Writer Debate: The Oxford Comma

If you’ve been writing for very long, then you’ve undoubtedly heard about the debate over the Oxford comma. To use it or not to use it? That is the question.

From a young age, we’re conditioned to use the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma. In fact, I think in grade school most of us are taught to know it as the serial comma. I didn’t even know it went by another name until I encountered the debate about it online over my years of freelancing.

However, as we get older and begin looking for work writing in the real world, we encounter varying opinions over this little comma. Some employers want you to use it, and others don’t. It’s frustrating to say the least because it can be difficult to keep the rules for each client straight.

The Oxford Comma Defined

Before we go any further, let’s clarify for any of those who aren’t clear on it, just what the Oxford comma is. The Oxford comma is that last comma that’s used in a series or a list. It comes right before the conjunction and indicates that there should be a pause before the connecting word.

Here’s an example with the Oxford comma:

Lisa, Stephanie, and Denise are all fans of musicals. 

Here’s an example without the Oxford comma:

Lisa, Stephanie and Denise are all fans of musicals. 

Notice how there’s a comma before “and” in the first example but not in the second one? That last comma is referred to as the Oxford, or serial, comma. This little guy (or gal, depending upon how you want to view it) has been the source of much contention among members of the literary community ever since the Internet came to be.

Elementary Grammar Tells Us to Use the Oxford Comma

But we’re taught to use the Oxford comma in elementary school! Surely they wouldn’t teach us something that was wrong?

It’s true that it’s technically correct to use the Oxford comma if we’re going by the traditional textbooks and rules laid out for the English language. However, therein lies the problem: in the rules for the English language.

English is arguably the most complex and frustrating language in the world to master because there’s many exceptions to grammar rules. There’s words that are pronounced just like other words but have different spellings and meanings, and now we find out that there are commas we’ve been taught to use our entire lives and they’re telling us not to use them in our professional writing? Which way is correct?

In short, and as confusing as it may sound, both ways are correct in the appropriate environment. The style guide that you’re using for writing determines whether or not you should employ the Oxford comma.

AP Style: The Style Guide for Online Content

The reason why the Internet is so often to blame for the omission of the Oxford comma is because it’s on the Internet that we first started to see it not being used. However, it’s not solely the Internet that’s to blame for the omission of our beloved Oxford comma. Rather, it’s the style guide that’s commonly used on the Internet.

If you attended college, you undoubtedly quickly learned which style guide your university preferred. While some colleges use APA style, others use MLA or Chicago. Whatever writing style your institution chooses to adhere to determines how your references should be formatted and denotes other stylistic preferences for academic papers.

Just like colleges, other educational institutions and other organizations in general have their preferred style guides, so does the Internet. AP style (not to be confused with APA style) was developed by the Associated Press, and it’s the style that is most commonly used for online content.

Reportedly, the reasoning behind getting rid of the Oxford comma per AP style was to simplify web content into an easier-to-read format (as if that one little comma caused a bunch of hubbub, but apparently it did). I remember when I first read articles published online (and from major news organizations and scholastic journals too!) and saw the omission of the Oxford comma, I thought they were just grammatical errors. However, when I kept seeing a steady exclusion of these serial commas, I eventually figured out that it was done on purpose, which led me to learn about this source of contention.

What’s the Verdict?

So what’s the verdict? Do you use Oxford commas or not? The simple answer for me is to always consult with the organization you’re writing for. If no specification is made and the writing is going to be in an online publication, then I defer to AP style and don’t use the Oxford comma. However, if the writing is for a print publication or if it’s for my own personal writings, then I go with the old-school method of using the Oxford comma.

Honestly, though, were it up to me, we’d embrace the Oxford comma and love it until the end of time. Lol.

What are your views on this topic? Do you favor the Oxford comma or not?


Working at Textbroker: Writing Orders

Once you select an order, then you can begin writing it. Click on the order to open it, and then you’ll be presented with something like this:


Here you’ll find everything you need to know about the order. The Order ID is the number ID that Textbroker has assigned to the order for internal purposes. (You won’t need to concern yourself with this too much unless you ever have to email support with a question about the order, in which case it can certainly prove helpful to provide the support team with the order ID of the article you have a question about.)

