Writing Tools

Life is too complicated not to be orderly. ~ Martha Stewart

29 October 2019

From ReadWrite:

What is the one thing that connects millions of workers around the world? It is the desire to have more productivity at work, work fewer hours, and stay on top of all projects. But is this wish truly attainable? Productivity at work — it is possible.

. . . .

Ironically, working long hours does not increase workplace productivity. As a matter of fact, it can totally backfire and make you less efficient, due to stress, fatigue, and other factors. Moreover, it can negatively affect your physical health. It has been recorded that the risk of heart disease increases markedly by 67% for people who work long hours compared to people who work the standard 7-8 hours a day.

. . . .

1. Create a to-do list to improve productivity at work

Lists help give you a plan for what needs to be accomplished and increases your productivity in the workplace. You could also have one for the week or even the month from which you pull daily tasks. There can be few work-related things more satisfying than checking off a long time item off your list.

You can even take this to the next level by blocking out time each morning to review and add/remove from your to-do list. You will find that it will quickly become a part of your routine and will increase your productivity at work with a more focused view of the day.

. . . .

2. Start with a tough task

If you have 15 things on your to-do list for the day, consider starting with a hard task. While it might seem unpleasant, it’s often easier than trying to tackle it later in the day once you’re tired. When doing this, your day is already successful and productive once that hard task is complete.

Stephen Covey called this your “big rocks.” It is not only easier to tackle them earlier in the day, but it will also help you to feel success and build momentum towards a full day of being productive at work. Even if you don’t get other things on your list done, you still know you were productive and finished something Important.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no

. . . .

Remember that you don’t always have to deliver a hard “no.” If an opportunity seems like a good fit, you can ask someone on your team to investigate it.

. . . .

You also have the option to kick the can down the road. “You’d be surprised by how easily you can delay certain opportunities,” Smith says. “You may miss out on some that don’t fit your immediate strategy, but you can focus on maintaining a relationship that may bring that same opportunity to you again when you are better suited to fulfill on it.”

. . . .

5. Automate when possible (and don’t be afraid to outsource)

Are repetitive tasks taking up a great deal of your time? Consider automating these tasks to improve efficiency within your company. In fact, it can handle up to 45% of repetitive work, such as appointment scheduling, reminder emails, and marketing management.

If tasks are taking up your quality time that can’t be automated, consider outsourcing them, so you have time to handle your more critical items.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

PG knows a lot of the OP is stuff you’ve heard before, but sometimes hearing something at the right time is more important than having heard it before.

Particularly when he is near his computer, PG has a lot of shortcuts he uses to speed up routine tasks. As one small example, “Link to the rest at ” which PG uses at the end of each quoted item is accomplished by PG typing “ltr” which causes his computer to spit out the longer version.

“Period, close quote, return, open quote” would seem like a beneficial macro for an author writing a lot of dialogue.

How to Choose a Writing Instrument and What It Says About You

21 October 2019

From The New Yorker:

Cormac McCarthy purchased a powder blue Olivetti Lettera 32 mechanical typewriter in a Tennessee pawnshop, in 1963, for fifty dollars, and used it for the next five decades, producing an estimated five million words tickling its ivories. An author’s instrument is more than a tool; it is an extension of his very soul. With that in mind, choose your weapon carefully. (I use the Olivetti Lettera 22—an earlier model—myself.)

Ballpoint pen: Let me guess—you probably have a great idea for a book that you’ve been meaning to write but haven’t actually got around to starting?

Fountain pen: You don’t use contractions because you think that they degrade the language, and your epigraphs are all in Latin. You include epigraphs in everything you write.

. . . .

Manual typewriter: You spent six hundred dollars on a typewriter that you’ve used twice.

No. 2 pencil: You keep one behind your ear because you think it looks writerly, but exclusively use it to jot down to-do lists.

Pencil you can only sharpen with a pocket knife: You have gone camping two or three times in your life and bring it up at least once per conversation.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Favorite MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

9 October 2019

From InfoWare:

1. CTRL + Spacebar – Remove all character formatting (font, bold, size, italics, etc.) from selected text. This keystroke saves time by not having to re-highlight text and remove an exact attribute. An entire document may be highlighted and all character formatting can be removed at once. This is helpful when you are reformatting old documents , making changes to one from opposing counsel, or if you are changing firms and need to update your precedents to meet the new firms document standards.

