Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Just Checking In: 7 Better Ways to Follow up on Email

Nothing induces a world-weary sigh from working professionals like a “just checking in” email. They’re the bane of our inbox existence. Here are a few ways to make sure your follow-up incites action, not apathy.

What’s the problem with “just checking in” emails?

As a writer for a popular blog (this one) and a freelance PR professional, I get follow-up emails on the regular. They come in for different reasons, from different sources, but they all have something in common—the person sending them wants something.

The problem with “just checking in” is that it’s a smokescreen we all instantly see through. A check-in is an indirect request for our time or attention, and we find ourselves wishing the sender had gotten straight to the point.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all alternative to “just checking in?” Unfortunately, variations on that phrase (like “I’m following up on . . .”) all spark the same visceral response. We prefer a more straightforward approach.

When it’s time to follow up, It’s not a new phrase you need but an entirely new strategy. Here are a few unique ways to follow up without making your contact tune out.

Here’s a tip:  Grammarly runs on powerful algorithms developed by the world’s leading linguists, and it can save you from misspellings, hundreds of types of grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and words that are spelled right but used in the wrong context. Learn More 

Requesting Status Updates

Sometimes you need to know where a project or task stands. Although this is a perfectly good reason to check in via email, there are ways to avoid the “just checking in” language we all dread.

1 Ask.

Drop the “checking in” wind-up and ask for an update politely and directly. Use the request for a status update as a call-to-action, and make it time sensitive so you’re more likely to get a response.

I’d love to hear how things are going with the Great Big Infographic design brief. Could you give me a quick status update by end-of-day?

2 Open with context.

If you’re concerned that a task may have fallen through the cracks, start with a little context. It can be helpful to explain why the task is important to you, too.

Last Friday, we talked about growth strategies over lunch, and you shared some thoughts. You offered to put together a list of project ideas for further brainstorming. I’ve been excited to get your input. Have you had a moment to jot those ideas down?

3 Send a friendly reminder.

Emails get lost in busy inboxes. It happens. Your contact might appreciate a reminder that there’s still an open email chain needing attention.

If your inbox is anything like mine, it tends to get unruly fast. Did this thread get buried? I wanted to make sure things were still in progress. Let me know if you need any help.

Maintaining a Connection

Whether you’re networking or pursuing a sale, when you want to stay on your contact’s radar, begin with one of these approaches. If you’re hoping for a specific result, conclude with a CTA that points your contact at the next step and prompts action.

4 Offer something of value.

Even when you’re ultimately trying to get something, it can be helpful to give something useful as a lead-in.

Are you still looking for solutions to convert [company] website visitors to subscribers? I read a great article this morning about the power of using quizzes to ease visitors into your sales funnel, and I thought you’d appreciate a link.

A quiz plugin like [your app] could be the answer to the conversion problem you mentioned. Do you have a few minutes Tuesday at 2:30 Eastern to chat about it?

 

5 Reference a blog post they (or their company) published.

It’s likely you and your contacts and sales leads have some common interests. When a contact or their company posts something relevant to you, that’s a perfect reason to check in.

I read your blog post about email funnel strategies yesterday. I liked what you had to say about building trust with new subscribers. That’s the email marketing philosophy we embrace at ABC Consultants, too.

I’d love to meet for coffee this week to talk about potentially working together. Are you available Thursday at 10:30 a.m.?”

6 Drop a name.

It never hurts to mention the connections you and your contact have in common as long as they’re relevant to the ongoing conversation.

I had lunch with Kylie Larson yesterday and your name came up. (All good things!) She said your team is still looking for the right project management tool. I wondered if [software] is still on your radar.

I could set you up with a free trial account. Then we could meet for a 15-minute video walk-through so you can see if [software] is the best solution for you. Should I make that happen?

7 Recommend an event you’re attending in their area.

There’s no better way to network than going to events, so why not invite your most valuable contacts to join you?

I was making plans to attend the Great Big Event the weekend of July 7th and it occurred to me you might be interested in going. If you decide to register (or you already have), let me know so we can get together for coffee or lunch. I hope to see you there!

The post Just Checking In: 7 Better Ways to Follow up on Email appeared first on Grammarly Blog.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Career Advice From 7 Popular Creatives Who Made It Big

Do you dream of becoming a writer or using your writing skills to gain success in your industry? It’s easy to look at creatives who’ve “made it” and forget that not so long ago they were in the exact same place as you are.