Next is the Client Title. This is the title that the client has given the article. Sometimes the clients want you to use their provided titles as the titles of  the articles you write. In other cases, they might want to you to create your own creative title. Unless the client states otherwise in the instructions (that we’ll get to in a minute), use the client title that’s provided.

The Deadline lets you know when the article is due back to the client. Most articles have a turnaround time of 24 hours, but some might give you as long as 3 days to complete the order before it’s due.

Directly underneath the deadline is the Time Left. This tool’s pretty helpful since it essentially serves as a countdown clock letting you know just how long you have left to write the article before it’ll expire. If you don’t get an article turned into the client before the time left countdown is up, then the article will automatically be removed from your queue and sent back to the open author pool for other authors to claim.

Next, is the Word Count. This lets you know how many words your article has to be. You’re usually given a range of words that your article must fall in before you’ll be able to submit it back to the client. You can go above the suggested word count but not below. Minimum word counts are hard, which means that Textbroker’s system won’t let you return the article to the client until you’ve written the minimum word count. How hard or soft the maximum word count is depends on the client. Some clients don’t mind you going above and beyond the maximum word count to an extent, but others want you to stay within their specifications.

The Current Word Count is self-explanatory: it gives you a word count of how many words you’ve written thus far.

The Current Earnings for This Article is probably what’ll you’ll be more interested in. It’ll show how much your earnings increase with each word that you write, so you can see how much difference there is in writing just the minimum word count and the maximum.

Last is the Client ID and My Note. The client ID is the ID Textbroker assigned to the client. This is actually a useful feature because if you click on the client’s ID, you’ll be taken to the client’s profile where you can sent the client messages, sent a different pay rate for that particular client, see previous orders you’ve written for the client and so on. (All of which we’ll talk about at a later date). The My Note feature is one that I’ve actually never used, but it’s designed so that you can input a note about the order if you see fit. For instance, you might want to add a note if the title has an error in it.

Next is the Keywords section. This is one of the most important parts of the order instructions since it lets you know what keywords you need to use in the article and how many times you need to use them. In fact, Textbroker’s system won’t allow you to submit the article to the client until the keyword requirements are met. You can easily keep track of the keywords you’ve used by clicking on the checkbox in the Manual Keyword Tracking section. Check the box next to ‘Check this order for keywords automatically’ to make Textbroker’s system automatically tally up the keywords for you as you write. Alternatively, you can wait until you’re done writing and then click the ‘Check Keywords Now’ button to check them. I always track them as I go, but it’s a matter of preference.

Sometimes you’ll see “Connecting Words Allowed” in the keywords section, and this basically just means that you can use connecting words when appropriate with keyword phrases to help them fit naturally within the text and make sense. For instance, the keywords for this example are “Miami allergy doctor.” You could also write “allergy doctor in Miami” using “in” as a connecting word, and the phrase would still count towards your keyword count.

Next, you’ll see the Client Briefing, which looks something like this:


As if you haven’t already discerned that this section is important, Textbroker draws your attention to it with its ‘Important!’ exclamation heading. Click on the down arrow located next to ‘Show’ to expand the box and show the full client instructions. The specific way the client’s instructions looks depends on the client. Some might offer detailed list style instructions like these, and others might only write a sentence or paragraph or two. Still others (like this one) might include a link to a GoogleDocs file where they have a complete list of their instructions with a style guide and examples. Read all instructions carefully before proceeding to write the order.

If you see anything in the client briefing that violates Textbroker’s terms of service, such as asking for contact with writers outside Textbroker’s system, you can report the briefing. You can also rate the briefing, giving clients who offer clear instructions 5 stars and those who are vague 1 or 2. You don’t have to rate instructions, but it can be helpful for letting clients know how clear their instructions were.

Next is the Text Input space. This is where you’ll do your writing, or rather (if you’re like me) this is where you’ll paste your written content. I prefer to write my article in a word processor like Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the written content into Textbroker when I’m done. The reason for this is because when you write directly into Textbroker’s system, you’re at risk of losing all your work if you accidentally refresh or close the page or if you experience a connection issue. I’ve written articles directly in the system before and then when I clicked to submit them, my internet went out and I lost the articles. Frustrating does not begin to describe it when you lose a 1,000+ word article in such a manner.