2. CTRL + Q – Remove all direct paragraph formatting. We’ve all experienced spacing issues that are troublesome to fix. This keystroke removes all of those at once and is applied only to the direct formatting by selecting the text and applying Ctrl + Q. This allows the block of text to go back into the style it was applied as. This is incredibly useful when spacing and paragraph issues arise as a result of exchanging document versions between colleagues.

3. ALT + Shift + Up/Down Arrows – Move a paragraph or table row. Click in a paragraph or row or select more than one and hold down Alt + Shift with your left hand. Use the up and down arrows to move the text up or down to a different paragraph. This is helpful in legal documents where you need to change the order of your arguments and saves time from the usual approach of copy and pasting and moving text around the document.

4. Shift + F5 – Return to the last three (3) edit points. If you have moved edited text and then moved to another location within your document, pressing Shift + F5 will move your cursor back to your previous edit. This is helpful in all documents, but specifically in contracts, pleadings and agreements, when you want to quickly return back to your last change without having to manually search for it.

5. CTRL + G – Navigate to a specific part of your document. This keystroke is especially helpful when working with larger documents. Using GoTo will take you to a specific page, section, bookmark or footnote within your document. If you are making changes to only a few clauses or sections, this tool is useful to find the relevant text faster. This keystroke can also give you access to Advanced Find and Replace in the same dialogue box, helping you get more done, faster.

Link to the rest at InfoWare

PG loves anything that will speed up his creation of documents, including TPV posts, emails, legal documents, etc.

He’s mentioned AutoHotkey before and uses it for almost every TPV post and lots of other things.

He also uses TheFormTool document assembly plugin for Word for a number of the legal documents he prepares on a recurring basis. He uses the free version, but has been thinking about upgrading.

HotDocs is another document creation program that has been around for a long time. PG hasn’t tried it out recently, but may need to do it again.

If anyone has any suggestions for other document assembly programs/plugins, etc., leave a comment.

One of PG’s complaints about a number of different classes of software, including document assembly, is that it seems like almost everyone wants recurring revenues for their software and is asking for monthly payments. In other words, software is less a product than it is a service.

AI Augmentation: The Real Future of Artificial Intelligence

1 October 2019

From Forbes:

I love Grammarly, the writing correction software from Grammarly, Inc. As a writer, it has proved invaluable to me time and time again, popping up quietly to say that I forgot a comma, got a bit too verbose on a sentence, or have used too many adverbs. I even sprung for the professional version.

Besides endorsing it, I bring Grammarly up for another reason. It is the face of augmentative AI. It is AI because it uses some very sophisticated (and likely recursive) algorithms to determine when grammar is being used improperly or even to provide recommendations for what may be a better way to phrase things. It is augmentative because, rather than completely replacing the need for a writer, it instead is intended to nudge the author in a particular direction, to give them a certain degree of editorial expertise so that they can publish with more confidence or reduce the workload on a copy editor.

This may sound like it eliminates the need for a copy editor, but even that’s not really the case. Truth is, many copy editors also use Grammarly, and prefer that their writers do so well, because they usually prefer the much more subtle task of improving well wrought prose, rather than the tedious and maddening task of correcting grammatical and spelling errors.

As a journalist I use Cisco’s Webex a great deal. Their most recent products have introduced something that I’ve found to be invaluable – the ability to transcribe audio in real time. Once again, this natural language processing (NLP) capability, long the holy grail of AI, is simply there. It has turned what was once a tedious day long operation into a comparatively short editing session (no NLP is 100% accurate), meaning that I can spend more time gathering the news than having to transcribe it.

. . . .

These examples may seem to be a far cry from the popular vision of AI as a job stealer – from autonomous cars and trucks to systems that will eliminate creatives and decision makers – but they are actually pretty indicative of where Artificial Intelligence is going.

. . . .

What’s evident from these examples is that this kind of augmentative AI can be used to do those parts of a task or operation that were high cost for very little value add otherwise. Grammarly doesn’t change my voice significantly as a writer. Auto-transcription takes a task that would likely take me several hours to do manually and reduces it to seconds so that I can focus on the content. Photoshop’s Select Subject eliminates the need for very painstaking selection of an image. It can be argued in all three cases, that this does eliminate the need for a human being to do these tasks, but let’s face it – these are tasks that nobody would prefer to do unless they really had no choice.

. . . .