Ryan Coogler wasn’t always the internationally lauded writer and director of Black Panther. Insecure’s Issa Rae wasn’t born with her own HBO show. And David Chang didn’t think his restaurant Momofuku would make it through the first year, let alone become a world-renowned culinary empire.

We all start with humble beginnings and big dreams, and seeing our path from point A to point Z can be difficult. Fortunately, there’s plenty we can learn from our fellow creatives. Here are key insights from seven creatives on how to work through setbacks, fears, distractions, and procrastination to build a career for yourself.

Here’s a tip:  Grammarly runs on powerful algorithms developed by the world’s leading linguists, and it can save you from misspellings, hundreds of types of grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and words that are spelled right but used in the wrong context. Learn More 

1 Issa Rae: Stop Making Excuses

The writer, executive producer, and star of HBO’s hit comedy Insecure spent her post-college years doing odd jobs, filming high school talent shows, and going nowhere fast.

Then she created her web series Adventures of Awkward Black Girl which garnered A-list attention. She says:

Stop making excuses. You’re the only one stopping you. Because I had to hear that myself… I’m excuse queen, I’m procrastination queen, I’m all of those. And I would always talk about how I wanted to make this happen, I wanted to put a show out… I want to be a writer and a producer.

But once you’re coming up with ways that you can’t do something, you’re not gonna do it. Stop finding the ways that you can’t do something, and find all the ways that you can, and just go for it.

2 Ryan Coogler: Work on Projects You’re Obsessed With

You may know this Oakland-born writer-director from Fruitvale Station, Creed, or perhaps that Marvel film, Black Panther, that smashed every box office record its path and unseated Titanic to become the third highest grossing film of all time.

As a writer and filmmaker, Coogler’s projects are immense in scope and intensity, and burnout is a real concern. The solution? Don’t settle for what other people want you to do, or what you think you should be doing—choose projects that you’re truly passionate about.

…it’s important to me to always work on projects that have things that I’m passionate about in them. This work is so all-consuming that to do this job right, you have to throw yourself at it 24 hours a day for years at a time.

So that’s kind of what I use as a safeguard that I’m never on a project that I get burnt out from and stop caring … I try to always make movies about something that I’m obsessed with and about things that I have questions about.

3 Abbi Jacobson: Do It Yourself

Duo Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Comedy Central’s Broad City started their comedy careers taking classes from the renowned improv group Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York.

The only problem? They weren’t getting cast in any of the group’s comedy shows. Frustrated with being shut out, they decided to create their own creative outlet through a web series called Broad City which eventually caught the attention of Amy Poehler.

When we started making the web series, it came out of feeling very powerless in becoming what we wanted to become, not being able to get parts or get seen or heard as a performer or comedian. We both found ourselves in this spot where, when you want to make something like this, you have no other option but to go full-force or not at all.

If you’re getting shut out, or there isn’t currently a platform that showcases what you’re doing—make your own.

via GIPHY

4 Donald Glover: Define Success On Your Own Terms

If there’s anyone who knows success, it’s multi-hyphenate Donald Glover. The Emmy and Grammy award-winning writer-actor-director-producer-songwriter-rapper has defied fitting into anyone else’s box while creating a career for himself. His advice to creatives:

Define success for yourself early. And it can change, it’s okay. But just like know that success is something that you define for yourself and it can’t really be defined by anyone else for you. You have to believe in yourself. . . know what you’re getting out of it. Do what you want. Be cool with it. Be okay. Like yourself.

Don’t listen to those outside voices telling you what your work or career is “supposed” to look like. Do what you love, and focus on achieving what you set out to do.

via GIPHY

5 David Chang: Don’t Be Afraid of Making Unconventional Decisions

You may know him from Netflix’s Mind of a Chef or Ugly Delicious, or have picked up a copy of the New York Times best-selling food magazine Lucky Peach (RIP). This James Beard Award-winning chef relentlessly pushes the envelope on all fronts and has been busy growing his restaurant empire.

Chang’s first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, has been described as an “anti-restaurant,” with decor and service being low on the priority list, and food being the top focus. When asked by GQ why he thought this renegade restaurant would work, he replied:

I didn’t think it was going to work! . . . It was almost like I went into it acknowledging I was going to become a statistic and go out of business, so why not throw caution to the wind and do whatever the [hell] you want.

