The correct answer to this question, for any WordPress agency, is that, it depends. Running an agency which delivers quality products and services can be daunting.  While many are looking for the answers to be able to balance both, very few agencies actually can manage both successfully.

A good example in the Indian WordPress community is rtCamp. Asia’s first VIP partner agency has two popular products: EasyEngine and rtMedia. It is interesting to note that, both these products were born out of requirements the company had at those respective times. The statement by Rahul Bansal, “You should only develop on platform which you use,” rings true here it seems.

rtMedia was born when Bansal, suggested that his college use BuddyPress to build their own social network. His professors pointed out that a popular social network at the time- like Orkut, had images and videos and without that students might be bored. BuddyPress didn’t have the option to add media at the time and rtMedia was born to solve that problem. While the plugin was released 2 months after rtCamp was formalized, the product was being worked on before the birth of rtCamp itself, Bansal recollects.

In the case of EasyEngine, Bansal used NGNIX to reduce the budget for hosting his blog network which at that time used to get half a million page views. He found the solution to be efficient. However, being the only one in the company at the time to offer this solution, he refrained from making it their USP.

Over time, requests from Bansal’s friends in the blogging community resulted in moving their sites, over NGNIX, one by one. To avoid repeating the same task EasyEngine was created.

The success of both these products, coupled with the recent success of rtCamp as a VIP partner agency may paint a rosy picture of a company balancing both service and products. However, Bansal, would be the first to dispel you of such a notion.

There cannot be greater proof of the difficulty in delivering quality on both fronts; products and services, than when Bansal says that if he could travel in time, then he would kill either products or services on day one of rtCamp.

His reasoning is simple: unless a company has a manager dedicated to ideation, and development of the product, life can get very tough. As Bansal states that being the only person to head both products and services means that person may end up becoming a bottleneck in their own company; as all the approvals have to go through one person.

It may not be a satisfying answer but smaller or younger companies will do well to take note of the experiences of Asia’s premier WordPress company. Running a WordPress agency can be stressful at most times. Learning from each other’s experiences extends the feeling of community which is so inherent to WordPress, while helping us make smart choices too.

BlogVault has developed, and in collaboration with Pantheon created Pantheon Migrations. Pantheon is the world’s largest website management platform, delivering Drupal and WordPress as a service. Pantheon’s multi-tenant, container-based cloud platform enables web teams to build, launch, and run all of their websites from a single dashboard with ease. 

You can now migrate your WordPress sites to Pantheon with ease. Just input your SFTP credentials, email, and the destination URL, and you’re good to go. Pantheon will notify you when the migration begins and completes via email. You can also track the progress of the entire process on our website, via your BlogVault dashboard.

For us, at BlogVault this is the latest partnership for migrations. Previously we have partnered with other companies like WP Engine, Savii, & Cloudways. Now you can enjoy the convenience and expertise we strive to bring you while migrating to Pantheon as well.

easy WordPress migrations
BlogVault partners with Pantheon for easy WordPress migrations

You can always enjoy easy migrations with our backup plugin, BlogVault too. Apart from backup, and migrations, the plugin also offers, auto-restore, test-restore and security settings to improve your WordPress website security posture.

While the partnership adds an exciting page to BlogVault’s story, we’re also looking ahead. Our mission of developing the best in WordPress backup and security has led us to our next product. It’ll launch shortly and promises to change the way users deal with WordPress security issues on their sites. Until then, stay safe and don’t forget to backup!

From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

An online writer’s code of conduct.

While the Internet offers nearly limitless freedom of expression, it might help to fashion a few ethical rules…

British MP Stella Creasy is one of many high profile women, including feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, historian Mary Beard and journalists India Knight and Laurie Penny, to have received death or rape threats on social networking sites recently. Hiding under false names or using the anonymous sign-in options, people who don’t like these women’s publicised beliefs have undertaken a campaign of online harassment that is disturbing. It also revives a lusty online debate over code of conduct on the Internet, for writers.

Enforcing a code?

In March 2007, author and tech blogger Kathy Sierra was threatened online, apparently because she had stated in an online post that inappropriate online comments should be deleted. The threats, including morphed images of her with a noose, prompted Sierra to cancel a speaking engagement and even withdraw from the Net for a time. Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media and a blogger himself, reacted by proposing a code of conduct for bloggers. O’Reilly had his share of followers but an equal number were incensed by the suggestion, which they claimed smacked of censorship.

While the arguments for and against a code of conduct have been well-articulated, what I found interesting was a comment by Kathy Sierra herself: “Anyone who would support a code of conduct doesn’t *need* one, and anyone who we *wish* would adopt it never would” (

A personal perspective

The anonymity that the Net provides is the virtual equivalent of Potter’s Invisibility Cloak. It allows people a more uninhibited forum for interaction and it is only likely that some might take undue advantage of this. There must be some legal recourse to deal with perverts who exploit the freedom of the Internet and harass others with threats that are as terrifying and disturbing as if they were delivered in person. However, in establishing a system to deal with such people, it is important to ensure that all dissenting voices are not silenced by a “code of conduct”.

I believe in (a probably Utopian form of) self-regulation. If I were writing for the net, I would like to ensure that none of what I say could cause intentional harm to another person and I would expect the same courtesy to be extended to me.

What is ethical?

One of the components of my mass media education was Journalism Ethics. In the world of journalism, an ethical code is not prescribed merely because of the profession’s demand for objectivity but also to ensure you are not dragged to court for libel or slander. The same pitfalls yawn dangerously in the path of the blogger. It might help, therefore, to devise for yourself a code as a sort of insurance policy to deal with such potential hazards.