Still, if you choose to write directly in Textbroker, the text input field keeps track of your word count as  you write, and there’s a toolbar for formatting text and inputting lists and hyperlinks. You can also click the ‘Save Manually’ button periodically to save your work as you write, but again if there’s a connection issue when you click the button, you’ll be directed to an error page, meaning you’ll lose all your work so far.

When you think you’re done with the article, click the ‘Preview and Submit Text’ button. You’ll be presented with a view of what your article will look like as it’s formatted. If you want to make any revisions, you can click on the ‘Revise’ button, but if you’re satisfied with the text, then simply click the ‘Submit’ button.

If for some reason you decide you don’t want to write the order, you can click on the ‘Cancel’ button to release the order back to the order pool.

Once you’ve submitted the article, then your queue is opened back up to claim another one.

Writing for Textbroker: Claiming Orders

Once you’ve applied for a position as an author at Textbroker and have submitted your sign-up article and gotten accepted, then it’s time to begin writing orders.

When you first log into your Textbroker account, you’ll be presented with the homepage dashboard. The homepage features your profile and numerous tabs running across the top of the screen. Within each tab are links to different places within your account. To begin writing orders, you’ll be concerned with the ‘Assignments’ tab.

To see all the current orders available for you to write, move your mouse cursor over the ‘Assignments’ tab. When you do so, you should see several sub-menus appear below that tab. Click on the first option in the menu, the one that says ‘Show Orders.’



You’ll be redirected to another screen where there’ll be a list of categories and different numbers under sub-headings for each star rating level. The numbers under each category represent how many available orders are in that category to be written at that moment. For instance, if you see the number ’47’ in the ‘Business’ category under the 4-star column, then that means that there are 47 Business articles currently available to 4-star authors to write.


Click on the number within the category that you’d like to write about to view a list of all the available orders to choose from.

*Note that you can only select articles up to your star rating level. For instance, if you’re a 4-star author, then you can write 4-star, 3-star and 2-star articles but not 5-star ones. In other words, you can write below your star rating level if you wish, but not above it.*

A list of all the available titles will appear. Click on a title to read the instructions, and then either click the button saying that you want to write the article or click on the back arrow located at the top of Textbroker’s category screen (not the back arrow on your Internet browser).


When you click on an order title, you automatically lock the title for 10 minutes until you release it by clicking on the orange back arrow or claim it by clicking on the button that says “I Want to Write This Article.” This 10-minute lock is to make it so that no one can claim the article right out from underneath you while you’re reading the order instructions and trying to determine whether or not you’re interested in fulfilling the order.

Within the order headline, you’ll find all information you might possibly need to know (and some that you might not) about the order, such as what the maximum possible earnings are, how many words it needs to be, any keywords you have to use throughout the article, how many times you have to use them, the deadline for completion of the order, the client’s ID number and so on.

When you find an order that you want to write, be sure to claim it. *Please note that Textbroker only allows you to claim one order at a time. This helps prevent authors from claiming tons of orders and not fulfilling them or keeping them from other authors who need work.* 


Once  you claim an order, then you can proceed on to actually writing it, which we’ll discuss more thoroughly in the next article…Working at Textbroker: Writing Orders

Textbroker: The Best Content Mill

Now that you know a bit about content mills, you’re probably interested in learning more about the different ones out there and which one you should get started with. Although I’ve written for numerous content mills over the years, the one that I’ve personally experienced the most success with is Textbroker. That’s why I took the liberty of naming Textbroker as the best content mill out there, although I’m sure there are other freelancers out there who will beg to differ. For me, though, this is the best writing platform for those who want to earn a steady income from freelance writing.

My Story

Textbroker was the first content mill that I ever joined. I happened upon it back in 2007 when I was in my freshman year of college. Although I had a scholarship that allowed me a bit of extra money to live on throughout the academic year after my tuition was paid, like most college students, I yearned for a bit more extra spending money. I knew that I didn’t have time to devote to a physical job, so I took my job hunt to the World Wide Web.