And in doing that, in accepting failure, you free yourself up and become emboldened to make unconventional decisions and go against the accepted ways of doing things.

When we start playing big instead of limiting ourselves to playing it safe, it’s amazing what becomes possible.

6 Kendrick Lamar: Stay Focused on the Creative Process

Generally considered the greatest rapper of his generation, Lamar boasts twelve Grammys and in spring of 2018 made history as the first rapper to win the Pulitzer prize for music.

His advice for staying focused in a competitive industry?

Don’t ever reach, always do something that you feel good about. Don’t do it because you want to get signed or you want a distribution deal because at the end of the day, that doesn’t last. What lasts is something that is 100% true to yourself. You get so twisted and tangled in singles and how many streams the other cat gets, you lose vision of the creative process…

7 SZA: Use Your Setbacks As Fuel

It took a lot of hard work, patience, and even anger for neo-soul singer SZA to arrive at the point where she could create Cntrl, her billboard-topping, platinum record.

When people trash you, you’re forced to look at yourself and be like, ‘OK, you have to get better.’ What does getting better mean? Well, you don’t know what getting better means. Stop trying to figure out what it means and watch the process and just learn.

So I sat and I learned and then I got angry because so much was happening in the meantime. People were putting their albums out, and I was getting looked over again and again and again. I was just like, “I feel like I’m disappearing into the ether, like I’m not important.” At times, I was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t make this.” But that anger turned into commitment into being.

Instead of comparing herself to others or getting hung up on her setbacks, SZA chose to dig deep and use those challenges as fuel for achieving success.

via GIPHY

What’s one small step you can take right now toward achieving your dreams?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Under the Hood at Grammarly: Detecting Disorganized Writing with AI

Whenever you write something longer than a sentence, you need to make decisions about how to organize and present your thoughts. Good writing is easy to understand because each sentence builds on the ones that came before it. When the topic changes, strong writers use transition sentences and paragraph breaks as signposts to tell readers what to expect next.

Linguists call this aspect of writing discourse coherence, and it’s the subject of some cool new research from the Grammarly Research team that will appear at the SIGDIAL conference in Melbourne, Australia, this week.

What Is Discourse Coherence, and Why Care About It?

When we say that a text has a high level of discourse coherence, we mean that all of the sentences are linked together logically. The writer doesn’t veer off topic. Different points are connected by transitions. The text is easy to follow from beginning to end.

This type of organization doesn’t always come naturally. Few of us think in perfectly linear progressions of ideas. A system that could automatically tell you when you’ve written something other people will struggle to follow—and, eventually, suggest how to fix this—would be enormously helpful to communicate what you mean.

What’s Been Done

Teaching a computer to accurately judge the coherence level of text is challenging. To date, the most common method of evaluating how well a computer rates discourse coherence is based on a sentence ordering task. With this method, researchers take an existing, well-edited piece of text, such as a news article, and randomly reorder all the sentences. The assumption is that the random permutation can be viewed as incoherent and the original ordering can be viewed as coherent. The task is to build a computer algorithm that can distinguish between the incoherent version and the original. Under these conditions, some systems have reached as high as 90 percent accuracy. Pretty impressive.

But there’s a big potential flaw with this method. Maybe you’ve spotted it already. Randomly reordering sentences might produce a low-coherence text, but it doesn’t produce text that looks like anything a human would naturally write.

At Grammarly, we’re focused on solving real-world problems, so we knew that any work we did in this area would need to be benchmarked against real writing, not artificial scenarios. Surprisingly, there’s been very little work that tests discourse evaluation methods on real text written by people under ordinary circumstances. It’s time to change that.

Real-World Research, Real-World Writers

The first problem we had to solve was the same one that every other researcher working on discourse coherence has faced: a lack of real-world data. There was no existing corpus of ordinary, naturally-written text we could test our algorithms on.

We created a corpus by collecting text from several public sources: Yahoo Answers, Yelp Reviews, and publicly available government and corporate emails. We chose these specific sources because they represent the kinds of things people write in a typical day—forum posts, reviews, and emails.

To turn all this text into a corpus that computer algorithms can learn from, we also needed to rate the coherence levels of each text. This process is called annotation. No matter how good your algorithm is, sloppy annotation will drastically skew your results. In our paper, we provide details on the many annotation approaches we tested, including some that involved crowdsourcing. We ultimately decided to have expert annotators rate the coherence level of each piece of text on a three-point scale (low, medium, or high coherence). Each piece of text was judged by three annotators.