Minimize harm, be accountable

I find the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics succinct and practical ( The code states: Seek Truth and Report It (Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information), Minimize Harm (Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect), Act Independently (Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know), Be Accountable (Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other).

While it might seem like this is valid only for journalists, this code’s relevance can be extended to internet writing/blogs on any topic. For instance, a political opinion should offer criticism on ideology and public performance and not on physical characteristics. It is, therefore, more responsible to criticise Obama’s political performance with the use of statistical data rather than to call him names.

Social commentary should not vilify and thus cause emotional distress to those who might feel differently but should offer constructive criticism and an articulate argument in favour of your own views. So, while you might not agree with the treatment of the girl child in India, your comments need not reflect an “all men are pigs” sentiment, nor does it make sense to target officials who are merely implementing flawed government policy. Another thing to keep in mind is to respect Copyright and intellectual property at all times – give credit where it is due. Check the accuracy of statements you make and verify facts. If you have made a mistake, issue a clarification or correction. Your readers will respect that.

Stay unbiased

Your writing might be considered less credible if you are found to favour a particular interest. You could always say you found a particular brand of toothpaste helped cater to all your needs without saying the other “sucks”, especially if you haven’t tried the other. Documenting a bad experience with a particular product or brand might not be considered favouring a particular interest as long as you are stingy with your negative adjectives.

Similarly, whether you write a cooking piece or offer home remedies for all ills, your readership indicates that certain people take your recommendations seriously. Research and get your facts right. If you are advocating something that is not tried and tested or if you are not aware of possible side effects, mention it. If you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge it. All of this will only add veracity to your work.

You may want to host a writing forum or a blog that is a free for all. In which case, all rules might have to be declared null and void. That’s possible too. That’s what makes the Internet so fascinating. However, if you have a particular readership in mind and want to be considered a serious commentator, it will help to devise your rules and work accordingly.

Tim O’Reilly proposed an online badge that would acknowledge a blogger’s adherence to the proposed code of conduct. However, there doesn’t have to be a uniform code for you to wear a badge when you write online.

For instance, Hewlett Packard clarifies quite clearly what its blog’s code is:

And if that’s too corporate for you, consider this, the food blog code of ethics:


From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

Make your introduction matter!

Ensure your introduction packs a punch, so your readers stick around to read the entire article.

I have often been deceived into reading articles on topics I care little for, merely because of a well-crafted introduction. Similarly, I have been driven to click away from a topic I approach with eager excitement because of a rather drab and uninspiring introduction. With dwindling attention spans and a surfeit of reading options, a good introduction becomes critical.

Regular news stories are still pretty much bound by the journalistic convention of answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How in the introductory paragraph. However, news features and most blogs don’t have to conform to such a rule because they might not be reports of news events as much as an analysis of such events. Therefore, you gain the freedom to draft your analysis or report such that your readers will pick your version over the many others fighting for eyeballs on the Internet.

Reel them in with numbers: Statistics have frequently proved effective in drawing in readers. You will find that a lot of health and economic reports begin with numbers. A surprising statistic is effective in getting readers to read further. It is a little done to death but hey, it works. “Men who regularly skip breakfast may be at a 27 per cent higher risk of heart attack than those who take their morning meal, a large 16-year study has warned.” ( Don’t tell me you aren’t tempted to click on the link, especially if you are a man used to missing breakfast occasionally.

Make it real: An anecdote, an interesting story of something that happened to you or to someone you know, will probably ignite the reader’s curiosity. For a blog, this is a very effective technique because it is already a personal medium of communication, more so than a newspaper. Travel blogs employ this technique very effectively. “I held on tight. Closed my eyes and begged my brain to imagine one of my happy places, often invoked while at the dentist. My brain did not cooperate – it was too busy forming the words “holy crap, we’re going to die!”” (

Quote to engage: Here’s an example of something I nearly read in entirety without actually wanting to. I was ensnared by the use of the quote in the introduction, which is supported by some really interesting narrative as well. ““Robin Hood was almost certainly a pedestrian,” David Crook, the retired former assistant keeper of public records at the Public Record Office, tells me over tea one afternoon at his home in Grantham. Robin, in other words, had no horse.” ( Without any interest in Robin Hood or Russell Crowe, I ended up reading half the article before I remembered I had work to do.

Righteous indignation: Some brave writers begin their articles with a question. If you are commenting on the current socio-political situation, you might find this rather apt. “How much more dirt needs to come out before the wind industry gets the thorough investigation it has long deserved?” ( Of course, there was also a hilarious piece in The New Yorker that began with and was full of questions: “Q: What is a frequently asked question? A: Frequently asked questions, or F.A.Q.s, are lists of questions and corresponding answers intended to answer common queries about a particular subject.” (

Make them laugh: Humour is a wonderful tactic as well and it does not have to be restricted to humorous pieces. You can lead into a serious monologue with a little light-hearted fun. In fact, it’s very effective in deceiving gullible people like me who are trawling the Net for a few laughs; I am hooked and dragged deeper by my curiosity before I discover that what I thought was generous comedy is a serious indictment of modern-day politics. This one though, I thoroughly enjoyed: “When a rickshaw contains three passengers and one large suitcase, the gymnast of the trio sits in the middle and performs a full-split. He may capitalise on this position and deliver a baby, but this is not advisable. Space constraints will eject man, suitcase or baby.” ( In addition to being a hilarious indictment of the public transport system in Indian cities, the shock value of this introductory paragraph is sure to have won many readers.