When Microsoft Powerpoint suggests alternatives visualizations to the boring old bullet points slide, the effect is to change behavior by giving a nudge. The program is saying “This looks like a pyramid, or a timeline, or a set of bucket categorizations. Why don’t you use this kind of presentation?”

. . . .

However, work with an intelligent word processor long enough and several things will begin to configure to better accommodate your writing style. Word and grammatical recommendations will begin to reflect your specific usage. Soft grammatical “rules” will be suppressed if you continue to ignore them, the application making the reasonable assumption that you are deliberately ignoring them when pointed out.

Ironically, this can also mean that if someone else uses your particular “trained” word processing application, they will likely get frustrated because the recommendations being made do not fit with their writing style, not because they are programmed to follow a given standard, but because they have been trained to facilitate your style instead.

. . . .

Remembered history is actually a pretty good description for how most augmented AIs work. Typically, most AIs are trained to pick up anomalous behavior from a specific model, weighing both the type and weight of that anomaly and adjusting the model accordingly.

. . . .

In some cases, the model itself is also somewhat self-aware, and will deliberately “mutate” the weightings based upon certain parameters to mix things up a bit. News filters, for instance, will normally gravitate towards a state where certain topics predominate (news about “artificial intelligence” or “sports balls” for instance, based upon a user’s selections), but every so often, a filter will pick up something that’s three or four hops away along a topic selection graph, in order to keep the filter from being too narrow.

This, of course, also highlights one of the biggest dangers of augmenting AIs. Such filters will create an intrinsic, self selected bias in the information that gets through. If your personal bias tends to favor a certain political ideology, you get more stories (or recommendations) that favor that bias, and fewer that counter it.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG thinks the author of the OP is precisely correct for a variety of different reasons.

(Note: Grammarly suggested that PG use “precisely” instead of “exactly” in the prior sentence and was, as is often the case, correct.)

First, tools like Grammarly are just so darned helpful. Perhaps PG is alone in this shortcoming, but there are a few words, not complex, for which PG is perennially uncertain about the spelling. He’s not certain why, but he never remembers with certainty exactly whether it’s spelled one way or another that seems equally as likely. In olden times, PG would have to look these words up in a dictionary.

Then came spell-check, which did the trick, but in a mechanical-seeming fashion. Grammarly is definitely a few steps above the simple spell-check in that, over the many years PG has been using it, the program has become notably more graceful and more subtle in its sense of taste than it formerly was. “Precisely” is more graceful than “exactly” for PG’s sensibilities.

PG has also noted the changes referenced in the OP in Powerpoint, but, perhaps because Microsoft is new at this stuff, the suggestions for alternative slide layouts have generally struck PG as being pretty mundane and not much less unboring than the originals. During the past several years, PG has tended to do more hand-crafting of his Powerpoint presentations (perhaps because he doesn’t’ have to make a Powerpoint presentation 2-3 times per week as in former days). If the Grammarly experts took a shot at Powerpoint, that is something PG would pay attention to.

 

 

Bring Back Handwriting: It’s Good for Your Brain

18 September 2019

From Medium:

Not so long ago, putting pen to paper was a fundamental feature of daily life. Journaling and diary-keeping were commonplace, and people exchanged handwritten letters with friends, loved ones, and business associates.
While longhand communication is more time-consuming and onerous, there’s evidence that people may in some cases lose out when they abandon handwriting for keyboard-generated text.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that “the writing cure,” which normally involves writing about one’s feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there’s evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

. . . .

“When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different sort of task — one that doesn’t involve these same brain pathways. “It’s possible that there’s not the same connection to the emotional part of the brain” when people type, as opposed to writing in longhand, Berninger says.

. . . .

A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG’s mother had him take a summer typing class when he was about eleven years old. (Yes, my child, this was at a time when dragons were still found on the earth and a keyboard was always permanently fixed to a typewriter.)

Later, in high school, he took another typing class (and massively aced it because of his original typing class). At the annual high school awards program, he received an award for being the fastest and most accurate typist in the school. (It was a very small school, but still.)

During his early years of college, PG charged an exorbitant price per page for typing papers for other students. His particular target market was procrastinators who hadn’t finished their papers until the evening of the day before they were due. PG would type papers at all hours of the night, for a price. (Yes, keyboards were still attached to typewriters.)