Putting Algorithms to the Test

Once we had the corpus, it was time to test how accurately various computer systems could identify the coherence level of a given piece of text. We tested three types of systems:

In the first category are entity-based models. These systems track where and how often the same entities are mentioned in a text. For example, if the system finds the word “transportation” in several sentences, it takes it as a sign that those sentences are logically related to one another.

In the second category, we tested a model based on a lexical coherence graph. This is a way of representing sentences as nodes in a graph and connecting sentences that contain pairs of similar words. For example, this type of model would connect a sentence containing “car” and a sentence containing “truck” because both sentences are probably about vehicles or transportation.

In the third category are neural network, or deep learning, models. We tested several of these, including two brand-new models built by the Grammarly team. These are AI-based systems that learn a representation of each sentence that captures its meaning, and they can learn the general meaning of a document by combining these sentence representations. They can look for patterns that are not restricted to entity occurrences or similar word pairs.

The Sentence Ordering Task

We used the high-coherence texts from our new corpus to create a sentence ordering task for all three types of models. We found that models that performed well on other sentence ordering datasets also performed well on our dataset, with performances as high as 89 percent accuracy. The entity-based models and lexical coherence graphs showed decent accuracy (generally 60 to 70 percent accuracy), but it was the neural models which outperformed the other models by at least ten percentage points on three out of the four domains.

The Real Writing Test

What we really wanted to know was whether any of these models could perform at the same level of accuracy on real, naturally written text. We converted the annotators’ labels into numerical values (low=1, medium=2, high=3) and averaged the numbers together to get a coherence score for each piece of text.

In every domain, at least one of the neural network-based systems outperformed all the others. In fact, one of Grammarly’s models that takes paragraph breaks into account was the top performer on text from Yahoo Answers, as shown in the table below. The Neural Clique model, which was developed by researchers at Stanford, was also a strong performer.

But our original hypothesis was correct: All the models performed worse on the real-world task than they did on the sentence order task—some were much worse. For example, the lexical graph method was 78 percent accurate for corporate emails in the artificial sentence reordering scenario, but it only managed to achieve 45 percent in this more realistic evaluation.

What We Found

It turns out that previous work on discourse coherence has been testing the wrong thing. The sentence order task is definitely not a good proxy for measuring discourse coherence. Our results are clear: Systems that perform well in the artificial scenario do much worse on real-world text.

It’s important to note that this finding isn’t a setback. Far from it, in fact. Part of growing any field is evaluating how you’re evaluating—stopping every once in a while to take a look at what you’ve really been measuring. Because of this work, researchers working on discourse coherence now have two important pieces of information. One is the insight that the sentence ordering task should no longer be the way we measure accuracy. The second is a publicly available, annotated corpus of real-world text and new benchmarks (our neural models) to use in future research.

Looking Forward

There’s more work to be done and a lot of exciting applications for a system that can reliably judge discourse coherence in a piece of text. One day, a system like this could not only tell you how coherent your overall message is but also point out the specific passages that might be hard to follow. Someday we hope to help you make those passages easier to understand so that what you’re trying to say is clear to your recipient.

After all, Grammarly’s path to becoming a comprehensive communication assistant isn’t just about making sure your writing is grammatically and stylistically accurate—it’s about ensuring you’re understood just as intended.

—-

Joel Tetreault is Director of Research at Grammarly. Alice Lai is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a research intern at Grammarly. This research will be presented at the SIGDIAL 2018 annual conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 12-14, 2018. The accompanying research paper, entitled “Discourse Coherence in the Wild: A Dataset, Evaluation and Methods” will be published in the Proceedings of the 19th Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue. The dataset described in this blog post is called the Grammarly Corpus of Discourse Coherence and is free to download for research purposes here.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

10 Things You Should Never Say in an Email

There are some things you already know not to mention via email; political opinions, anything that could be considered sexual harassment, and office gossip are among the no-brainers. But there are also some less obvious topics and phrases you’d do well to stay away from, particularly if you want to come off as professional, competent, and on top of your workload. After all, emails can stick around for a long time, and you never know what might get dug up down the road.

Here’s what HR pros say you should avoid at all costs.