Take an unfamiliar route: I came upon this article while reading something else. It is actually an analysis of recent Hollywood business, but you wouldn’t know that from the introduction, which seems to run at a tangent but is actually rather well-tied to the rest of the tale. “At last week’s Comic-Con event in San Diego, the film director Zack Snyder bounded on stage to announce a bold new merger. His next Warner Bros blockbuster would pit Batman against Superman, two costumed superheroes in one movie. “Let’s face it,” said Snyder, “this is beyond mythological.” The fanbase was galvanised. Hyperbole hit the roof. But in Hollywood, alarm bells were ringing.” ( Now you want to know why alarm bells are ringing and you go on to read that big banners are not really drawing in the audiences like they use to or were expected to. Rather intelligent a tactic, in my opinion.

Paint a picture: “Spring may be just around the corner in this poor part of Helsinki known as the Deep East, but the ground is still mostly snow-covered and the air has a dry, cold bite. In a clearing outside the Kallahti Comprehensive School, a handful of 9-year-olds are sitting back to back, arranging sticks, pinecones, stones and berries into shapes on the frozen ground. The arrangers will then have to describe these shapes using geometric terms so the kids who can’t see them can say what they are.” (,9171,2062465,00.html) This examination of Finnish teaching begins with an example and then harks back to history, analysis, and commentary. Instead of dry facts and figures, it’s an evocative approach to a not very interesting topic.

Of course, regardless of what technique you use to lure readers, they need not stick around and they won’t if there isn’t enough substance in your writing. So, the effort you put into your introduction has to permeate the rest of the article as well.

From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

Look (spell check) before you leap (to publishing)

A review of your work before you publish it always gives it a professional shine. In the case of spelling mistakes, it’s good to be extra careful and take steps to avoid them –  such glaring errors can stand out and they almost always will.

Consider these examples:

3 Pak security personnel killed in seperate incidents (

CHP Arrest Two in Seperate Incidents (

Columbia school board moves ahead with contruction plans for new elementary school (

G-Dragon’s new album is recieving good responses from media and public. (

Frequent text messaging may stunt reading skills, according to new research compariing text users with people who preferred to read newspapers and books. ( (courtesy:

All these examples, which have been taken from published news posts, have one thing in common — spelling mistakes that could have easily been avoided.

F7 — everyone’s best friend

Since to err is human, editors assert their human-ness by occasional typographical errors. If you look at the examples cited above, at least three of the five errors are in the headlines. Sometimes, reporters submit their copy with headlines. However, space constraints, the need to give the story a different peg, or some other reason might ensure the original headline does not make it to the page. Now assume, the editor works on the story and gives it an apt, witty headline (ha!).  Another editor is probably assigned the job of making the story and the heading fit on the page. Dancing around ad space, this editor finds that the heading doesn’t fit and types in an alternative headline. With someone screaming murder as the deadline approaches, the one thing that is missed is a final spell check. Lo and behold! You have every editor’s nightmare — a spelling mistake, in print.

This is probably why I was introduced to Microsoft Word’s F7 key rather early on in my career, probably on day one itself. I think part of our training included “spell check before you close a file”. It is a fantastic habit to cultivate for anyone who aspires to see their work published. Of course, you can argue that if you work in a newspaper, an editor is bound to catch your mistake. They should. But what’s stopping you from investigating why Microsoft has a squiggly red line running under a word in your article? If you edit your own copy, spend the time to check and recheck spellings before you post any piece on the web.

Over the years, nearly most of the copy that has landed on my desk has required some correction. What is particularly annoying is that some of the work needs spellings to be corrected. Nearly all respectable software on offer these days has some sort of spell-check function. It is, therefore, easier than ever before to ensure that spelling errors are eliminated from the copy. As an editor, my respect for writers goes up a notch when I find that they actually know how to use the spell-check function.

If you are not working in a newspaper but are responsible for both writing and publishing, the need for a spell check becomes greater. None of us can spell all the words in the dictionary correctly. Even if you are the kind who can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (, what’s to say you are not clumsy on the keyboard and muddle up a few letters?

Why bother?

It might seem like too much fuss is being made over a spelling mistake. Like my friend says when I correct her phrasing sometimes, “You understand what I mean.” So, why does it matter? Assume I am applying for the post of a copy editor, and my CV is riddled with spelling or grammar errors. Just how confident would you be about hiring me? Similarly, if by blogging or providing content you claim to have an opinion to offer or a comment to make, what professionalism can I attribute to you when you couldn’t be bothered to publish an error-free opinion/comment? It seems ridiculous to lose credibility over something so simple that it can be fixed by running a spell check.

For some more spelling mistakes that became jokes, check this link:

The human quotient

Don’t line up to thrash me, but now that I have explained how simple it is to run a spell check, I am going to tell you why you can’t always rely on the software to do the job for you. Unlike what sci-fi films would have you believe, artificial intelligence cannot always replicate the human touch.

Consider these examples:

“We have an idea who this people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” he said. (

PLO loose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem (

Its Official-Tough Gym Workouts Are Cathartic! (

If you copy these sentences and paste them into a Microsoft Word file, you won’t find any red squiggles anywhere. That does not, however, mean that they are correct.

“We have an idea who this people are…” should ideally be “We have an idea who these people are…”. “PLO loose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem” should have read “PLO lose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem” and “Its Official…” needs an apostrophe: “It’s Official”. Microsoft’s spell check does have a little blue squiggle under loose but the rest are ignored. This is because of the software checks for spelling errors and not meanings and nuances. These remain a writer’s responsibility (and are probably why copy editors haven’t been rendered jobless yet).

