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15 Editorial Tools to Help You Outline, Write and Edit (Better and Faster)

Jane Callahan
Jane Callahan / March 10, 2015

Whether writing is part of your everyday routine or you're facing a major, one-time project, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But remember: even the likes of Twain and Tolstoy had editors. Also, technology is your friend.

There's a mountain of apps and online tools that can make writing easier, whether you're trying to weave together a jumble of ideas, fix split infinitives, or nail down that hard-to-think-of word. But vetting those tools and determining what fits best with your writing style takes a lot of time.

So, we did the heavy lifting for you: Here are 15 editorial apps that will help you streamline your brainstorming, writing, and editing process.



Brainstorming and Organizing Tools

1. Workflowy for Outlining Content

Workflowy

Well-structured writing starts with a well-structured outline. Workflowy makes the process straightforward: the app lets you quickly create an organized summary of any project and all its parts using bullet points and nested lists.

Start with the broad strokes—section names, big ideas, themes—and nest related details and research beneath those bullets. Workflowy also offers hashtag-based tagging and search features, so don't worry about creating too many lists or letting your bullet points run wild.

You can zoom in on any list by clicking on the corresponding bullet point. Plus, if you hover over a bullet point, you'll see options to complete, add a note to, share, export, duplicate, and delete that item—try using the "complete" option to tick off sections of your outline as you finish writing them.

2. Evernote for Compiling Research

Evernote
Blogger Sayz Lim uses Evernote to save articles that he could later quote in a post.

People consider Evernote an essential app for a reason: it's really, really useful. Sure, you can keep things like lists in the Evernote cloud, but its real value lies in the ability to compile materials from various sources and share your "notebooks" with others. You can combine personal notes with online article clips, photos, scanned documents and audio. (In fact, with the help of an additional app, your audio will be transcribed for you.)

Evernote's live chat feature lets you discuss projects with others (either one-on-one or in a group) while viewing the same document, so there's no switching back-and-forth between windows. Like Google Docs, it gives you the option of determining who can view a document and how they can manipulate it.

The free version is great for individuals, but to use Evernote as a collaborative work tool, you'll need to upgrade to the paid premium or business versions, which offer bonuses like the ability to access your notes offline and designate a centralized administrator.

3. Scrivener for Organizing Content

Scrivener

If you're working on a lengthy or complex document, and anticipate that it will take several turns, Scrivener's writing software is your new best friend. Imagine all the benefits of a Word document, amplified, minus all the inconveniences—like the endless scrolling and the cluttered look of tracked changes.

Once you create your document in Scrivener, you can line up a writing plan with the "outliner" tool, and as you write you can portion content into sections (like chapters). The corkboard gives you a birds-eye view of the sections on digital index cards that display your summary of the content. If you don't like the order, no need to copy-and-paste large chunks of text: the drag-and-drop feature lets you reorder sections with one click of your mouse, and you can seamlessly move back and forth between sections using the "binder" tool.

If you're afraid of losing information during major edits, Scrivener lets you take a "snapshot" of your "before" version that you can reference (or revert to) later, and you can create up to five "layers" of color-coded revisions.

Scrivener has a long list of fonts to choose from, and pre-set templates for different types of writing formats: AP style, essays and screenplays to name a few. You're not beholden to a template, and can start with a standard blank document if none of the template meet your needs. Once you're done, you can compile your separate folders into one comprehensive work—you just need to tell Scrivener what order you want it in.

A plus for businesses: there's a free template for case studies.

  • Scrivener 2.0 Pricing: $45 for Mac OSX, $40 for Windows; 30-day free trial
  • Scrivener Apps: Mac and Windows
  • Other Options: Celtx for screenwriting (Web, Mac OSX), yWriter for Windows users (Windows), Microsoft Word for people who like scrolling and accessing their documents everywhere (Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

4. Blind Write for Getting Started

Blind Write

There's an old adage in the writing world: Write drunk, edit sober. Now, the point isn't to go gulp down half a bottle of whiskey—seriously, we don't advise that—but rather that some of the best writing happens when your mind is unhindered and free of distraction.