Here’s a tip:  Grammarly runs on powerful algorithms developed by the world’s leading linguists, and it can save you from misspellings, hundreds of types of grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and words that are spelled right but used in the wrong context. Learn More 

1 “Just a heads up, I’m calling in sick tomorrow.”

Look, everyone has called in sick for a pre-planned mental health or personal day at some point in their career, but that doesn’t mean you should talk about it over work email. “Emailing your plans to play hooky the next day isn’t the smartest of moves,” notes Patrick Colvin, Strategic HR Business Partner for USA Today. “This simply puts your dishonesty on display for everyone to see if your message lands in the wrong hands.” While your boss might understand if you explained your need for a day off in person, having it in written form feels decidedly sneaky. “Unless you are genuinely sick and have a feeling you won’t be in the next day, this is not a message you want out there,” Colvin adds.

READ: 5 Better Alternatives to “I Hope This Email Finds You Well”

2 “John really dropped the ball on this one.”

“Never discuss a co-worker’s performance, unless you are their boss and are discussing it with HR or your boss,” advises Cam Bishop, President and CEO of SkillPath. “Not only is it rude, but it’s not your place to discuss someone else’s performance over email.”

3 “I’m feeling…”

It’s best to keep anything emotional out of work emails, says Ginger Robitaille, Professional of Human Resources, HR Generalist at Turning the Corner. “It is important for email communications to be based on facts, sharing information that is required, but not emotional. Our emotions can be construed many different ways when there is no tone or voice inflection to go along with the words,” she says. And if you can’t keep your emotions out of the content of an email, that’s a conversation you should probably be having in person or over the phone.

READ: 11 Unique Ways to Say “Thank You” in an Email

4 “Does Tuesday still work for you to return those documents to me, maybe around 3PM? No worries if not.”

Tentative language has no place in email, according to Amanda B. Gulino, HR expert and founder of A Better Monday. Instead, go for something like: “Have you had a chance to review the documents I sent over last week? Please review and return them to me by Tuesday at 3PM so we can stay on track with our project plan.” By communicating assertively and clearly in work emails, you’ll project confidence and competence.

5 “Here’s a copy of the project I’m working on with my team. I’d love to get your feedback.”

“Unless your boss says it is okay to share a project, keep it to yourself or specific team members working on your assignment,” says Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers. Inadvertently sharing confidential or proprietary information from your company might seem like an innocent mistake, but it can be grounds for dismissal from your job. “Millennials in particular like to crowdsource topics, even decisions,” Tipograph points out.” But asking your friend who is also in consulting how to solve a client problem, for example, is not permissible.”

6 “This place really gets me down sometimes.”

Even if you’re writing to your best friend in the office after a really difficult day, you should never say anything negative about your workplace via work email. “A message to your co-workers about how much you despise the work you do can easily make its way to your manager,” notes Tiffany Kuehl, Senior Human Resources Recruiter for Versique. “In a best-case scenario, your manager schedules a meeting to talk to you about your concerns. In a worst-case scenario, you’ve just emailed yourself right out of a job.”

READ: 7 Clever Ways to Say “I Look Forward to Hearing from You”

7 “Apologies for the delay.”

“It’s important to take responsibility and apologize from time to time, but some of us do it way too often,” says Alayna Frankenberry, Manager of Inbound Marketing for BlueSky ETO. “Women especially have been socialized to apologize, defer, and buffer their statements with phrases like, ‘Let me know if you disagree,’ and ‘This is just my opinion, but . . .’ Constantly apologizing and qualifying your statements like this waters down your voice and can lead to a lack of respect from colleagues. No matter your gender, if you find yourself overusing these phrases, challenge yourself to take a more direct and concise approach.”

8 “Nice work. Next time, please consider . . .”

It may seem easier to give constructive criticism via email, but it often backfires. “Pick up the phone, find time to meet in person, or speak via video conference,” Gulino says. “The intent of the message is almost always different than the impact of the message, meaning that what you intend to say is going to reach your audience differently, and likely negatively. I’ve never seen constructive feedback given over email taken well. On the contrary, it has created a whole host of new problems, including lack of trust.” And if you have to give some feedback over email, keep it to the positive, she says.

9 “I’m open to other opportunities.”