PG remembers the first time he saw a word processor, in a law office where he worked part-time during law school. It was used by the secretary for an estate planning attorney. PG learned two things – 1. Word processors could turn out perfectly-typed documents faster than anybody could type. 2. 99% of the contents of an estate plan created for Client A were the same as an estate plan for Client B, so a skilled secretary could modify 1% of the standard estate plan template in about ten minutes, then feed sheets of paper into the typewriter without worrying about mistakes. (The earliest word processors were essentially typewriters with some minimal memory hooked up inside. Sometimes, there was a dial next to the keyboard that allowed the secretary to select one of ten numbered documents that were stored in the word processor.

Not long thereafter, PG was working General Counsel for a very small tech company that also retained a large Los Angeles law firm for some matters. The law firm had a glassed-in portion of its office where its word processors and their operators sat. PG Again, these were dedicated machines that only did word processing, but they used separate monitors and keyboards. They still used impact printers, so it was very noisy in the room when multiple documents were being printed.

These dedicated word processors were quite expensive (PG remembers something like $40,000 each), so the law firm was anxious to have them in use as much as possible. The word processing room was staffed 24/7, so lawyers working late or very late could have documents created or updated at any time. PG had a couple of late-night projects and became familiar with the talents of the word processing workers. They were very fast and very accurate.

When PG opened his own law office, he sprang for a dedicated word processor for his desk and his secretary (Yes, my child, that was a common and perfectly respectable job title) used an IBM Selectric. A year or so later, PG bought a personal computer from the local Radio Shack store, moved the dedicated word processor to his secretary’s desk, and hasn’t looked back since.

That is a very long preface to a very short conclusion. PG believes that whatever areas of his brain that would otherwise be devoted to handwriting have been hijacked by keyboarding. He isn’t aware of any intermediary steps happening in his brain between his thinking of something and the words describing that something showing up on his computer screen. He doesn’t believe that handwriting holds a special place in his brain any more. Your experience may vary, but PG has typed so many more words than he has handwritten during his life, he thinks his handwriting brain has either gone completely dormant or been occupied by his typing brain.

Editor’s Toolkit

14 August 2019

PG received a promo email for a program called Editor’s Toolkit and was intrigued by some of the features it claimed.

From An American Editor

The new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 has a wealth of new features, but I’d like to alert you to a few of my favorites, some of which are not immediately obvious but can be enormously useful.

. . . .

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the new features, it would be this one. The previous version of Editor’s ToolKit Plus made it possible to select a heading, press a key (or click the mouse), and properly title-case the selected text. For example, a heading like this one—

THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE

or this one (Word’s default)—

The Ghost In The Machine

instantly became capitalized like this—

The Ghost in the Machine

with commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions lowercased. That was great as far as it went, but why not make it possible to properly title-case all of a document’s headings without having to select them? That’s what this new feature does, for any text formatted with a heading style (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on—or your own custom heading styles).

But this feature takes things even a step further, allowing you to automatically title-case headings in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder — your choice. Now, rather than painstakingly capping and lowercasing by hand, you can have this feature do it for you, in seconds rather than hours.

But wait — there’s more, as they say on TV. This feature references a list of words so it knows what to lowercase, and you can edit that list to fit your needs. Obviously you’re going to want such words as and, the, of, and an, but what about beyond? How about through? Add or remove words to meet your own editorial style.

In addition, you can add text that you want to remain in all caps: USA, NASA, AARP, and so on.

Finally, you can even specify mixed case, with words like QuarkXPress and InDesign.

. . . .

As you almost certainly know from hard experience, sometimes Microsoft Word documents become corrupted. (The technical term for this is wonky.) The standard fix, known as a “Maggie” (for tech writer/editor Maggie Secara, who has made it widely known to colleagues, although she did not invent the technique), is to select all of a document’s text except for the final paragraph mark (which holds the corruption), copy the text, and paste the text into a new document, which should then be free of wonkiness.

That’s simple enough, but section breaks can also hold corruption, so if your document has several of those, you have to maggie each section separately. Paragraph breaks also can become corrupt, in which case they need to be replaced with shiny new ones. The AutoMaggie feature in Editor’s ToolKit Plus takes care of all this automatically.

. . . .

If you’re fond of using macros that you’ve recorded yourself or captured online, you’ll find MacroVault a truly revolutionary feature of the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018. It was included with the previous version of the program as a way to easily access the macros you use the most, including automatically set keyboard shortcuts to run those macros. Now it takes your macro use to the next level, allowing you to run any of your macros on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder.

