Useful tools for creating amazing content
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.
Sketch is a well-made programme for more substantial user-interface and user-experience work; it can also be used for making wireframes.
If you don’t have any budget for Sketch, open source Pencil works well. It doesn’t get updated often these days but it’s simple, free and works well.
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.
There are several tools for creating mind maps; we like this one. It’s beautifully designed and easy to use. There are mobile apps as well as a desktop program.
It doesn’t have quite as many options as MindNode, but Coggle has the huge advantage of being collaborative, so that multiple people can work on a mind map at the same time. Also, it’s a web app, so there’s nothing to install. It’s free for up to three private diagrams and unlimited public ones.
If your brain insists on using straighter lines from the outset, this could be 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 recent alternative 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.
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.
Similar to Hemingway, but with more of an emphasis on grammar and spelling, Grammarly also makes a good 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.
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