This is truly one of the worst things you can say over work email, and yet people do it all the time. “Don’t tell people you are looking for a job or that you may know of someone looking to leave,” Tipograph recommends. Talking to recruiters, checking in with clients and competitors about open roles, and chatting with co-workers about what’s next for you job-wise are all no-nos. “Even if you are thinking about it, it’s not news to announce,.” she says.

10 “As per my last email . . .”

This sentiment comes in many forms including “as already noted below . . .” and “as previously discussed . . .” All iterations should be avoided. “The not-so-gentle nudge is becoming more common over professional email, and looks anything but,” says Jon Brodsky, Country Manager for Finder.com. “It’s passive aggressive and a very thinly-veiled attempt at passing blame for a project that has stalled.” Instead, just repeat whatever needs to be repeated and move forward.

A version of this post originally appeared on Glassdoor’s blog.

More from Glassdoor:

The Ultimate Guide to Resumes

3 Job Search Mistakes To Quit Making Today

The Best Job Search Advice from Top CEOs at GM, 23andMe, Hilton & More

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Friday, July 6, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Better Content, Faster

Here you are, reading an article about writing better. Is it safe to assume that you’re procrastinating about writing right now?

That’s okay—we aren’t here to scold you like your English teacher might. We’ve all been there. Your essay, blog post, or your press release, or whatever it is that you’re currently writing will get done.

How?

By following this step-by-step guide, you can breathe new life into your writing and check off your task in no time.

Let’s begin!

Here’s a tip:  Grammarly runs on powerful algorithms developed by the world’s leading linguists, and it can save you from misspellings, hundreds of types of grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and words that are spelled right but used in the wrong context. Learn More 

Step 1: To Begin is to Succeed

There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank document on your screen.

But think how easy it is to conquer that blank page. All you have to do is type one simple sentence.

This maxim, “To begin is to succeed,” can be applied to every single writing project you take on. While the first sentence you create might not survive your editing process, it’s a start. Before you know it, that first sentence will grow into three, and then into whole paragraphs, and then to a full page.

Keep in mind that your understanding of the task may be crippling your motivation. You’ll be more likely to procrastinate if the project seems ambiguous, unstructured, lacking in personal meaning, or without any intrinsic value.

Determine if these or any other triggers might be inhibiting your creative process. Is the task disorganized? Work with your editor or client to gain a clearer understanding. With a revitalized set of expectations, you can begin on your path to success.

Step 2: Gather a Team of Helpers

If you’re dreading that paper you have to write, call on a support team. No, not your Facebook friends. Build up a stockpile of both online and interpersonal supports that can be conduits of inspiration or, at least, encouragement.

These resources will keep you on task and alleviate pressure to finish entirely on your own:

  • Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator – This will give you a range of catchy blog titles based on 3 nouns/subjects.
  • The Grammarly Editor – Our free editing software offers you a second set of eyes to help catch errors and improve the effectiveness of your writing.
  • Coach.me Digital Coaching – This useful tool has a dedicated track for writers, giving you a digital coach who will hold you accountable to write each day.

There’s nothing wrong with using a sentence generator to spark a creative piece or relying on a friend to give feedback on the final product. Use technology and your network to your advantage.

Step 3: Break Down the Greater Goal into Small Tasks

Writing a 4,000-word summary of a book can seem intimidating. But does writing four 1,000-word sections sound as bad?

Breaking down your greater goal into smaller, more manageable tasks will make it much easier to get the job done.

Take, for example, the freelancing platform, Upwork. When writers accept a large, daunting task—like copyediting a full-length manuscript—they can choose to complete the task all at once or in “milestones.”

Next time you’re slow to write, try splitting up your task into milestones. Write four hundred words per day. Or, write for one hour every morning from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. Trust us: you’ll feel proud of yourself for checking off a task each day.

Step 4: Get Rid of What’s Distracting You

At any given moment, you face a whole slew of distractions: a new email, a text message, or a Snapchat from a friend. It’s hard to ignore notifications—so hard, in fact, that researchers have found a connection between procrastination and internet use with an inability to ‘create flow’ or feel absorbed in tasks.

If you find yourself constantly distracted while you write, try using one of these tools to stay focused:

  • Procraster – Ever wondered why you’re putting something off? Procraster gets to the psychological root of your distraction.
  • Freedom – This app allows you to block any apps or websites that interfere with your writing.
  • SelfControl – A more intense version of Freedom, this app lets you block anything that distracts you for a set period of time. You won’t be able to access what you’ve blocked until that time’s up—even if you disable the app.