Not only that, but you can specify which parts of a document you want to use — the main text, text boxes, footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, and comments. This brings enormous power and flexibility to your macro collection.

. . . .

FileCleaner has lots of new (and useful!) cleanup options — so many, in fact, that I’ve had to put each kind of option on its own tab, one for each of the following:

Breaks, Returns, Spaces, Tabs
Dashes
Hyphenation
Formatting
Text
Punctuation
Miscellaneous

. . . .

But I think the slickest new feature in FileCleaner is the ability to save entire sets of options for future use.

Just enter a name for a set of options (for a certain client, a certain kind of manuscript, or whatever). Then click OK to clean up those options. The next time you use FileCleaner, you can activate that set of options again by clicking the drop-down arrow on the right. When you do, all of the options for that saved setting will become selected. You can save up to 20 different sets of options.

Link to the rest at An American Editor

Here is additional information from the product’s website about various modules in the program:

FileCleaner

FileCleaner cleans up common problems in electronic manuscripts, including multiple spaces, multiple returns, unnecessary tabs, improperly typed ellipses, ells used as ones, and so on. It turns double hyphens into em dashes, and hyphens between numerals into en dashes. It can also remove directly applied font formatting (such as Times 12 point) while retaining styles (such as Heading 1) and character formatting (such as italic and bold), quickly cleaning up those messy documents imported from other word processors or OCR programs.

. . . .

 ListFixer

Microsoft Word’s automatically numbered and bulleted lists are fraught with problems. They’re hard to understand, they’re unpredictable, and, worst of all, they don’t use real characters, which means they can’t be imported into typesetting programs like QuarkXPress, making them useless for real-world publishing.

ListFixer converts automatic numbers and bullets into real numbers and bullets in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder. In addition, it can be used instead of the Bullets and Numbering buttons on the Formatting toolbar, making it possible to select text and instantly apply or remove real numbers and bullets as you work.

If you like, ListFixer will apply special paragraph styles to your lists, allowing you to easily adjust indentation, line spacing, and tab alignment for list items simply by modifying the styles.

. . . .

MegaReplacer for Microsoft Word

MegaReplacer finds and replaces multiple text strings (characters, words, or phrases), text formatting (such as bold and italic), or styles in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder—automatically or with your manual approval. The perfect tool for achieving complete consistency in a manuscript. No more looking through document after document for each item on your editorial style sheet. Simply list the items and have MegaReplacer find and fix them all. Or, if you’re writing a novel and want to change a character’s name in all of your chapters, MegaReplacer will do it for you in seconds.

Link to the rest at Editorium

At Casa PG, Mrs. PG writes the books and PG formats them, using MS Word and Kindle Create at the present time.

However, Mrs. PG, like many other authors (except those who stop taking their OCD Meds while writing) is focused on creating a story, not precisely formatting her manuscripts and maintaining coding consistency throughout the document. She and PG each have Grammarly installed on their machines for basic grammar-checking, but that doesn’t do much for formatting.

Part of PG’s formatting job is slapping the manuscript’s MS Word formatting into a consistent shape prior to pouring it into Kindle Create.

Over the years, PG has created various little shortcuts to speed the process along. However, while Mrs. PG writes on a consistent basis with a few short breaks during the year and is quite prolific, her books inevitably come at intervals long enough so PG may not remember all his little formatting tweaks between books. He has made some lists, but the formatting still takes longer than PG thinks it should.

Hence, PG’s flitting and fluttering attention seized upon the Editor’s Toolkit promo email when it drifted into his inbox. He’s checked out the website and it looks interesting and located a reviewer/editor online who says it’s a useful program.

But, PG would be interested in any experiences of visitors to TPV with Editor’s Toolkit or another tool that performs the same general group of manuscript cleanup tasks.

PG gave up writing litigation briefs and law review articles a long time ago, so he doesn’t need powerful footnote/endnote, citation-checking, etc. tools, just something that can efficiently transform a creative work of fiction into something resembling an attractive book. He’s also familiar with and has used Calibre, but is looking for something a little faster, automated and more focused on actively helping him catch errors instead of just giving him access to the nuts and bolts of an ebook file.

Here’s the link for the Editor’s Toolkit product page for the latest and greatest comprehensive version of the program (you can apparently buy separate tools in the toolkit if you so desire).