In that spirit, Blind Write forces you to write blind, and edit… not blind. The app's interface is a simple white-on-black text editor that asks you what you want to write about, and for how many minutes. From there, you can type away, but Blind Write blurs out your text until the timer hits zero.

This method encourages you to just start writing. When you can't see what you're typing, you can punch out all of your thoughts before considering things like word choice and sentence structure, eliminating perfectionist tendencies that lead to writer's block. The blurred text is probably a good proxy for writing drunk, too.

  • Blind Write Pricing: Free
  • Blind Write Apps: Web
  • Other Options: Fully dimming or turning off your screen and starting a stopwatch

5. CoSchedule for Scheduling Content

CoSchedule
Fit Foodie Finds' Lee Hersh employs CoSchedule to manager her writing responsibilities across several sites.

WordPress plugin CoSchedule is an app you'll wish you found earlier.

If your company is publishing blog posts frequently enough that you need an editorial calendar, chances are you're promoting that content over your social media channels, too. But coordinating those two efforts can get overwhelming, especially if posting dates constantly changed.

CoSchedule allows you to drag and drop your "appointments" for WordPress blog entries and social channels, and you can attach your social posts to scheduled blog posts, so that when you move a blog post, the social post moves with it.

Because it's synced with your WordPress site, CoSchedule offers a drop down menu of authors who contribute to the blog so you can quickly find their drafts. And there's no lag time—any changes are made instantaneously.

The calendar has views for just blog posts, just social, or view posts only by certain authors. You can even write Tweets and Facebook posts directly in the CoSchedule calendar by choosing which social account to which you want to post.

The commenting feature makes it easier to coordinate with a team on upcoming posts, and the collaborative tools let administrators assign tasks and due dates. From there, CoSchedule alerts the assignee, and reminds them right before the due date hits; no more nagging.

CoSchedule Pricing: $10/month per WordPress Blog; 14-day free trial
CoSchedule Apps: WordPress plugin
Other Options: DivvyHQ (Web) and Editorial Calendar for WordPress (WordPress Plugin)

6. Trello for a DIY Editorial Calendar

Trello

If Pinterest and my to-do list had a baby, it would look like Trello. Trello's sleek layout lets you organize tasks by status, create checklists, assign duties, get feedback from others, and receive notifications when anything changes.

Where does this tool belong in the editorial process? Aside from being ideal for managing collaborative writing projects, it can serve as an editorial calendar that makes it easier to see when something in the pipeline is set to meet deadline (or, um, not).

Trello keeps it basic (and free), and if you need more features you can "power up" and add a voting tool and a calendar. Companies can spring for the "Business Class" version that lets administrators see everyone's boards, get increased data use, Google account integration, and added security.

Trello Pricing: Free for most features; $5/user/month for Business Class
Trello Apps: Web, iOS, Android, Windows
Other Options: Quip, Asana, Basecamp, and Google Calendar

Collaborative Writing and Editing Apps

7. Google Docs for Familiarity

Google Docs

Google Docs has my three musts: It's ubiquitous, it's free, and it autosaves. Whether or not you have a Gmail account, you can use Google Docs to write, edit and archive your work. The tool offers a variety of collaborative features, too, so you can team up with your colleagues from start to finish.

I have friends, on the other hand, whose companies still rely on Word and pass endless versions of documents with (mostly) tracked changes back-and-forth until each person has ten versions of the same document on their desktops. Stop the insanity.

Google Docs is simple: write your copy, share it with others (you decide who can view it, change it, comment and invite others), and choose from a set of download formats (PDF, DOCX, etc.).

My favorite feature is the "suggesting" mode. When someone recommends a change, you can either reject it, or accept it and the text automatically incorporates their suggestion, so you don't have to type it in yourself.

The "research" tool, which is a right-click away, gathers resources from the Internet like a built-in Google button; the results show up in the Google doc's right-hand sidebar. You can also grab tons of free add-ons, including a table of contents builder, a bibliography builder and a tool that lets you publish Google Docs directly to WordPress, among many others.