I stumbled upon Textbroker quite by accident. You see, I was looking for something easy like a data entry job. (Back then, I didn’t really know what data entry was. I thought this meant that I would simply be typing information into an online data form and getting paid tons of money to do it. Haha. Ah, the naivety of youth.) After clicking on all the data entry links that popped up in the search engines only to be redirected to pages that wanted to scam me out of money, I became frustrated. I finally began to search for ways to make money online by writing rather than by data entry, and, lo and behold, this site called Textbroker popped up in the search results.

I quickly read what the site was about and thought, “What the heck?” and submitted my application. The application process was super easy. It merely consisted of filling out a form asking for a bit of basic information and submitting a short writing sample. Back then, you were able to submit a writing sample of anything that you wanted, and I submitted an essay that I had used to get accepted into college entitled How to Write a Five Paragraph Essay.

Within a couple of days, I’d received my acceptance email and a welcome package from Textbroker delivered right to the email address I’d provided them. I was delighted to see that I’d been assigned an initial star rating of 4 (the highest you can get is 5, but nobody scores 5 initially, and you’ll understand why later when I explain Textbroker’s rating system). From that moment onward, I was granted access to Textbroker’s writing platform where I could see all the available orders and select the ones that I wanted to write. I’ve been working at Textbroker on and off ever since.

From Part-Time to Full-Time

At first, Textbroker is somewhere I just worked sporadically. Then, I didn’t work there at all (very rarely at least; I logged in maybe once a year) when I was involved in working for a company called Demand Studios. (Now it’s known as Demand Media, and it’s nothing to what it once was. A crying shame to be sure, but we’ll talk more about Demand Studios in another blog post.) Once my work at Demand Studios began to fizzle out, then I found myself once again turning to Textbroker, and there I’ve stayed ever since. True, I do occasionally write for other content mills, and I’ve amassed a nice following of private clients that I serve directly. It’s kind of interesting that the first writing platform I ever wrote for is the one that ended up standing the test of time.

Textbroker is the place where I made my living for many years (and I still write there), so it can be done. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living from freelance writing because you can. Textbroker is the content mill that allowed me to do so, and in the upcoming blogs, I’ll be providing you with insider advice and tips on how you can make a living working on Textbroker too. If you have enough determination, willpower and know-how, you can made a modest salary with Textbroker and lead a comfortable life. Plus, since I’ll be providing you with all the information you need to know to do things first the right time you won’t have to go through the learning periods that I did.

Check out Getting Started with Textbroker: Registering as an Author to begin the process of becoming a Textbroker author.

Getting Started with Freelance Writing: Writing Boards Vs. Content Mills

One of the most difficult parts of freelance writing, or any writing for that matter, is getting started. If you’ve never freelanced before, you likely have no clue how to go about doing it. Where do you get clients? Where do you go to look for them?

All of these are valid questions and ones that will be answered throughout this blog post. First of all, before you can go out looking for clients, it’s important to discuss the differences between the two types of freelancing platforms available on the internet: freelance writing boards and content mills.

Writing Boards

Freelance writing boards are one of the places you can go to look for freelance writing. Similar to job boards, this is the place where clients who are looking to commission certain pieces will post an advert seeking a writer for their projects. Likewise, freelance writers looking for projects can also post adverts expressing their desire for clients.

Think of freelance writing boards as audition portals. If you see an advert for a project that you’d like to write, then you must essentially submit a sales pitch to the client. (There’s plenty of tips that you can follow to catch a potential client’s attention and strengthen your sales pitch, but that’s another blog post.) The client then chooses which writer to proceed with from all the applicants that he or she received. Obviously, the more applicants a client receives, the more competitive the job offering and the less likely that you’ll end up being the one to win the commissioned project.

On the other side of the spectrum, you can post an advert letting clients know the types of writing projects you’re interested in writing and hope that the clients come to you. However, while that alone might work in some cases, it’s important to remember that just as you have to sell yourself in the real world and actively go after a job if you want it, so do you have to do so in the virtual world. You can’t simply post your resume online, expressing what you want to write and then sit back and wait for clients to fall into your lap. (Again, while that might happen in some cases, it’s rare indeed.)

In short, if you plan on going the freelance writing board route, then be prepared to submit loads of applications and correspond with many clients. Even after do so, you may win some writing commissions and you may not. It all depends upon what the client’s looking for as well as numerous other factors.

