Build Your Digital Writing Toolbox: Collaboration Edition


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There's more to writing than writing. This is the deck from my 2014 talk at the Web Conference at Penn State. It describes the importance of the "workflow" mindset for approaching your writing, a framework for analyzing your workflows and choosing appropriate tools, and a number of tool recommendations for each section.

Links to many of the tools mentioned can be found at

Crafting useful and compelling digital copy is not an act of magic or divine intervention, and it's certainly not a feature of your word processor or content management system. I believe anyone can develop personal workflows to make writing easier, more enjoyable, and more successful.

Creating content individually and collaboratively with stakeholders, editors, designers, and other writers adds complexities to the creative process that your CMS and word processor just weren't built to address. Luckily, there's a whole world of apps, tools, process hacks and best practices out there to ease these pains and let us focus on what we're good at: writing.

Published in: Software, Business, Technology

Build Your Digital Writing Toolbox: Collaboration Edition

  1. 1. Build Your Digital Writing Toolbox #writingtoolbox SpecialCollaborationEdition! Scott Kubie - Web Conference 2014 at Penn State Hello! I’m a note added just for YOU,the web reader. I add in contextthat was provided verbally duringthe original presentation.
  2. 2. Build Your Digital Writing Toolbox #writingtoolbox SpecialCollaborationEdition! TWITTER: @scottrocketship Scott Kubie - Web Conference 2014 at Penn State
  3. 3. Build Your Digital Writing Toolbox #writingtoolbox SpecialCollaborationEdition! SLIDES AND LINKS: KUBIE.CO/DWT Scott Kubie - Web Conference 2014 at Penn State
  4. 4. “If you can talk, you can sing. - Dan Hays, the best choir teacher a kid could ever have This was his recruitment pitch for concert choir…
  5. 5. “If you can think, you can write. - Me, the guy on the stage Think thoughts. Type ‘em out or write ‘em down. Good job, you’re writing!
  6. 6. Writing process? Interviewers always ask authors about their “creative process” or “writing process”. How applicable is this notion to our work?
  7. 7. 1 432 1 432 1 432 Process means repeating the same steps to achieve consistent results. You could have a personal process for writing a mystery novel, or a blog post, but for ALL writing?
  8. 8. Writing process? workflows It’s more useful to think about the workflows for producing web content.
  9. 9. 1 3 2 4 Every assignment has a workflow. It could be as simple as “apply this specific process” or involve a variety of people, processes, and tools.
  10. 10. 1 3 2
  11. 11. 1 4 3 5 2 7 6 8
  12. 12. Strategic application of tools and processes to get the work done. Workflow
  13. 13. Know your tools
  14. 14. usability-chief-ideas-have-to-be-discoverable.html %9 out of 10 internet search users don’t know to use CTRL+F to search text within a page. According to a 2011 Google Study
  15. 15. technique app service “hack” process Know your tools framework
  16. 16. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing ✔ Let’s visit the hardware store! Think about which tools you already have, and which you’d like to get, in each of these categories.
  17. 17. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing How do you improve your writing and correct errors? How do you represent your thinking? What tools and techniques do you use while writing? How do you go from a finished draft to a finished assignment? ✔
  18. 18. Thinking
  19. 19. Thinking ! Major Mistake: Shifting all responsibility to the writer
  20. 20. Learn from Sherlock...
  21. 21. “ Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay. - Sherlock Freaking Holmes as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  22. 22. Thinking +Choose tools that encourage: Quantity
  23. 23. A blank word processor page is not the most inspiring thing in the world. It has high friction, and encourages a linear approach to ideas.
  24. 24. Thinking Mindmapping
  25. 25. Thinking Concept diagrams
  26. 26. Thinking Nouns connected by Verbs Concept (noun) Concept (noun) Proposition link (verb)
  27. 27. Thinking Message architecture Cardsort: - How we’re perceived - Who we are - Who we want to be
  28. 28. Thinking Content priority planner
  29. 29. Thinking rhetorical map
  30. 30. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing content priority planner rhetorical map stakeholder interviews message architecture mindmapping core + paths
  31. 31. Composing
  32. 32. Composing ! Major Mistake: Overcommitting (and over committeeing)
  33. 33. Composing + Choose tools that prioritize: Speed and simplicity
  34. 34. Composing Word processors?
  35. 35. Composing Word processors writing environments CMS WISYWYG Scrivener “distraction free” apps text editors :(
  36. 36. Composing Photo by Flickr user Amanda Woodward plain text Plain text is a fantastic “material” to build your workflows around. It’s accessible, flexible, and fast. There’s a huge ecosystem out there around plain text workflows pioneered by geeky tech bloggers who wanted more sensible publishing tools.
  37. 37. Pages, Word and the like were designed for desktop publishing. I’ll use Pages for résumés, flyers, and the like, but the featureset is ill-suited for fast and efficient web content production. ! If your stakeholders/audience simply MUST have a .doc, that’s an easy conversion from most text editing tools. Think of Word as where you publish, not where you write.
