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.

Noun

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.

Verb

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.

To succeed as an Internet writer, it’s important to know how to use AP style properly. These guidelines for journalists help make your writing look more polished and professional.

One topic that comes up often with AP style is how to treat the titles of movies, books, magazines and other works when you refer to them in an article. The answer is relatively straightforward, but the rules are different those used for headlines, which can make the subject a bit confusing.

A few simple rules will sort things out and help you learn the difference.

Headlines

According to AP style, only the first word and any proper nouns are capitalized in a headline. All other words should be lower case. The same rule applies for titles on Helium.

Examples: Burger King introduces new French toast sandwich; Randy Moss signs with New England Patriots

Composition titles

A slightly different set of rules apply to the titles of books, computer and video games, movies, operas, plays, poems, albums, songs and radio and TV shows, as well as the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art. When referring to these types of titles in an article:

  • Capitalize all the main words of the title, including prepositions and conjunctions that have four or more letters.
  • If an article, such as “a,” “an” or “the,” or a word that has fewer than four letters is the first word or the last word in a title, then you should capitalize it.
  • Put quotation marks around composition titles of these types of works.

Examples: “Gone With the Wind” is a classic novel written by Margaret Mitchell. During its opening weekend, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” topped box office charts. Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote the song “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Jay Leno hosts “The Tonight Show.”

Exceptions

There are several types of publications and other works that are an exception to this rule and should not be put in quotation marks. (The same capitalization rules still apply.) This includes the Bible and books that are used as reference materials such as catalogs, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks.

Examples: The teacher recommended using Webster’s New World College Dictionary. The 2012 Old Farmer’s Almanac is now available in bookstores.

Software titles, magazines, newspapers and names of websites also should be  capitalized like book titles but should not be put in quotation marks. Blog titles are only put in quotation marks if they have very unusual spellings, such as all lower case.

Examples: The help desk recommended downloading the new version of Google Chrome. Newsweek merged with the Daily Beast. Facebook and Twitter are two social networking websites that can be used to promote your writing. Perez Hilton and “I Can Has Cheezburger?” are both well-known blogs.

As part of our upcoming release on Monday, Helium will get more social! We’ve cleaned up the social media sharing icons at the top of each article page and included the Google +1 button.

We’ve also created an action bar that moves as you scroll down the page. This bar includes social buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google +1. You can even click “hide” if you want the toolbar to be hidden. When logged in as Helium writer, you will also have additional tools in the action bar. They include “Article Tools,” “Print article” and the “Write now” button.

It’s important to note that the “Write now” button will no longer be at the top of the article. It will now be housed in this action bar.

If you’re not logged in to Helium, the action bar will look a little different. It will not include the “Write now” button, and it will not include “Article Tools.” This creates a cleaner and more user-friendly presentation for readers of the site.

Earnings & Payments changes

We’re also adding a new feature to Earnings & Payments for all writers. Writers will be able to download an Excel spreadsheet listing their earnings on every article they’ve written on Helium (up to 1,500 articles). Now you can clearly see how much each article has earned, making it easier to see which articles have been more successful and which ones need some editing, or some promotion.

English can be a tricky language, and there are certain words that are always tripping writers up. Some words that sound exactly alike are spelled differently and mean two different things, and in some cases changing one letter can mean the difference between whether a word is a noun or a verb. For example, breath and breathe is one pair that I always have to double check. Here are a few commonly confused words that you might need a refresher on.

Advice: A noun that refers to an opinion given about what to do
Advise: A verb that means to give advice
Examples: The student asked her teacher for advice. The teacher advised the student on good study habits.

Altar: A noun that refers to a table or platform at the front of a church
Alter: A verb that means to change
Examples: The bride and groom stood in front of the altar. The tailor altered the wedding dress.

Breath: A noun that refers to air taken into the lungs
Breathe: A verb that mean to inhale and exhale
Examples: The doctor told the patient to take a deep breath. The man said that the cold air made it hard to breathe.

Cite: A verb that means to quote a source in support of something
Sight: A noun referring to something that is seen or the act of seeing
Site: A noun that refers to a place.
Examples: The writer had to cite the sources she used in her research paper. The cafeteria was quite a sight after the food fight. The criminal returned to the site of the crime.