Proof of effort

A proof is a draft of material intended for publication. The draft is created to check for errors before final printing. It is probably from here that the word proofreading is derived. This does not necessarily mean that every piece you write has to be printed and read for errors. The process can be replicated on soft copy. After having written your piece, go back to the beginning and read it slowly, with an eye out for errors.

Some editors like to fine-tune this process further, so they undertake multiple levels of edit. The first round is devoted to rewriting. The next to punctuation and grammar checks, and then a final read ensures that no errors have been missed. This is probably too complicated a process to follow if you blog every day or if you are a content writer with a daily deadline. However, reading your written work once you have finished should not be too difficult. I would recommend though that first-time writers follow this tedious multi-level process. Over time, you will find that you can skip a level or two because your writing style has evolved to incorporate these checks. That doesn’t mean you can eliminate a final read altogether; just like we learnt never to close a file without running a spell check, you too can make it a habit never to publish without having proofread your work.

Personally, I find that a break is helpful before settling in to proofread. You will notice that if you have been reading the same thing over and over again your brain makes assumptions and skips over possible errors, reading “and” although you have only typed in “ad”. I like to take a break, do something entirely different and come back and read each line of my work slowly and carefully. Proofreading is not speed reading so don’t zip through it. You are on the lookout for errors that could be masquerading as legitimate words, so be thorough. Regardless of how many drafts you’ve worked on before creating something that satisfies you, you might find that there is some change you can still make when giving it a final read. I went back to the previous paragraph which had too many “however”s to my liking and re-read it a couple of times to get rid of one or two. Proofreading or reviewing is the burnishing your writing needs to make it gleam!


Like I said earlier, the human element still matters and I recently came across a wonderful article that explains why by detailing what a copy editor does daily. Call it a bit of self-advertisement, if you will:

From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

When fewer words are allowed, how can you ensure your message is conveyed articulately?

My usual pieces on blogVault are safely 500 words or more. However, a newspaper rarely has room for such elaborate prose unless it is for a feature story. Newspapers are kept in print largely by the ads they carry. Therefore, content often ends up battling for space with ads. News reports are, therefore, usually 500 words or less.

It is not just newspapers, constrained by ad space, that need their articles to be short and sweet.

On the Internet, any given topic will have numerous commentators. However, not everyone surfing the Net has a surfeit of time. Also, with the immediacy that the Net brings to news, the preferred format is short pieces that provide the necessary information.

These are published throughout the day as events unfold, with a longer consolidated feature at the end of the day. Short and concise articles thus become more valuable. Given that the Net also allows you to indulge in a variety of interests, readers are unlikely to be in the mood for lengthy expositions all the time. They want to read and move on to the next topic.

Short, but not falling short

While the whole point of a short article of 250-350 words is that it should be short, it is worth remembering that it still must be informative and useful to the reader.

For that reason, it must cover all important points on the topic. You cannot let your readers think that you are compromising on quality or denying them the whole picture because you are short of space or some other reason.

If you are a news reporter, you are bound to earn great goodwill among your copy editors if you manage to submit a concise 500-word news report.  It is usually, however, the editor’s job to cut down 1000-word copies to the required length. In my opinion, you can employ some of the techniques we use while editing to ensure your copy for the web, be it a blog, a review, an article or a journal,  is short but informative.

Keep it simple

First of all, a summary helps. Take a few seconds to organise your thoughts and decide what you want to say. I find it helpful to scribble a few points. It’s a bit like setting out the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When they are laid out before you, you have a clearer idea of what goes where. So, if I have a few points, I can work off them to create a beginning, middle and end. That should ensure you don’t ramble when actually writing.

One of the easiest ways to cut down on length when attempting to post a short piece is to sacrifice the adjectives. Of course, as journalists, we are told that adjectives have little to no place in a news story. However, it might seem unfair to remove adjectives from a feature or an opinion piece as well. I do not mean strip your copy of all adjectives but “On a dreary December day” can just as well be “On December 10th” when you are trying to find space for what’s important.

Not only does the avoidance of adjectives keep your piece short but it also simplifies it, which increases the scope of readership. Your vocabulary need not create a sense of exclusivity any longer. For the same reason, short sentences are to be preferred over longer, more complicated ones. Towards the same goal, assess if bullet points can make your point for you since bullets might justify leaving out grammatical necessities like an article or a preposition without making your sentences seem incorrect.

While it may seem painful to do so, leave out the anecdotes in a short piece unless your piece revolves around one.

Learn to curb redundancy in your writing. “December” is just as effective or maybe more so than “the month of December”, “250-300” already suggests that the number cited is not accurate so “about 250-300” is excessive. It might seem difficult to incorporate such changes in your writing immediately, which is why it might help to write your piece and then go back to the beginning and edit it, to weed out such redundancies.

If you can implement these steps, you should be able to make your point in an articulate fashion without exceeding the 250-350 word limit. To demonstrate, what follows is a shorter version of this article.

Cut To Fit

As a writer or a blogger, you must be able to produce both long and short pieces of writing. You may be required to write short pieces for a variety of reasons —space constraints in a newspaper; the need to get news out quickly and effectively in a crisp, easily-digestible format; consideration for readers’ limited attention span, etc. However, your pieces cannot compromise on information just because you are allowed fewer words. It helps, therefore, to know how to convey your message effectively in 250-350 words.

Plan ahead

1) Structure: List your ideas and organize them so you have a clear beginning, middle and end. This will ensure you don’t ramble.

2) Sacrifice adjectives: “On a dreary December day” can just as well be “On December 10th” when you are trying to find space for what’s important.

3) Short, simple sentences: Short sentences make for easier reading and less confusion.

4) Use bullets: They might justify shorter sentences minus grammatical necessities like an article or a preposition without making your sentences seem incorrect.

