Useful tools for creating amazing contentby Julius Honnor and Laura Robertson
Content management systems, despite the name, are not great for content planning, content creation or content editing. These are our favourite tools for content creators and editors.
Wireframing is usually seen as a UX design tool, rather than a part of the content creator’s armoury, but especially for media-rich, longer-form content, it can be a great way of visualising the way content elements will flow together, in an abstract way. Content, especially online, is much more than words, and wireframing can help clarify what images, photos, visualisations, quotes, videos and text are needed.
Figma wins out over Sketch and XD in our book because it’s better at collaboration (though the other two are catching up). Multiple people can work on something in the browser, at the same time, and commenting and discussing doesn’t mean exporting things to a different platform.
If you don’t have any budget for Sketch or Figma, open source Pencil works well for simple wireframes. It doesn’t get updated often these days though.
When you’re collecting information and inspiration, having a visual scrapbook to save and organise everything in can be more helpful than a scribbled list or a page of URLs.
Somewhere between Pinterest and Miro, Milanote has handy apps and browser plugins that let you save websites, notes and pictures on beautifully designed boards. You can add comments and tasks and sharing is simple. Its downside is the steep price once you’ve filled up your free allowance.
Outlining and mind mapping
A mind map is a diagrammatic representation of thoughts and ideas. As a first step planning tool for content, it’s great because it forces you to structure ideas in a non-linear way. It gives a bird’s eye view of structural elements and makes it easy to move things around.
Outlining also has its fans but we prefer mind mapping because it allows you to organise the ideas before the structure takes shape.
Once you have ideas and themes laid out in a mind map it should be simpler to find a good, logical, narrative thread.
Useful for running online workshops, complete with virtual sticky notes, Miro (formerly Realtime Board) is a multipurpose whiteboard tool that does just about everything, bar making tea. Miro’s mind maps are simple to make and collaborative. Though it doesn’t have the single focus that MindNode or Coggle have, Miro’s combination of power and intuitive interface makes it hard to beat.
If your brain insists on using straighter lines from the outset, and outlining rather than mind-mapping, this is worth a try.
The best tools for writing aren’t the best ones for word processing. Formatting, complex functionality and interfaces can get in the way of forming the words.
In recent years, a backlash against Microsoft Word has resulted in a new wave of simpler, more elegant text editors. These prioritise usability for writers, with minimal interfaces, often using Markdown for basic formatting. Or, for the ultimate in stripped-down geekishness, you could just use a plain text editor: Sublime, Atom and Brackets are all good.
A big improvement to Evernote’s bloat, Bear has beautiful typography and an effortless interface. It’s designed for taking and organising notes, but it also makes an excellent tool for writing longer content.
Ulysses is especially good for writing books, with tools that allow the structuring and organising of multiple files or chapters. Its distraction-free writing view is useful for blocking everything else out, and its excellent mobile apps mean you can carry your content around in your pocket.
The grandfather of distraction-free text editors for writers, iA Writer has some great features such as focus mode, night mode and reading time calculator. Its stubbornly unconfigurable use of monospaced text isn’t to everyone’s taste.
Often, content isn’t created by one person alone. For working with subject matter experts or pair writing, a tool that allows more than one person to work simultaneously, and which tracks changes without creating multiple versions of files, is crucial.
More than just a content collaboration tool, GatherContent also manages workflow. Which means it really comes into its own on bigger content projects.
Especially well-suited to web projects, Notion is a great way to build and populate structured content, meaning that you can create a words-and-pictures-only prototype. As with GatherContent, you can also combine content workflow and project management into system that’s incredibly flexible.
Google Docs doesn’t have the most beautiful interface and you have to do some work to tweak its typography to aid readability. But in terms of the functionality of collaborative content creation, Google Docs is the champion.
Dropbox’s attempt to challenge Google is better than most: it has an attractive, straightforward interface, some innovative features and a mobile app that’s a pleasure to use. And animated wizard emoji.
Editing makes everything better, and should be done in a way that makes people better writers. If you’re editing someone else’s work, do it transparently, and explain the reasons behind decisions. If you are a writer, drop your ego, and allow yourself to be edited.
Anna Pickard, Words are Hard
By the time content reaches the editing stage, content management systems really ought to prove their worth. But many of them don’t concentrate on the editor as a user. These tools can help hone, clarify and correct text.
The Hemingway App highlights difficult, long sentences, superfluous words and unnecessarily complex language, giving a readability score.
A competitor to the Hemingway App, Typely checks for all sorts of things as you edit, including repetitions, oxymorons and cliches.
With an emphasis on grammar and spelling, Grammarly also makes a decent editor. It’s a free extension for Chrome. The paid-for version has more customisation and integration options.
A bookmarklet that links to gov.uk guidance on words to avoid. Drag the bookmarklet to your toolbar; clicking on it will highlight suspect words on web pages, and provide a tooltip explaining why you might want to find an alternative.
This free online tool checks text against readability measures such as the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score, the Gunning Fog score and the SMOG index (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook). It’ll also split scores by paragraph and give you some useful statistics including the percentage of difficult words in a passage of text.
Content is more than text. Images, of both stationary and moving flavours, are equally important. Video editing is a topic for another day, but these three free online tools are good for editing and creating photos and graphics.
Canva is best known for its ability to add text to images, but its image creation and editing capabilities go further than that, allowing users to create all sorts of different graphics with ease.
If you’ve used Photoshop, the interface of Pixlr’s online photo editor will be familiar.
Turn data into infographics, charts and maps.
For graphics, SVGs have advantages over bitmaps such as PNGs and GIFs. They have small file sizes and there’s no need to worry about resolution. This is an excellent free program to help optimise them.
Podcasting, or adding audio to text and image content, can be done without expensive equipment.
Zencastr allows remote recording of discussions in a clever way that doesn’t depend on VOIP. It uses Chrome’s built-in VOIP abilities for you to hear each other, but it records two streams locally, uploads them to the cloud and merges them. Which means that yo get much better quality and no dropouts.
Transcripts of audio and video are great to have: both users and search engines appreciate them. But they can be time-consuming to create. Trint helps enormously by doing an automated first stab and then giving you a really helpful user interface for ironing out creases.
What did we miss?
What are your favourite tools for creating really awesome content?
Our content tips emails signpost the way to happier, smoother, more efficient content. Some tips will be simple, some more involved; we hope they'll all be useful.
We'll send you one each week until we run out of ideas. We won't spam you or pass your details on to anyone else.
More Contentious ideas
You can’t achieve much if you don’t have compelling, high-quality content. But what makes content good? These 10 aspects are crucial.
Having a clear idea of how much content costs to produce and maintain can help with planning and can help make the case that content should be properly resourced and looked after.