Step 5: Ignore the Need for Perfection

The last step in writing efficiently is to ignore the little voice in your head that’s saying, “This must be the best thing you’ve ever written!”

Oftentimes, we write for everyone else instead of ourselves. Fixating on what the audience wants can lead to an overwhelming need for perfection, and perfection is unrealistic.

Be nice to yourself. Feeling shame will never help your writing, especially if it’s stemming from your procrastination. We are always our own worst critics; we judge our work and compare our abilities all the time. But all this does is surround your task with negative energy, which will lead you even further away from achieving your goals.

One more thing: if you tell others that you always procrastinate, then you’ll never break the habit. Instead, treat your task with curiosity and dispel the need for perfection.

More from Grammarly:

12 Things to Write About When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas

Here’s How to Finish Anything You Start

A Writer’s Guide to Creating Social Media Copy from Idea to Publish

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

This Is How to Write a Perfect Call to Action

Get to the end of this article, and you’ll get a free car!

If only it were that easy (and true). Still, a lure like that is enough to catch readers’ attention. And if it’s done right, it’s enough to get them to take the action you want them to take.

A call to action is a strategy that marketers use to make their advertisements more successful. If you master the method, you can make it work for you in a variety of genres.

Here’s a tip:  Grammarly runs on powerful algorithms developed by the world’s leading linguists, and it can save you from misspellings, hundreds of types of grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and words that are spelled right but used in the wrong context. Learn More 

What is a call to action?

A call to action is the part of your message that tells your audience what to do. If written right, it also makes them feel inspired to do it.

In marketing, it’s the part of the advertisement designed to turn observers into customers—or, in marketing slang, boosting your conversion rate. For example:

  • Buy now!
  • Sign up for our newsletter here!
  • Get a free trial!

In other fields, the goal could be convincing someone to read something you wrote or to take another action. For example:

  • Read this book.
  • Stop using plastic water bottles.
  • Use correct grammar.

A call to action tells someone to do something. Designed well, it makes them want to do that something, too.

Why are CTAs important?

Telling someone what action to take after viewing your advertisement or seeing your content is easy. Making them feel motivated to follow through is the real challenge.

“Buy now” or “Sign up here” covers the action, but it doesn’t provide a call that makes them feel invested in buying or signing up. A good CTA is important because it doesn’t just help you gain customers—it can help create loyal customers, too.

Tricks for a successful CTA

So how do you gain an audience’s attention, pique their interest, and get them buying what you’re selling? Here are some tips that will help you think from the target audience’s perspective and write in a way that will speak to them.

Identify the audience’s desires. What would motivate them to follow through on your ad or look at your content in the first place?

Connect your CTA to fulfilling those desires. Craft your message in a way that speaks to them.

Use words that inspire enthusiasm. Instead of “Take a tour of our property,” it’s “Find your dream home today.” Instead of “Pitch in to prevent cruelty against animals,” it’s “Join the millions who are fighting to protect our furry friends.”

Make the next step easy. Clicking a button. Sharing a link. Typing an email address (but not necessarily full account information—even that amount of effort can scare people away). The easier the action, the more likely your audience will feel motivated enough to take it.

Example CTAs

Here are spiced-up versions of the CTAs you saw earlier in the article. Each example could be accompanied by text saying “Buy now,” “Sign up,” or “Get a free trial.” The trick is in the section leading up to that action and making sure it provides the motivation and the rationale for the audience to take the next step.

Original: Read this book.

New and improved: See why thousands of readers are talking about the latest page-turner from this bestselling author.

Why it works: By mentioning “thousands of readers,” this copy makes the audience want to be part of the crowd. The words “page-turner” and “bestselling author” lend credibility to the claim that the book is worth reading.

Original: Stop using plastic water bottles.

New and improved: When you drink from plastic water bottles, you risk consuming microplastics and contributing to plastic pollution of the ocean. Get a glass or metal water bottle instead of a plastic one.

Why it works: The good ol’ “scare ‘em” trick. There’s nothing wrong with a little fear-mongering in advertising. By stating that plastic water bottles are bad for individual health and the environment, this sentence plays on the audience’s fears and suggests an easy solution: stop using plastic water bottles.

Original: Use correct grammar.

New and improved: Speaking and writing grammatically helps you become a better communicator and makes people more likely to listen to you, agree with you, and respect your opinions. Make sure you use correct grammar.