5) Abandon anecdotes: Your stories and examples are important and helpful but not necessarily in a short piece. Keep it straightforward.

6) Curb redundancy: “December” is more effective than “the month of December”, “250-300” suggests that the amount cited is not accurate so “about 250-300” is excessive.

7) Edit: Write your piece and then go back to the beginning and edit it, to weed out what’s unnecessary.

If you can implement these steps, you should be able to make your point in an articulate fashion without exceeding your 250-300 word limit.

The original article is around 700 words and the revised one, 265. Of course, I might have cheated a little with a few more adjectives in the original than is usual. However, a feature or comment or opinion piece offers you that freedom, which a specific requirement of 250-350 words doesn’t.

Some examples of writing that fit the 250-350 word length category:–abc-news-topstories.html

From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

Just how important is a headline to a news article?

During the course of my career, I worked for two different newspapers. At the first of these, I was considered a decent editor, but my appraisal always noted that I needed to work on my headlines. When I tell you that I worked for a tabloid where we were expected to churn out headlines that would ensure that the city’s train-travelling population were hooked and shelled out the money needed to buy a copy for the train ride, you will understand the significance of my failings.

Headlines are the marketing tools employed to get you the reader to read a piece that has been painstakingly put together. Imagine the window displays in retail establishments. They entice you to get in, making it impossible to walk past unaffected even if shopping was not really on your agenda. They beckon, you go to them! The headline is meant to serve a similar purpose in a newspaper/article/blog or a feature. Put a fair amount of thought into the headline you write for your piece. A badly written or a shoddy headline can ruin your entire article, if you are not careful…

What works for a headline

Sometimes, writing or editing a news report is a trial in itself. After you’ve crossed that hurdle, you then spend a good 5-10 minutes staring at the computer willing the copy, using techniques à la Dr Sheldon Cooper (from the American TV series The Big Bang Theory), to throw up a good headline. That rarely works. However, I have discovered a few tricks that do…

One, it is absolutely important to understand the focus of the story. Without it, your headline will not accurately reflect the content of the article and a misleading headline will disappoint readers, who will stay away in future.

Two, read and then read some more. The more you read, the greater your exposure to clichés, witticisms, useful puns, associations that you can work with, ideas, and more.

Three, practice. I would come up with alternative headlines to stories that I read in other papers and jot them down in a book to remind myself that I could come up with decent headlines if I put some thought into it.

Four, remember that, as in all things, variety is the spice of newsroom headline creation as well. Therefore, no one size fits all.

How a Relationship Dies on Facebook, is the headline of a recent piece in the New Yorker While being simple and straightforward, it arouses curiosity without giving away too much.

Effective and engaging

A news report might need a concise yet informative headline. The BBC does this very well. On the BBC news home page, the detention of the partner of the journalist who worked on the Snowden revelations was headlined as “UK row over Snowden-linked detention” ( The link to the story had a more elaborate headline but I found this one to be far clearer than the rather convoluted attempts of some other papers. Another heading on the home page on the same day revealed “Carberry gets England Twenty20 call” (; again, to the point with no frills. These headlines also illustrate the use of active voice, another vital element of a good headline.

Correct punctuation is a must for a good headline. Most newspapers advise against using the exclamation mark, but some tabloids might not follow this policy. Correct capitalisation is another punctuation concern. Incorrect use of the comma is becoming rather frequent these days and must ideally be guarded against. For instance, consider this headline in the New Zealand Herald, “Rich car, discount attitude”

When I first saw the headline, I wondered what the story was about — were “rich car” and “discount” qualifying “attitude” and to what end? The article is actually about a study that found that people who drove high-end cars were more likely to be discourteous on the road. For me, “rich” is a wrong choice of adjective in this context; I would prefer “expensive” or “costly”. Then, I’d prefer to punctuate in this fashion: “Costly car? Discount attitude” since I am guessing discount here is used as a verb to mean disregard. This punctuation is more useful in conveying the message in my opinion.

It is also important to ensure that the headline is not repeating the introductory paragraph of the article. It is also critical that the headline isn’t packed with too much information since you want your story to be read. For instance, the Dayton Daily News recently reported “Both missing Montgomery County teens located” ( The first paragraph of the story then reads “Two Montgomery County teenagers declared missing this week have been located.” One wonders then if “Happy ending to search for teens” would have, at least, sounded different without giving away nearly all the relevant information.

While simple is sometimes better like the straightforward but dramatic “Diana is Dead” seen on the cover pages of most UK papers reporting the death of Princess Diana, a headline is where some of the adjectives you have had to edit out of your copy can be added.

Watch out while using puns

The Indian broadsheet Daily News and Analysis carried an article that was headlined “Meet the artist who got seriously thrashed” ( As an editor, “seriously thrashed” is not a phrase that I would retain in copy but in a headline it seems forgivable. Unfortunately though, this headline, which I am guessing was attempting a bit of wordplay with a story about an artist who has converted a dumpster into a home, messed it up by using “thrashed” instead of “trashed”. While the latter would have made a nice pun, the former means the artist got beaten up. This to me is a good example of why great care must be taken when attempting puns. A good example of the use of puns comes from The Economist’s article “Blame ITT on the West,” which discusses Ecuador’s policy on the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) field and how it was influenced by the West (

The question of a question in your headline,

What is usually considered effective in piquing curiosity and reeling in readers, is a question. A good example is this piece that appeared in the New Zealand Herald titled “Would you board flight 666 to HEL?” about a flight to Helsinki with an ominous number. ( Certainly an attention grabber of a headline! More so because it appeared on a Friday the 13th  edition of the paper.

