com and some random blog. Many titles such as “How to do this,” “A guide to that,” or “Tips for doing such and such” are considered public domain types of titles. They are commonly used by everyone and are recognized as such.

However, if a member decides to submit a title such as “The classification of the genome for aggressiveness found in the saliva of the leaf-cutter ants of Belize” is probably a no-go because you are copying a distinct and unique title that was specifically written about a new concept that is not considered public domain–unless it’s your original article. However, if you added “Analyzing Joe Schmoe’s article called …” at the beginning, you recognize the original source and that, as they say, is kosher.

The case between Gatehouse Media and the New York Times Co. is not the first time that an online editorial entity had an issue with another for links and scraping, and it will likely not be the last. But as a Helium member, do the safe and ethical thing by providing context, credit  and links any chance you get.

While you may not get immediate results, you will improve your reputation as an online writer of contextual substance with sound ethics.

(Disclosure: Helium.com has a business relationship with Gatehouse Media and maintains a strictly neutral voice in this case. Helium.com, it’s staff and it’s members were not involved in this case and did not participate in creation of any content involved in this case.)