Why it works: This copy gives a straightforward reason for responding to the call to action, and one that is likely to resonate with many professionals. An example CTA to follow the sentence: Get the free Grammarly browser extension today.

The tactics used in these examples can be modified for a call to action in any genre. No matter what your mission is, you’ll benefit from the ability to capture your audience’s attention and persuade them to follow up.

You made it to the end! You may not have a free car, but you now have the tools to write a successful, effective CTA.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Resources to Help You Understand What’s Happening in the World Cup

Are you more comfortable discussing the Quidditch World Cup than the soccer World Cup? Me too.

Right now it feels like half of humanity has caught World Cup fever—and that’s because they have. The World Cup happens every four years and around 3.4 billion people (almost half the world’s population) are expected to tune in.

This isn’t just a sports tournament, it’s the celebration of a powerful cultural phenomenon. And that seems worth checking out, both because understanding and connecting with other cultures is more important than ever, and because you’ll sound like a credible adult when everyone at the water cooler is discussing last night’s game.

How to Keep Up with the World Cup

There are plenty of options for watching the games live, including:

Too busy to watch? You can also get live updates on Twitter, read any of the articles on FIFA’s official World Cup News site, and check out Fox Sports’ “90 in 90” highlight videos for the most exciting action of each game.

If you’re a podcast lover, check out We Came to Win to immerse yourself in the game’s rich and dramatic history, or jump straight into jargon land with a daily recap from The Game World Cup Daily.

READ: 25 Sports Phrases You Might Hear as Workplace Jargon

And Instagram fans will enjoy whereisfootball (beautiful images showing the cultural importance of soccer around the world), soccermemes (exactly what it sounds like), brfootball (actual updates), and 433 (highlights and viral content).

How to (Possibly) Understand What’s Happening in the World Cup

From positions, to strategy, to a whole lot of terminology, thanks to Yahoo Sports you can now decode the puzzle that is known as soccer.

World Cup Terms to Know

1 Group Stage

The round robin stage of the World Cup. The tournament begins with eight groups of four, and the top two winners from each group advance to the knockout stage which begins on June 30 and ends with the final playoff game on July 15.

2 Golazo

A breathtakingly fantastic goal scored with especial aplomb, rendering the crowd ecstatic.

“Ronaldo scores another incredible golazo! . . . And he’s taken his shirt off in celebration!”

3 Nutmeg

Getting past an opponent by maneuvering the ball through the space between their legs, causing them to look foolish.

4 Diving

When a player falls to the ground and feigns an injury in hopes of the referee awarding them an opportunity to score, such as a penalty kick. Also known as “flopping” in the US.

via GIPHY

5 Pitch

Not to be confused with attempts to raise money for your startup, “the pitch” simply refers to the playing field.

6 Clean Sheet

An absolute shutout—when a team wins the game without allowing the other team to score.

7 In Form

When a player has been playing exceptionally well. The opposite being “out of form”, when their performance is poor.

“It’s a shame Messi’s been so out of form for Argentina.”

8 Bicycle Kick

When a player leaps into the air, throwing both legs forward and upward in order to kick the ball back over their head. In certain cases this maneuver will result in a golazo.

via GIPHY

9 Yellow Card

A warning a referee gives a player for breaking the rules, unsporting behavior, diving, and excessive celebration. Two yellow penalty cards equal a red card, which means ejection from the game.

“Oh dear, Ronaldo’s stripped off his shirt again. Does he realize this will be his second yellow card?”

Further Reading on the World Cup

If you’re ready for a deeper dive, check out these fantastic books about the “Beautiful Game.”

1 Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics

Purportedly one of the best books ever written on the sport, author Jonathan Wilson takes readers on a fascinating journey through the history of soccer tactics around the globe. So the next time your coworker refers to Messi as a false 9, you’ll know exactly what she’s talking about.

2 Das Reboot: How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World

After decades of playing an ugly, soulless, and disappointing game, Germany ushered in a new soccer renaissance in the late aughts and teens, culminating in winning the 2014 World Cup.

3 Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer

Known in Brazil as O Jogo Bonito, the “Beautiful Game,” soccer is the nation’s life and love. Author David Goldblatt chronicles all aspects of this five-time World Cup winner’s special relationship with the game—the magic, the politics, and the violence.

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