The cover page of the New Yorker tantalisingly asked “How to pick a pocket?”. The link to the story ( had a different heading but I was hooked and read the entire piece about a performer who picks pockets to entertain.

While these are newsroom tricks, they are equally applicable to blog writers who are fighting for attention with thousands of other commentators. Whatever technique you employ, remember your headline must be error-free and your content must back up the promise of the headline.

Want to know what not to do? Enjoy a laugh over some bad headlines and guard against the same mistakes in your piece:


From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

Examining the use and abuse of quotation marks and pondering its punctuation.

The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary might not seem as cheeky today as it did when it was first thought up by Ambrose Bierce in the 1880s. However, many of its definitions still make for entertaining reading. Bierce, a columnist himself and probably unaware of how often his words would be repeated (or probably fully aware of this) defines quotation as “the act of repeating erroneously the words of another”.

Quotation marks then — or inverted commas as the British say — are primarily used to enclose direct speech (or correctly repeat the words of another) in written text. They can also be used when quoting text from another source in your work. Double or single quotation marks are also used to indicate the name of books, poems, essays, etc.

Often, one stumbles upon a quote that puts into words exactly what one is thinking. It could then prove to be very difficult to keep this quote out of your article or post because it is so apt. Alternatively, you might be writing a piece where you have managed to collect different opinions that you want to include as is to capture the different points of view. Or you might have decided to interview someone for your article or post. Whatever the reason, it is possible that at some point in your writing, you have had to use quotation marks. Inverted commas — as the British say — or quotation marks are primarily used to enclose direct speech in written text. They can also be used when quoting text from another source in your work. Double or single quotation marks are also used to indicate the name of books, poems, essays, etc.

Mind your quotes

Quotes or direct speech have two distinct advantages. They allow the writer to reproduce the speaker’s words with all its flavour. Why, for instance, would anyone paraphrase George Bush when the actual words are so entertaining? For a news reporter, direct speech also helps with the goal of objectivity. By putting an opinion within quotation marks and attributing it to an individual, reporters can clarify that this is not their own opinion or that of their newspaper and also retain the option of presenting a different perspective in another set of quotation marks.

However, when quoting someone it is important to be accurate in reproducing what was said, for legal and ethical reasons. Sometimes, an interview might be conducted in one language and has to be reproduced in another as is the case with most English language publications in India. When this happens, I usually get the final translated material, especially anything in quotation marks, signed off by the interviewees or someone authorised to do so on their behalf; it’s even better if this is done over email so there is a written record of it. The alternative is to paraphrase or to reproduce a transliterated version with a translation, clearly identified as such, in parentheses. Misquoting has the potential to spark international disputes as this article ( shows.

When quoting someone, it is best to avoid selective quotation or quoting out of context. Consider, for instance, this article in an Indian daily, the Indian Express ( ‘Vadra “pocketed” a huge premium on a commercial license through money that he could account for, Khemka alleged.’ Readers might wonder if “pocketed” is in quotes because the writer is being sarcastic about Khemka’s version of events or whether the writer is merely reporting Khemka’s exact words. Choosing to highlight a word or a phrase might also present it out of context, which again runs the risk of misinterpretation.

A quote, suitably enclosed in quotation marks, can also be used as a headline. A quote can make the entire headline or be part of it as long as it meets the criteria you would otherwise apply to headlines. For instance: “We’ll destroy our nukes,” say world leaders. That would make a great headline.

A quote, again within quotation marks, can be used at the beginning or end of a paragraph. Some articles can also be begun or ended with a quote. What is important is that it is properly attributed. A recent New York Times article ended with a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: In a rare moment of unguarded pride, she permits herself a grin. “Dude, I crushed it.” (

A paragraph can have more than one quote, from the same individual or from different ones, as long as they are properly attributed. Ideally a paragraph develops one idea and a new idea is developed in another paragraph. So, if using more than one quote in a paragraph, ideally they must all support the same idea.

To exonerate yourself from mistakes made by the person you are quoting use sic within square brackets. For instance: The editor said, “It was a grieving [sic] error.” Sic is derived from Latin and is used to indicate that you know the word is wrong but are reproducing it as is.

As dictated by the style guide

One of the uses of quotation marks, double or single, is to enclose the titles of books, poems, articles, essays, etc. However, this usage is dictated by style guides.

The Associated Press style guide, which is what a lot of newspapers refer to, advocates quotation marks “around the titles of books, songs, television shows, computer games, poems, lectures, speeches and works of art” but not for “the names of magazine, newspapers, the Bible or books that are catalogues of reference materials” (as cited on However, here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style apparently says, “When quoted in text or listed in a bibliography, titles of books, journals, plays, and other freestanding works are italicized; titles of articles, chapters, and other shorter works are set in roman and enclosed in quotation marks” (as cited on Strunk and White’s Elements of Style also seems to follow the same principle (

It makes sense then to ascertain what style guide is followed by your organisation. If you freelance or write blogs, pick a style guide and then follow it diligently.

Punctuating in tandem    

There are a few punctuation rules to bear in mind when using quotation marks. If you are quoting from the beginning of a sentence, then you start with a capital letter; if you begin your quote from somewhere in the middle, then use the lower case. If you are splitting the quote to add an attribution in the middle, then capitalisation depends on how you split the quote.

For instance, “I am tired, really tired. I cannot do this anymore,” the writer said.

This can either be split as “I am tired,” the writer said, “really tired. I cannot do this anymore.”

Or “I am tired, really tired,” the writer said. “I cannot do this anymore.”

But not “I am tired,” the writer said. “Really tired. I cannot do this anymore.”

