Top editorial tools that help you write content like a pro
Thanks to Design Swansea I recently did a talk at my local start-up business incubator and co-working space, TechHub, for new businesses, sole traders, designers and developers on “The Power of Consistency” and the skills, rules and tools you can use to create amazing content.
In an ideal world you would only have people with the right skill set, such as a keen eye for detail, exceptional concentration and sharp focus, working on your content. This can mean hiring an in-house copywriter or editor, outsourcing to an agency or freelance professional, or investing in existing staff through interactive, fun and practical skills workshops and tools training.
But for start-ups and the self-employed there is no spare budget to get help with content tasks. It's tough because you have to wear many hats and get all the jobs done yourself. Likewise, often designers and web developers also get lumped with creating content as an extra task. So that can mean that people without a formal content background or education are responsible for producing content for their business.
So, I wanted to share some of the editorial tools that you can use to polish and perfect your content before publishing and increase your confidence in your writing. This is the list for you if you need help to revise weak writing, identify and fix issues, and learn from your mistakes so that you can deliver precise and relevant content to your users. With something creative like copywriting, it can be really hard to measure its impact and benefit to the business. The great thing about these tools is that they give grades and scores, which can be used as metrics, reports and analytics to use for audit, to show progress/improvement, to set personal/business goal, KPIs, SLAs, etc.
At Language JEM we place a strong focus on clarity, accuracy and consistency to produce compelling, actionable and impactful content for our clients. Having a consistent brand voice is important because it clearly, effectively and efficiently communicates what makes your brand and your products/services so special. Consistency in a brand’s communications builds trust and respect through authenticity, which helps with user experience, customer engagement and brand loyalty. Good writing is a vital part of a consistent Brand Voice. Good writing gets your customers to take up calls to action. Good writing is the result of careful editing and review.
Most of these editorial tools are browser-based, but some of them also have downloadable or desktop versions. Please check your information security policy before putting sensitive or confidential information into these tools. Most of these are free to use, but again please check before using. These links are provided for your information and convenience only. If you use these links, you leave the Language JEM website. Language JEM has no control over the contents of any linked website and is not responsible for these websites or their content or availability.
1. ONLINE DICTIONARIES & THESAURI
This sounds like such an obvious one, but many people don’t bother to take the time to look up the definition of a word they are using, and sometimes this means the word can be misused. By looking up the definition or its synonyms you can be sure that you have picked the right word for the job. I find this really useful for similar looking or sounding words like the ones listed below:
- allude / elude
- bare / bear
- complimentary / complementary
- dessert / desert
- discreet / discrete
- disinterested / uninterested
- etymology / entomology
- every day / everyday
- illicit / elicit
- moot / mute
- philatelist / philanthropist
- principle / principal
- stationary / stationery
Online dictionaries and thesauri make this a quick and easy task, and the result is worth it. There are many out there to choose from but I like and use the ones given above.
2. SPELL CHECKER
Again, this one sounds like it’s obvious, but I see so many spelling mistakes when I am editing other people’s work that I know they haven’t bothered to do even a basic spell check.
English is a rich language with a large and flexible vocabulary. It is full of homographs and homophones and words can easily be misspelled through typos or choosing the wrong word. I love the poem “Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer” by “sauce unknown”, which demonstrates this beautifully. It also helps to be aware of the kinds of typos you make in your own writing. For example, I know that I have some weird muscle memory thing where I type “from” instead of “form”, and “ration” instead of “ratio”. So, I have a list of my own typos and do a manual find and replace on them before hitting publish.
Another thing to be sure of when using a spell checker is that the document language and the checker language is set to the language you want to check. Using borrowed words from other languages, like “cliché”, can unintentionally change the language settings, and this might mean you miss some typos and misspellings.
Hastiness is a key cause of inconsistencies, typos and errors in content. So, don’t be hasty or lazy. Always be sure to run a full spell check in your word processor and make sure this is part of your pre-publishing checklist.
3. WORD COUNTER
It’s always useful to know how much volume of content you are producing. Perhaps you have a brief to produce a certain length, or you have to fit into limited space for a web template or mobile UI element.