Here’s another link for the review of Editor’s Toolkit at An American Editor mentioned above

Here’s a review of Editor’s Toolkit and four other similar programs for the Mac

Here’s a link to Intelligent Editing’s Perfect It Proofreading Software which seems to be designed for a somewhat different job than Editor’s Toolkit (see video below)

Here’s a bonus long, long, long list of Copy Editing Resources from Journalist’s Toolbox

 

Is Grammarly Worth It?

29 July 2019

From The Write Life:

How do you write faster with fewer errors?

No matter how long you’ve bonded with your keyboard, it’s almost impossible to avoid errors, typos and grammatical mistakes.

. . . .

Grammarly is an AI-powered product that checks online grammar, spelling and plagiarism.

While our writers have tried a number of the best grammar checker tools, Grammarly is different because of its ability to check subject-verb agreement, article and modifier placement, punctuation and irregular verb conjugations. As an added bonus, it helps you improve your writing by offering synonym suggestions.

Creating a Grammarly account is free. A free account includes basic grammar and spelling checks. When you upgrade to Premium, you get access to advanced grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, a plagiarism detector and style checks ⁠— which we’ll discuss in-depth in this review.

. . . .

Is Grammarly Premium worth it?

There are lots of free online proofreaders and spell checkers. Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages can even detect grammatical errors, so is Grammarly worth the bang for your buck?

We tried out a premium membership, and here’s where we found the tool to be most helpful.

Polish your writing and eliminate grammar and spelling errors

There are a lot of ways to edit text based on context, tone or purpose ⁠— and Grammarly delivers on all fronts. Once a document is scanned by the AI assistant, suggestions are organized based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and clarity.

Spell check

Like most word processors, Grammarly identifies spelling mistakes in your document. If the word it spots isn’t an error, just add it to your personal dictionary.

Grammar

View mistakes on your articles by clicking on text with a yellow or red underline. You’ll see errors on subject-verb agreement, suggested corrections and the rationale behind those suggestions. Incomplete sentences and rewrites are highlighted in yellow.

. . . .

I personally think their grammar suggestions are useful, especially for students and professionals who want to improve their writing. It’s often hard to pinpoint grammatical errors and why they’re a mistake in the first place, so I appreciate that once you download Grammarly, it provides detailed explanations.

Punctuation

We know most sentences end with a period, so when do you add commas, em dashes or colons? Not only can Grammarly suggest punctuation, it also detects inconsistencies like different styles of apostrophes or quotation marks. And it comes with an “update all” option so the entire document uses a consistent style.

. . . .

Vocabulary

Have a tendency to use certain words again and again? Grammarly underlines those commonly used words and suggests specific synonyms to improve your work.

Grammarly makes suggestions based on variety, clarity, conciseness, consistency and so much more. Most online editing tools don’t go so far as to explain the rationale behind the mistake, so that’s a Grammarly feature I really appreciate. If you’re an aspiring grammar aficionado, this tool will help you learn!

Plagiarism checker

Ever received a guest post for your blog? How do you make sure some parts weren’t plagiarized?

Grammarly’s plagiarism checker scans the article and determines whether the text has a match with any page on the web. It also underlines the plagiarized text and determines its original source, so you can make sure you’re in the clear.

. . . .

Grammarly Chrome Extension

Marketers who often send email or create social media posts will be happy to know that Grammarly has a Chrome extension. Grammarly for Chrome is pretty brilliant — it lets you use the tool while writing emails and crafting social media posts.

. . . .

Set goals for writing

Here’s a feature that sets Grammarly apart from other grammar checkers: it suggests edits based on your content’s goals and audience.

Before you start writing an article, you can specify whether you’ll target general or expert readers. Choose the level of formality, and the editor can accommodate slang for informal pieces. You can even select multiple options to describe the post’s tone, domain and intent.

. . . .

For example, if I target a general audience and opt for an informal tone, I’ll get a high performance rating when the text is readable for younger audiences.

. . . .

I’ve tried several online editors — and I have to say that Grammarly is the best I’ve used so far.

I love the detailed explanations for grammatical mistakes because it helps me improve my writing in the long run. If I’m not a master of subject-verb agreement? Not sure where I should add commas? Grammarly’s got my back.

I frequently write lifestyle articles for news sites, and it’s a hassle to switch to an online thesaurus to find synonyms of commonly used words. With Grammarly’s suggested synonyms, there’s no need to find a thesaurus, which saves me time and effort.

The plagiarism checker is also useful, especially for online editors. It can be hard to spot bits and pieces of copied text, and this is the perfect solution, without needing to purchase a separate tool for this function.