Content Mills

If you don’t savvy the idea of putting in tons of work and not getting much return on job opportunities, then there are always content mills. While content mills have gotten a bad rep, there are plenty of advantages to them.

Dubbed content mills because of the number of articles you must churn out to achieve significant pay, they are oftentimes equated with sweatshop factories in the physical workforce. Many content mills pay next to nothing for articles, and quantity is oftentimes thought to be favored over quality. However, there’s many misconceptions about these stigmas surrounding content mills. All of them aren’t necessarily like that. True, most content mills won’t pay as much as commissioned pieces that you earn directly from clients, but they also don’t require the extensive networking and footwork that it takes to successfully win a job on a freelance writing board either.

Instead, content mills offer you a writing platform where you are expected to write articles that clients have already placed with the company providing the service. Instead of applying directly to clients and attempting to commission work from the source (which you may or may not get), with a content mill, you submit an application to the company, and once you’re accepted as a writer, then you choose from available assignments to write. The process of getting accepted as a content mill writer isn’t as arduous as that of securing work from a private client and usually consists of taking a writing test and submitting a sample of writing. However, once you’re accepted into the writing company, then you can usually choose any of the available orders listed to write.

So which type of writing platform is best for you? A freelance writing board or a content mill? While there are pros and cons to each, content mills offer you more of an immediate and guaranteed payment than freelance writing boards, and they are also a great place for people just breaking into the freelance writing profession to begin.

Learn more about one of my favorite content mills in Textbroker: The Best Content Mill.

So You Want to Be a Freelance Writer?: Debunking the Myths


While freelance writing might sound like this amazing and freeing job (and it is to an extent) to those who’ve never done it, there’s actually much more to freelancing than appears on the surface. Just as the meme above shows, freelancing doesn’t typically consist of the luxurious writing habits that many people think it does. In short, freelancing is just like any other type of job: you get out of it what you put into it.

The Reality Behind the Glitz and Glamour

Now this isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy freelance writing on the beach while sipping a mai tai or pina colada. However, as someone who’s actually tried this, I can personally vouch that writing on the beach over a couple of drinks is much more romantic in theory than it is in execution. Not only does sand from the beach get in your keys (especially on those windy days when the sand’s being blow in every direction), but the sun tends to glare on your computer screen, and you’re likely to get a sunburn. Not to mention that if you have too many alcoholic beverages, you likely won’t feel like working anymore. Haha.

But wait, you say. Aren’t you supposed to be telling us how great freelancing writing is so that we’ll want to do it too? After all, this blog is supposed to help us become freelance writers, right? 

Yes, the intent of this blog is to help you learn insider tips and tricks to help you succeed at freelance writing, but before I get into all that, I think it’s more important to debunk many of the myths surrounding freelance writing. In short: it’s not the glamorous profession that it’s made out to be.

Commitment is Key to Success

Sure, you can certainly enjoy the benefits of being your own boss, traveling wherever you want to, writing wherever and whenever you want to and so on. However, I always find it so important to stress to new writers wanting to break into freelance writing that freelance writing is a commitment. Just like you can’t expect to get paid for a 40-hour work week at a factory without trudging in to work and putting in all 40 of your hours, so can’t you expect to make tons of money from freelance writing unless you’re willing to put in the work (at least not at first, but we’ll get into that much later on).

To be a successful freelance writer, I personally believe that it’s extremely important for you to actually enjoy writing. If you hate writing (or perhaps don’t hate it but quickly tire of it), then freelance writing probably isn’t the profession for you since it requires a LOT of writing. If the primary reason you want to break into freelancing is because you harbor hopes of it being a “get rich quick scheme,” then the sad truth of the matter is that you shouldn’t waste your time.

I love writing. I always have. Furthermore, I love being able to work from home and work on my own terms, but the keyword in the aforementioned statement is work. Freelance writing is work, even if you enjoy writing. You might not always get to write about the topics that you love (at first anyways). However, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can certainly be rewarded with a liberating and successful career.

Now that you know that freelance writing isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be on television and elsewhere, if you’re still interested in learning more, continue onward to the next blog.