Length also has a lot to do with your tone of voice and target audience. Formal brands use long-flowing, sophisticated sentences. And straight-talking brands will use shorter and punchier sentences. Either way, it’s good to be concise and avoid waffle and unnecessary filler content.
In general, best practice for web content is a maximum sentence length of 26 words, and an ideal sentence length of 13 words. Paragraphs ideally should be no longer than 4 sentences or 5 lines. Search engines generally display the first 50–60 characters of a title tag so that’s important to bear in mind for your post titles and headlines.
4. THE PLAIN ENGLISH CAMPAIGN’S DRIVEL DEFENCE
The Plain English Campaign have lots of different resources, tools, and free guides on their website, and I am a huge fan of their Drivel Defence tool in particular. There’s a browser version for copywriters and a downloadable version especially for web developers.
It helps you to check whether your content is in plain English. It flags up overly complex and formal words and gives you a simpler and clearer replacement word. Using complicated words can confuse and mislead your readers. Studies show where there are very long words in text, people skip over that word and the next four words after it. So, when you use unnecessarily tricky words, you could be losing half a sentence worth of content and the attention of the reader. You can show your commitment to delivering a clear and unambiguous user experience by using the Drivel Defence tool.
5. CLICHÉ FINDER
Good content is fresh and original, but clichés can seem tired and predictable. People find them irritating and a symptom of lazy writing.
Some people have a tendency to speak in clichés and then this can get copied over into their writing without them even noticing it. The cliché finder tool helps you to spot clichés and write more clearly and in a more original way. The Oxford Dictionaries blog on avoiding clichés is also a great place to start when you want to rewrite or rephrase a cliché.
6. HEMINGWAY EDITOR
The Hemingway App is a good allrounder. It evaluates a piece of writing for clarity and simplicity, by looking at readability, use of adverbs, passive vs. active voice, and dull, complicated words.
It’s an American tool so it gives a reading age in US school grades (convert US school grades to ages). The average reading age of the UK population is 9 years old. So, using an official or academic writing style for web content can impact user comprehension. Research shows that even higher-literacy specialist audiences appreciate plain English as it allows them to take in the information they need as quickly as possible. These audiences usually have a lot to read and want their research reading to be effortless.
Readable is an online editorial tool for copywriters and marketers which aims to help improve the readability of your content, increase ROI and boost sales. Use it to refine, enhance and simplify your work. The scoring and reports features are also great for metrics. Readable also provides readability how-to and best practice guides that are valuable tools for helping you write the best content possible.
Have you ever said a word out loud so many times that it just starts to sound weird and even wrong? Well that’s also quite common in copywriting. You can be working on a text for so long that you’re not sure if certain phrases even sound right. Word blindness.
That’s where Writefull comes in. It checks your text against databases of correct language, such as Google Books, Google Scholar, Google News, and Google Web. Then it gives you feedback on your writing to give you the confidence in your final selection.
Grammark is designed to help students improve their writing style and grammar and to self edit. It finds errors, highlights them, and then suggests improvements. It gives scores so progress can be measured. This tool is more suited to academic or technical content as opposed to creative copy. It’s an open source project, and passionate grammarians can contribute to improving the comprehensiveness of this tool by adding in more grammar rules.
Grammarly is an advanced proofreading tool that helps you spot grammatical errors, typos, and awkward sentences. The web extension is great for correcting anything written in a web browser, so you can publish blogs, tweets and Facebook posts with confidence, knowing that you won’t have to go back and edit when someone else tells you about a typo.
It also gives detailed explanations for all your mistakes and progress reports so you can improve your skills, and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Acrolinx is a fully customisable authoring tool and linguistic engine that can be tailor made to use your style guide, brand voice and terminology. It also has great analytics and reporting functionality so support the business case and ROI for the tool. It plugs in to different environments, such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs, and advanced XML editors and Creative Suite products. If you have some budget and staff resources to truly invest in consistency this is the one to pick. If you want a demo of this one, get in touch and we can set it up.