Heal: A verb that means to recover from injury
Heel: A noun that refers to the back of the foot or the end of a loaf of bread
Examples: It took time for the quarterback’s broken arm to heal. The runner had a blister on her heel.

Pair: A noun referring to a couple.
Pare: A verb that means to trim.
Pear: A noun referring to a type of fruit.
Examples: A pair of birds flew by the house. The accountant wanted to pare down the amount spent on paper. The shopper bought a pear at the grocery store.

What other word pairs do you think are tricky?

Helium now offers members the option to receive SMS notifications (better known as text messages) about new available writing assignments. If you’re a member of any writing groups on Helium you can choose to receive text message alerts about new assignments that have been uploaded to the assignment system for groups you are a part of!

For example, say you’re a Marketplace Premier writer on Helium and you want to know every time new assignments have been posted, now you can!

To subscribe to receive SMS notifications about new assignments, visit the Account Settings page (accessible through My Account on My Helium) and click the “Notifications” tab on the top menu. It’s listed right after Contact Info, Pen Name, etc.

In the fields available, enter your mobile phone number, select the country your phone is registered to and select your mobile carrier. After entering this information, click “submit.”

A confirmation will appear at the top of the screen indicating an activation notification has been sent to your phone. Now an activation code box will appear in the “Notifications” tab. Enter the code you received via text message into this field.

Helium writers can select which writing group assignments to be notified about. They can also select to stop receiving notifications at any time too. It’s an opt-in program! Check out our Help page to learn more about how to set up your alerts.

Got a smartphone? Don’t forget to check out Helium’s mobile assignment system!

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.

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

You’re an online writer looking to improve your craft. How do you get your article read, noticed and purchased?

One key to success is to make sure you meet the publisher’s writing standards.

Helium’s Writing Standards have been updated and replaced with Helium’s Writing and Editorial Standards. Review these standards to ensure your article submissions meet Helium’s standards.

By meeting these standards and writing a great article free of spelling and grammatical errors, you increase your chances of having your article be chosen as the best piece.

Meeting these standards, writing to areas you’re knowledgeable about, meeting deadline, having a great bio and filling out your address on Helium are all great ways to get noticed and open yourself up to additional writing opportunities.

Helium Content Source publishers will have their own set of expectations and guidelines you must meet. These are typically much more extensive than Helium’s. By getting used to writing to and meeting guidelines, you train yourself as a writer for these future assignments.

Writing standards defined

  • Articles must be your original work
  • Helium follows AP style
  • Plagiarism is not allowed
  • Duplicate articles are not allowed
  • Do not include your name or references to your own company in your article
  • Do not repeat the article title in the body of the article
  • Solid research and citing sources is key
  • We delete articles that are mostly lists — develop your work
  • Use of third and second person is encouraged (first person is not allowed in some articles)
  • Subheads are encouraged
  • Write with an authoritative, unbiased tone — develop your voice and style
  • No adult content, hate content or profanity is allowed

Writing guidelines example

Write a knowledge-based, objective article in the second or third person that provides readers with insightful, useful information. Sources should be reputable and cited where applicable.

Helium Content Source guidelines example

The following is typical of what you might see on a Content Source assignment:

Please write an original 500-1,000 word article that includes the following details. Write to a homeowner audience about choosing the right contractor for this job. The article should educate the reader with consumer tips and information about the specific service.

Give the homeowner useful tips (bulleted lists are strongly encouraged); include items such as what to look for in a good contractor, questions to ask, professional associations, certifications, etc.; common problems, pitfalls to avoid; if they should ask for mechanic liens; Insurance; Bonding; etc. If that information is limited please expand by describing different materials and the advantages or disadvantages of each.

Write in the second person voice. Clear, simple sentences are easier to read than long, complicated ones. Do NOT editorialize by adding your own opinions or beliefs about an area. Instead, just present the facts in an informative and positive manner.

This should be an original piece. Sourced information must be rephrased. If you quote statistics or phrases, you must put links to your references listed at the end of the article, or put the information in quotes. This is done for fact-checking processes. If you do not put a list of references/sources at the end of your article, it will be sent back to you. This is required!

Please view this sample to get an idea of bullets, tone, style and layout [link not included to protect publisher’s identity].