There aren't many drawbacks with Google Docs, but I'd warn that it's best for shorter pieces—otherwise, you face the endless scrolling that ails Word. Comments can also turn into back-and-forth conversations and crowd up your right-hand screen.

8. Quip for Mobile Flexibility

Quip

The media depicts Quip as "that" app that's trying to compete with Google Docs, and hence its future is TBD. But users and tech reporters alike say Google can't compete with how well Quip translates on mobile devices, making it a perfect fit for employees who prefer to work away their afternoons in cafes. Quip boasts customers like Instagram and Facebook, the latter which uses the tool to share checklists and create meeting agendas, as reported by TechCrunch.

Self-described as a "collaborative word processor and messaging system" that works on and offline, Quip lets you edit as you write, catching spelling errors in real time, and chat with people who have access to the document. The style menu makes it easy to format headlines, lists, Excel-like tables and images. And if you use Markdown, a popular formatting language among bloggers, there's support for it in Quip, too.

If you need to share the documents, or get on the phone with a collaborator quickly, simply type their name in the search bar and their stored information comes up (have a nice life, company directories). Projects are saved on the dashboard, and at any time you can import documents from Google Drive, Dropbox, Word or Evernote.

Those who want to try out Quip's business version can get a 30-day trial, and it's free for individuals—though this nullifies the collaborative advantages of the app. If you go one step up to Quip Enterprise, you'll get IT goodies like Single Sign On and enhanced security.

  • Quip Pricing: Free; Quip Business for $12/user/month
  • Quip Apps: Web, iOS, and Android
  • Other Options: Google Docs and Word Web App offer mobile apps with collaboration features, too

9. Draft for Version Control

Draft

Though Google Docs, Word Web App, and Quip come with collaborative editing features, they don't offer the editing insurance of Draft. Draft's take on editing is that a collaborator's changes don't immediately alter the original document—instead, a new version is created for each round of editing.

After someone submit edits, it's up to the document owner to individually accept or reject them. Each time this is done, a new version of the doc is automatically generated and the doc's owner is given the ability to switch between these versions. Draft calls this version control, and it's core to developer tools like GitHub and BitBucket. So it's no surprise that Draft was created by Nate Kontny, who served as a software engineer for President Obama's re-election campaign.

Beyond the alternative approach to editing, Draft offers support for Markdown, an editing mode specifically for transcribing audio or video, and integrations with major blogging platform such as WordPress and Blogger. Draft even delivers analytics on your writing habits, like average weekly word count, reading level, and title length.

  • Draft Pricing: Free; Donations requested
  • Draft Apps: Web
  • Other Options: Penflip and Poetica

10. Etherpad for Basic Collaboration

Etherpad

There are plenty of platforms that let multiple people work on the same document, but it's hard to see who's doing what—and when they're doing it.

Etherpad's color-coded writing feature lets users see who's writing what at a glance, and once a document is done, attributes what each person has contributed in a digestible format. But be warned: if too many people work on one document, it looks like rainbow sherbet exploded all over the screen.

You don't need an account to use Etherpad, so it's great for teams that don't want to deal with signing up and logging in. You can either start a document from scratch, or import files, and then invite anyone you want into the document either through the Etherpad platform, or by emailing them the link to your public space (which means security is lax).

Instead of wading through the various revised versions of a document, you can hit the "play", "fast forward" and "rewind" buttons to see what the document looked like at any point in the writing process. When you're done, you can export and download files as html, plain text, word documents and pdfs.

Like most collaborative writing platforms, there's a chat feature (which is also color-coded), and with the Tokbox plugin, you can video chat with people inside of your Etherpad document.


Editing Assistance

11. Hemingway for Perfecting Syntax

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was lauded for his conservative use of words, and communicated volumes in short sentences. The Hemingway app helps you do the same, making it useful for cleaning up all those thoughts you spilled on to the page.

Your work is separated into five categories, each assigned a color so that it's easier to process the different types of changes you need to make. If you wrote that your day is "going good" instead of "going well," the phrase will light up in blue. The app won't leave you in the dust—it shows you how to fix your errors with recommended alternatives.