Link to the rest at The Write Life

PG has used Grammarly for almost forever, but, like more than one computer user, has fallen into the trap of using it for the same things he always has. For him, the OP highlighted some additional features he needs to use more frequently.

Free VPN Services to Stay Anonymous

10 June 2019

PG came across an item about VPN (Virtual Private Network) services during some of his online technology meanderings. He was about to move on when he thought about authors using restaurants, libraries or other places with public wifi for their writing locations.

The same concerns for those sorts of settings would also apply to those who live in apartment buildings or complexes and use wifi there. Those who use wifi in single-family homes in a traditional US neighborhood will likely be able to locate a few of their neighbors’ wifi nodes as well.

If you can “see” others’ wifi router names, they can likely “see” yours as well.

First, some VPN basics from Learning Hub:

Over the past three years, a record 73 percent of all U.S. businesses have had [their] data breached – 67 percent globally.

Some of these breaches – like Equifax, Target, PlayStation Network, and others – have exposed the data of hundreds of millions of customers.

Even more unfortunate is that an estimated 93 percent of these breaches could have been avoided by putting data security fundamentals at the forefront, according to an analysis by Online Trust Alliance (OTA).

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One of the easiest and most popular ways to secure both you and your customers’ data is through something called a virtual private network, or a VPN.

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A VPN masks your IP address to prevent outside parties from obtaining your physical location and identifying your internet provider. They can be used in personal browsers, business endpoints, and any other device you can think of.

VPNs protect business users anywhere – even in coffee shops and other locations that are renowned for having unsecured internet connections. A VPN can also facilitate the secure transfer of information across networks, both public and private.

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For an internet connection to work, there needs to be a mutual transfer of information from your device, to an internet service provider, to the internet itself, and back. This process is constantly in motion.

Users without a VPN run the risk of having personal data exploited by hackers, internet service providers, and even government surveillance agencies. This risk is multiplied when placing trust in unsecured internet connections.

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Link to the rest at Learning Hub

The Learning Hub lists Ten Free VPN providers with descriptions of each.

Here are a few ways you can use a VPN that you might not have thought about from ReadWrite:

 

2. Access better deals on travel.

Travel sites don’t treat all traffic equally. You could see different prices on your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer for the same flights and hotel rooms. The game of travel savings gets frustrating quickly, but through a VPN, you can mask your intentions from travel sites and gain access to unbiased pricing.

Use your VPN to spoof different locations and see how prices change. The same flight from Dallas to New York might cost far less if the airline website believes the person searching lives in Australia. Over time, VPN travel searches could save your business thousands.

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4. Protect devices on public Wi-Fi.

Hackers sit on public Wi-Fi to scour data from unsuspecting users. Business users regularly access strange Wi-Fi locations to do their work, which makes them common targets for information thieves. If you want to keep your company’s information safe, don’t let employees use public Wi-Fi without protection.

Make it easy for your employees to use a VPN to create a more secure connection before using public Wi-Fi. Even if hackers manage to view their activity, they won’t be able to learn anything of value or steal passwords. With a VPN on your side, your employees won’t have to wait until they get back to the hotel to finish working.

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6. Prevent websites from gathering your information.

Do you spend a lot of time on your competitors’ pages? Are you worried that websites are collecting your data and selling it to third parties?

No matter where you browse, a VPN can mask your location from websites and prevent outside parties from collecting data that identifies you or your company. Personal VPN users lean on this function to prevent sites like Amazon and Facebook from tracking them across the web. By hiding behind a VPN, you can spy on your competition as much as you want, and no one will ever know.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Typically, when you sign up for a VPN, it will provide you an app or a browser link to access the VPN.

PG has a VPN app sitting on his computer’s desktop. Just like any other app or program, when PG wants to turn on his VPN, he clicks on the link and is connected within a few seconds.

PG uses Nord VPN (but has no relationship with the company other than as a plain-vanilla customer). He has a paid account at the company’s lowest-cost level.

When he clicks a desktop icon to start the VPN, it opens and automatically connects to one of thousands of Nord nodes in the US (if PG is in the US) after quickly locating the one that’s providing the best speeds when PG signs on.

If PG wants to connect through a VPN note located in a different country, the Nord app lets him pick from a list or click on a map to choose. PG just clicked on Mexico and was connected to a VPN server in that country in less than 10 seconds.

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