If your writing has a dialogue, paragraph breaks are used to indicate change in speakers.

“Nice to see you, Julius.”

“That’s Commander Root to you.”

 “Commander now. I heard that. Clerical error, was it?”

From Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

If your quotation incorporates multiple paragraphs, you add closing quotation marks at the end of only the last paragraph but you need opening quotation marks at the beginning of each. If your quote is rather long or if you would like to quote only certain sections, you can employ ellipsis (…). For instance if you were quoting the above but didn’t want to include it in entirety, you could do this: I refer to the passage from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl “Nice to… error, was it?” Only remember that an ellipsis is nearly always only three dots and four only if you are incorporating the full stop at the end of a quoted sentence.

What is the rule for commas and periods with regard to quotation marks? Like color/colour and organize/organise, the British and the Americans don’t seem to see eye to eye on this question either. The Americans follow the KISS principle and thus, all commas and periods are included within quotation marks. However, the British believe in deciding case-by-case. For punctuation marks other than the periods and commas, the Americans seem willing to follow this rule as well. So, the American style would be: I just finished reading Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl.” The British would say: I just finished reading Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl”. But both would agree on this placement of the question mark: Have you read Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl”?

Then, there is the rule with single quotes, which the Americans and British again disagree on, making the life of an editor working on both kinds of copy unnecessarily complicated. The Americans use the single quote to denote a quotation within a quotation; so, the rule is “ ‘’ ”. The British follow the exact opposite practice: ‘ “” ’, double quotation marks to indicate a quote within a quote. For instance, in the American style, it would be: “Why would you say ‘I am tired’ if you don’t mean it?” The British, on the other hand, would say: ‘Why would you say “I am tired” if you don’t mean it?’

Frankly, that was a tiring exposition.


From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

In a previous post, I had discussed tips for making sentences shorter and more precise. Soon after I typed up that piece I stumbled on to this quote from Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and Read One: “[Pared-down prose] is a real loss, not because we necessarily need more Jamesian novels but because too often the instruction to ‘omit needless words’ (Rule 17) leads young writers to be cautious and dull; minimalist style becomes minimalist thought, and that is a problem” (

So, I am hoping you will take the tips in the spirit in which they were provided and not allow them to stifle your creative impulse. Feel free to indulge your muse if you think you can pull off sentences like this: Apparently one of the longest in English literature, this single-sentence soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses is 4,391 words.

Well, long or short, here are some tips to make sure your sentences are well constructed.

Merge where possible:

“She was a girl. She was Molly’s girl. She was little. She was five years old. She had black hair. She had brown eyes.” While this might (and I stress “might”) make for a dramatic opening to a literary piece, if it continued in the same vein, I would be willing to give in to the temptation to abandon it. “Molly’s daughter was five and had black hair and brown eyes” is undoubtedly far less dramatic but definitely cannot be accused of obfuscating. It is easier for your readers when they are provided links that connect various elements together and present it as a whole. This is not to say that short sentences must be done away with completely. “Molly’s daughter was five and had black hair and brown eyes. She was polite, helpful, obedient and quiet. She was also a witch.” The combination of short and long sentences can make for interesting reading.

Avoid run-ons:

Run-on sentences are usually the result of incorrect punctuation where two sentences or independent clauses are fused together incorrectly. “This is pointless, let’s leave.” This sentence needs a semi-colon and not a comma. If you are determined to use a comma then you need the comma + conjunction construction here. So, this sentence can be written as: “This is pointless; let’s leave” or “This is pointless, so let’s leave”. Look at another example: “He is not lying, however, he is not telling us everything”. Again the first comma in this sentence is used incorrectly. A period or a semi-colon would have been a better choice here. For instance: “He is not lying; however, he is not telling us everything” or “He is not lying. However, he is not telling us everything”.

Get the subject and verb to agree:

As an editor, I find that a lot of writers, who probably learnt English as a second language, have trouble with subject-verb agreement. Simply put, this means that a singular subject needs a singular verb and a plural subject needs a plural verb. I think the problem arises because unlike nouns, in the case of verbs it is the singular form that takes an “s”. So, “Bob likes chocolate” but “Bob and Bobby like chocolate”. Certain nouns, though, tend to throw us for a loop. Take equipment for instance; is it singular or plural? Although it denotes a collection of items needed for a particular purpose or activity, equipment is considered a singular noun. So, it wouldn’t be “The equipment for the show were installed” but “The equipment for the show was installed”.

When in doubt, consult the dictionary, which usually also has a sentence using the word. For instance, “team” can be considered either singular or plural; both forms are correct according to the dictionary. The rule of thumb for indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one and nobody is that they are always treated as singular subjects.

Get the pronoun and its antecedent to agree:

Like subject-verb agreement, in the case of the pronoun too it has to match the noun that has gone before. So, “Bob picked up his ball” but “Bob and Bobby picked up their ball.” “Team”, as discussed above, can be either singular or plural. So, it would be right to say either “The team took its loss badly” or “The team took their loss badly”. However, “equipment” as discussed above would be singular. So, you’d say, “The equipment did not live up to its promise”, not “The equipment did not live up to their promise”. A sentence like “An artist should be true to his craft” causes problems with political correctness, so it is better to say, “An artist should be true to his or her craft”. This is a good resource for reading up on pronoun-antecedent agreement:

Make sure form is parallel:

Again, absence of parallelism is something I have encountered frequently as an editor. To let you in on a secret, it is a mistake I was guilty of myself until it was pointed out to me. Parallelism means ensuring that the form you apply in a sentence is uniform. For instance, “He enjoyed riding, reading and took pleasure in music” should ideally be “He enjoyed riding, reading and listening to music”. By ensuring the activities are all listed as gerunds (nouns that have the same form as the present participle of a verb, that is, they end in “ing”), you make the sentence easier for your reader to read and interpret. To use the same example, “He liked to ride horses, read books and listening to music” would be incorrect. It should be rewritten as “He liked to ride horses, read books and listen to music”.