In addition to showing where your writing is weak, the tool counts your paragraphs, words, sentences and characters and "grades" your writing based on how hard it is to read. In the long term, using this tool teaches you to be a better writer because you're constantly identifying and fixing your errors. Eventually, you won't make so many of them.

12. After the Deadline for Free Proofreading

After the Deadline

After the Deadline is similar to Hemingway, but it focuses more on spelling and grammar than shortening your prose.Copy and paste your text into the box, and the scan will catch undesirables like unnecessary use of the passive voice, redundancy, overly complex word usage, and spelling errors.

The "explain" feature tells you why something is wrong, but offers the same general explanation for the each genre of errors ("Active voice makes it clear who's doing what."). It won't offer suggested fixes outside of a drop-down menu of potential options for misspelled words, and I've encountered instances where it doesn't catch something (like starting a sentence with a lowercase letter).

After the Deadline doesn't differentiate between British, Canadian and American English, for example, and may not be the best option for companies working with people outside the U.S.

  • After the Deadline Pricing: Free
  • After the Deadline Apps: Web
  • Other Options: Grammarly (Chrome, Firefox and Safari browser extensions) and ProWritingAid (Web)

13. Reverse Dictionary for Finding the Right Word

Reverse Dictionary

There's a word that'll fit, it just hasn't hit you yet. The word will be perfect for the sentence, but just can't put your finger on it. For those times, there's a simple little tool that will (try to) rescue you: Reverse Dictionary.

I say "try to" since it won't always deliver up the perfect word, but it certainly helps with the creative process. For example, enter the phrase "hard to remember" and you're served up 40 word choices, including elusive, lacquer and lug. The first one on the list, "elusive," nails it. The others? Well, not so much. So when you're struggling on a word choice, Reverse Dictionary is a quick search that'll be worth your while.

14. Check My Links for Vetting Links

Check My Links

Check My Links scans a web page to catch 404s, making it easy to catch any broken or invalid links on a site you're editing. If you tend to type your links out, this tool is for you (because there is no www.aol.co).

The console log publishes a list of all links with issues and HTTP response codes.

The downside to this app is that it doesn't catch incorrectly linked material. Meaning if you accidentally copy and pasted the wrong link to a phrase or word, but the link works, the software will green-light it. Some product reviewers complained that the scan labeled a link as broken when it wasn't, but overall this is a useful tool for a 404 double-check.

  • Check My Links Pricing: Free
  • Check My Links Apps: Chrome
  • Other Options: Manually check each link

15. Diff Checker for Seeing Changes Made

 Diff Checker

The name says it all, and this is as basic as it gets. Put original text in one box, put a new version in another box, and Diff Checker immediately highlights discrepancies. You can store your text for a certain amount of time (like an hour, a day or forever), or not at all.

This is ideal for legal departments that comb through contracts and other documents to see if the other party made any changes on the sly, or developers who need to identify the difference between two chunks of code.

There have been enough times when I've sent copy for approval to others and gotten an email back that said "Made some changes, here you go," with no indication of what changed. Instead of playing Where's Waldo?, just use Diff Checker.

The downside: it shows, not does. You'll have to un-change things yourself in the document.

  • Diff Checker Pricing: Free
  • Diff Checker Apps: Web
  • Similar to Diff Checker: Tools like Google Docs and Draft offer built-in "compare versions" features

Additional Editorial Apps

Whatever combination of tools you use from this list, hopefully they help you produce quality writing faster. Though these aren't the only tools that can help you in those departments: There are citation apps like Zotero and Ctfm, or distraction-free word processors like Ommwriter and Ulysses that could be helpful, too.

Is there an app that you've found essential to you writing and editing workflow? If so, please share it with our readers by leaving a comment below.

Credits: Desk photo courtesy qian on Flickr. Evernote screenshot from sayzlim.net. Scrivener screenshot courtesy of Scrivener video tutorials. CoSchedule screenshot from Fit Foodie Finds. Quip screenshot courtesy Quip. Etherpad screenshot from SinPapel. Trello screenshot courtesy Trello.

Zapier marketers Joe Stych and Danny Schreiber contributed to this post.

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