7 Free Writing Tools Every Journalist Should Be Using

By Matt Abbott | 24th Feb 2017

You can’t write without rewriting. Sometimes, you can’t write because you’re constantly rewriting. Sound familiar?

Are you spending too much time editing-as-you-go that you lose your pace and forget what you were trying to say? Or do you find that the editorial process restricts you from moving on to the next story?

Regardless which camp you fit into, putting a story together is like building a jigsaw. There’s always going to be a piece missing when you’re done. And if you keep going back to it, more and more pieces will get lost.

So how do you make sure that once you’ve finished writing, it’s the best it can be?

How do you make sure it reads good, dodges the cliché bullets and avoids repetition repitition?

How do you ensure your copy sings?

Below are seven free tools you can use to make sure you hit the high notes with your copy.

Grammarly – This is a free and simple extension that is compatible with Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers and can be installed on Mac Os and Windows. Grammarly not only checks your spelling and grammar but your vocabulary too. Its context-specific algorithms work across platforms, making that all-important tweet, intro, or headline get attention for all the right reasons.

Hemingway App – Do you find that your first pars run over 30 words? Are you being too garrulous and convoluted; overly dense and meandering that your readers need a dictionary to decipher your words? Is your copy rife with split logic, junctions and subordinate clauses?

The Hemingway App is what you need to write clean copy: unadorned, direct, active and to the point. Hemingway honed his style as a journalist for many years before becoming a novelist. If anyone knows how to write a news story, Papa does. (This post scored a respectable Grade 8 / Good)

Wordcounter – This nifty little app doesn’t just count how many words you’ve written; it counts the use of individual words to highlight repetition and redundancy. It’s also a good way to track keywords. Thanks to Jennifer Frost from grammarcheck.net for the recommendation.

Calmly Writer – Let’s face it, there’s a lot of distraction on the Internet: cats, Facebook, twitter… cats. The team behind Calmly Writer aren’t monsters. They love cats that can’t spell just as much as we do. What they don’t love is things that make it difficult for us to focus, and that includes all the formatting options your current writing program prides itself on.  Calmly Writer removes all these so you can concentrate on the words you’re writing and the sentences you’re building, without tinkering with the fonts, indents, colours and sizes. It comes with a dark mode for those who prefer white on black. And for nostalgia-lovers, has an optional typewriter sound.

Cliché Finder – This is an oldie (it’s been around since 2007), but a goodie. It’s a really simple, yet intuitive tool that searches the Associated Press Guide to News Writing for clichés in your copy. We’re all guilty as sin of committing the heinous crime of writing those overused, lazy and eye-rollingly tedious phrases. With Cliché Finder, there’s no longer any excuse.

Headline Analyzer – Have you ever wondered why the Mail Online’s headlines are so long? They’re more than double the length of a usual headline. Well, it’s a simple trick they’ve used to dramatic effect. By including so many words, they’ve increased their chances of being picked up in relevant and, crucially, irrelevant, searches. Conversely, the Sun’s headlines are usually very short, but incredibly creative, and do the same job. Regardless of what you think of either publication’s politics, their headline-writing skills are second-to-none.

This tool won’t help you write famous headlines like ‘Freddie Star Ate My Hamster’, or ‘Foot Heads Arms Body’, or even ‘Somali pirates who killed my husband and kidnapped me weren’t like Johnny Depp. They were awful criminals: Middle-class mother snatched from holiday idyll by bandits who shot her partner dead’.

What it will do is score your headlines based on length, word choice, headline type, and emotional sentiment.  It will tell you what it will look like in a search preview, and how your readers will emotionally react to it. A word of warning though, it’s very addictive. (This post scored a respectable 67 out of 100.)

Finally, use a style guide.

There are lots out there, from the wise and witty, irreverent and informed Guardian Style Guide (now in its third edition on Amazon, or free online); to the Buzzfeed Style Guide which has entries no other style guide has like, ‘Fangirl’, how to write JK Rowling correctly, a comprehensive LGBT entry, and what’s the correct spelling of e-cigarettes, ecigarettes, E cigarettes or E-cigarettes.

You can’t go wrong with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style either.

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