  38. 38. Composing # Markdown # Markdown is the most popular syntax for enhancing plain text. It is also a tool for converting Markdown-formatted documents into HTML. It has spawned its own category of apps and services for working with Markdown, and there’s even a great iBook about it now.
  39. 39. Composing text expansion Tools like TextExpander let you write just a few characters and have it automatically replaced with different (usually longer) text. These “snippets” can be shared with your team, for everything from email signatures to customer support email templates.
  40. 40. Composing personas THINKING FEELING HEARING SEEING DOING empathy map Empower your writers with personas for your main audience and empathy maps for the specific situation to give them someone to write for.
  41. 41. Composing Content templates Content templates are great when someone outside of your team has to own the writing. I like to load mine up with “example” text that often finds its way into the final product. Funny, that.
  42. 42. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing content priority planner rhetorical map stakeholder interviews message architecture mindmapping core + paths personas empathy map message architecture personas Markdown text expansion
  43. 43. Editing
  44. 44. Editing ! Major Mistake: Reading without seeing Reading text beginning to end as if you’re the intended audience is a good sanity check, but doesn’t inherently helpyou reconsider your narrative, structure, and phrasing.
  45. 45. Editing +Choose tools that offer: Isolation and abstraction
  46. 46. Editing The 10% Solution A lovely little book with many practical tips for improving your copy.
  47. 47. Editing ACB’s The 10% Solution ACCURACY CLARITY BREVITY (get it right) (get it clear) (get to the point)
  48. 48. Editing editing list The 10% Solution Words Word Parts of that But And very because then -ing -ly
  49. 49. Editing Marked 2 Marked previews Markdown documents as HTML. It has a numberof great editing features, including custom proofing dictionaries youcan use to instantly highlight words from your editing list.
  50. 50. Editing annotation Don’t just reply to text, write on it! Red pens are associated with editors for a reason. Glui, Skitch, Notable, and even are great for this.
  51. 51. Editing
  52. 52. Editing Reference IDs LABEL ALL THE THINGS! Number your emails. Number your campaigns. Put anumber on each element within an interface design. Universally-unique labelsfacilitate easier conversations over email, chat, and project managementsoftware. “Use title case on 7.1” vs. “Use title case on the third action button onthe fifth screen of the secondary update workflow for signed-in users…”
  53. 53. Editing Version Control (nerdy) CVS SVN Git Consider a version control system for your content beyond theCMS. Ask your developers, they’ll be excited to tell you why whatthey use is better than everything else and help you get started.
  54. 54. Editing Version Control (less nerdy) Draft( Google Drive haxonomies (e.g. v1, v2, FINAL, draftx, notesx) wikis Code-oriented version control systems might be overkill if you don’t have a lotof content. Many consumer-friendly web apps have options for version control.
  55. 55. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing content priority planner rhetorical map stakeholder interviews message architecture mindmapping core + paths personas empathy map message architecture personas Markdown text expansion version control editing lists canonical draft Marked 2 Notable Glui ID numbers style guide
  56. 56. Finishing ✔
  57. 57. Finishing✔ ✔ !Major Mistake: Rushing A lot of good work can be undone by moving too quickly right at the end. Let the paint dry. Pack things carefully. And clean your tools.
  58. 58. Finishing✔ ✔ +Choose tools that prioritize: Automation
  59. 59. Finishing✔ ✔ Plain text (again) {noformat} <pre> .txt Don’t let a pushy system inject a bunch of markup garbage intoyour work. In JIRA, for example, I wrap my copywriting recommendations in the {noformat} tag to keep it “clean”.
  60. 60. Finishing✔ ✔ Scripts, macros, and system services A lot of finishing work for today’s writer is just manipulating textin various ways. Changing formats. Adding links and formatting.Etc. Computers are good at this kind of thing. Let them do it.
  61. 61. Finishing✔ ✔ Markdown Service Tools All kinds of handy Markdown-flavored text manipulation tools in one download.
  62. 62. Finishing✔ ✔ I wish there was an easy way to convert [format x] to [format y]. There is. There always is. Want to do X with Y? Google it! Someone has figured it out. Don’tsuffer friction and tedium in your workflow if you can help it!
  63. 63. Finishing✔ ✔ Metadata triggers IFTTT (If This, Then That) email → evernoteEmail subject @Notebookname #tag1 #tag2
  64. 64. Finishing✔ ✔ CONTENT STRATEGY!!! review schedules governance documents content inventorycontent rationale Really, truly finishing—sending the email, publishing the article, submittingthe application—can bring about a rush of anxieties. A solid content strategyhelps us deal with these zero hour project killers and get the work done.
  65. 65. Thinking Composing Editing Finishing content priority planner rhetorical map stakeholder interviews message architecture mindmapping core + paths personas empathy map message architecture personas Markdown text expansion version control editing lists canonical draft Marked 2 Notable Glui ID numbers style guide governance inventories AppleScripts IFTTT AppleScripts plain-text tags
  66. 66. That’s all. Thank you.
  67. 67. SLIDES AND LINKS: KUBIE.CO/DWT TWITTER: @scottrocketship Questions? Tools icon by Shane Miller, from The Noun Project Notepad icon by Ema Dimitrova, from The Noun Project Search Icon: Gianni Clifford, from The Noun Project Typewriter by Alex Kwa from The Noun Project