Attention to such details enriches your writing and helps make it seem more native. For your readers, it means less confusion over meaning and greater ease of understanding.

For further reading, see:

From the Newsroom

Raji Chacko

Nowadays, one of the most popular themes on the Net, television or even in print seems to be weight loss. If someone is offering exercise tips, others are providing advice on what to eat while some others offer surgical remedies to deal with flab. One such technique that seems to be gaining popularity is liposuction. The goal of my piece today is to help you undertake a liposuction of your written work so that the fat is demolished and what emerges is a robust article.

In school, and sometimes even in college, most of us are taught to value word count and number of pages over the quality of writing. The more words you use and the more pages of writing you produce, the greater your intelligence and ability. It is not surprising that as adults most of us, consciously or unconsciously, use the same formula, not realising how much it weighs our writing down. To shed some of this weight, it would help to ask yourself some questions about the way you write.

Do you need an intensifier?

A friend once pointed out that my conversations were often peppered with the word honestly. It’s probably because you are dishonest by nature and making an attempt to change, she joked. I was appalled. I was using a crutch when I had two perfectly good legs; I was relying on an adverb to convey the strength of my belief when just stating my beliefs as is would have sufficed. Most intensifiers are like that.

Intensifiers are adjectives or adverbs that have little semantic content of their own but intensify the meaning of the word or phrase they modify ( However, in most cases the intensifier and the word it modifies can be replaced with one word that means the same. “It was an exhausting trek” is the same as “It was a very tiring trek”. If you don’t believe me, try typing in “exhausting” and look up the dictionary entry in MS Word; the first meaning is “very tiring”. One way of enhancing your vocabulary is looking up the dictionary or Googling for alternatives to such intensifiers — “ravishing” instead of “extremely beautiful”, “brilliant” instead of “very clever” and so on.

Do you need the repetition?

Ask an editor what his or her pet peeves are and you might find that redundant words are a common irritant. What irks many is some writers’ determination to ignore the full form of abbreviations.

For instance, “ATM” as defined by the dictionary is “automated teller machine”, so when some writers say “ATM machine” it actually means “automated teller machine machine”. “HIV virus”, “NYSE exchange” “a meeting of ASEAN nations” are all examples of such usage.

Redundant words are not limited to abbreviations, unfortunately. “Advance notice” is a popular bureaucratic term. The dictionary defines notice as “information or a warning given in advance of something that is going to happen” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). As you can see, “advance” is already a part of the meaning of notice. So “advance notice” would mean “advance information or a warning given in advance of something that is going to happen”. When you read it like that, you will realise how ridiculous it sounds. Such usage is common because we do not bother referring to the dictionary for meanings or use words without understanding their meanings.

For instance, consider this: “The cricketer announced he would be writing an autobiography of his life”. If the writer understood that “autobiography” was defined as “the story of a person’s life, written by that person” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), then he or she would realise that “of his life” was redundant in the above sentence. To guard against this, use a dictionary when writing, look up meanings you are unsure of or refer to Google to determine whether your word usage is redundant. ( is a list of 200 combinations of redundant words.)

Do you need many when few might suffice?

Similarly, you could take a look at your writing and see if some phrases/clauses can be replaced with a word. “Many people who were in the audience had been teaching for years” (12 words) can be rewritten as “Many in the audience were experienced teachers” (7 words). “After the defeat of the Evil King, all of the property belonging to the Gross family was confiscated by the New King” (22 words) can be rewritten as “After the Evil King’s defeat, the New King confiscated the Gross estate” (12 words). “The lack of clarity as to the division of authority has led to a situation in which both regional governments and the central government engage in the exploitation of land and natural resources” (33 words) can be rewritten as “Unclear division of authority allows regional and central governments to exploit land and natural resources” (15 words). You get my drift.

This is not an easy task and when I first started working as an editor, I would let many such verbose sentences pass. We are all familiar with this wordy style, thanks to our education system. Therefore, correcting it is not a natural instinct for many of us. It will have to be cultivated by extensive reading and conscious recognition of concise writing styles. It will also mean re-reading your work to trim the excess.

Do you need the expletive?  

In this context, expletive does not mean a rude word. I am referring to expletive construction, a grammatical term that refers to something a sentence doesn’t really need. “There are many instances of his generosity that are cited in the books” can be simply stated as “The books cite many instances of his generosity.” The “there are” adds no value to the sentence, instead making it long winded. “It is a fact that the sky is blue” actually means “The sky is blue”. “There is/are” and “It is/are” are popularly used to prop up healthy sentences that function well without the support.

Do you need to nominalise?

Nominalisation refers to forming a noun from an adjective or a verb. For instance, in this sentence: “The recognition of his talent came late”, the noun “recognition” is formed from the verb “recognize”. Nominalisation often results in longer sentences. For instance, the above sentence could have been written as “His talent was recognized late.” “The creation of the world was accomplished in seven days” could have been better stated as “The world was created in seven days”.

I have attempted to discuss some aspects that can weigh down your writing and make the readers’ task laborious. However, there are other tips you could pick up as well. I would recommend a diet of educational reading and a regimen of writing practice to achieve the desired shape for your final article.

 These links are for academic resources that discuss tips like the ones above, to aid in concise writing. These are links I referred to as well to draw up a structure for my article: