Adam Fisher
22nd October 2018 - 7 mins read
O

f course, when Mr Zinsser started writing, he had little more than a typewriter for technological support.

Producing and creating content remains difficult, but the modern writer does have access to a range of online tools which can improve their writing and help them find inspiration.

Here are some of our favourites:



Grammarly

This is probably the best-known writing tool, so we won’t spend too much time discussing it.

It is essentially a proofreading tool which automatically spots grammar, spelling, punctuation and even style mistakes.

When it suggests a correction it also provides an explanation. This means the writer can make a well-informed decision on whether or not they will make that change.

You can copy and paste text into Grammarly’s Editor or install a free browser extension.



Cliché Finder

We’re all guilty of including words and phrases in our writing which might be a bit trite or overused.

Cliché Finder is a free, simple, tool which helps you to identify those expressions before your work gets published.

I used it on a blog I recently wrote and it instantly identified the expressions ‘over the years’.  Not only did this prompt me to remove this from the work, but it also means I will be more conscious about using the phrase in the future, ultimately improving my writing.



Hemmingway Editor

This is a bit like the newspaper sub-editor who has been doing the job for years and just knows how to make copy better even when there is nothing grammatically wrong.

The emphasis is on making writing short and punchy by highlighting complicated words, dull sentences, passive voice, and adverbs.

And it is easy to use. If you see a yellow sentence, it needs to be shortened; if it is red it is too complicated; purple means a shorter word could be used, and blue is used to highlight adverbs and weak phrases.



CoShedule’s Headline Analyzer

Headlines are important.

A good one will entice readers to your content, while one that fails to hit the mark could prevent people from clicking – a real shame if the article that sits below is strong.

But constantly producing eye-catching headlines isn’t easy.

The good news is there is help readily available.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer breaks down your headline in terms of structure, grammar, and readability.

Headlines are scored out of 100 with points gained for the use of ‘common’, ‘uncommon’, ‘emotional’ and ‘power’ words and phrases.



Hub spot Blog topic generator

When the dreaded writer’s block strikes, you need to find inspiration.

And tech can sometimes provide the answer.

There are a few blog topic generators around but Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator is probably the best one.

Simply type a few phrases into the boxes and the algorithm does the rest.

Putting ‘words’, ‘content’ and ‘ideas’ into the system came up with the following options:

 

1 Think You're Cut Out For Doing Content? Take This Quiz

2 The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Words

3 Tools Everyone In The Ideas Industry Should Be Using

4 Quick Tips About Content

5 Best Blogs To Follow About Words

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always brilliant, but the third suggestion is very similar to this blog.

This tool is free and even if the suggestions do not always hit the mark, it could just come up with an idea you can develop.



Wordcounter

This website offers more than its uninspiring name might suggest.

As well as providing a running total of the number of words and characters – useful if you have a minimum or maximum total you need to reach – its main benefit is showing whether your writing has become a bit repetitive.

The system shows how often you have used each word, giving you the opportunity to provide some alternative options.

Additionally, it provides you with a reading and speaking time for your writing - ideal if you are preparing a speech.  



Power Thesaurus

Once you’ve identified the words you are using a little too often, you may need some help finding alternative options.

There are plenty of online thesauruses, with Thesaurus.com being the biggest. But I prefer the crowd sourced Power Thesaurus for a more user-friendly experience and fewer adverts.



Urban dictionary

Not every definition in the Urban Dictionary is going to be suitable for your writing, particularly if you have an audience which may be easily offended. Some definitions are, let’s just say ‘educational’.

But, if you are looking for a definition of a word or phrase that is new or has different meanings to different people, it can be a useful tool.

When I wrote a blog for our sister company Media First about spokespeople repeatedly using the phrase ‘deeply concerned’, Urban Dictionary provided the perfect definition to give my content a little more edge.

It defined the phrase as: “An expression used in PR, especially political, when the person or organization is expected to care about a situation and comment on it, but they don't actually give a s**t, because the situation in question isn't particularly relevant to them, but it is politically imprudent to say that outright.”



Coffitivity

Sometimes writers just need to find a way of boosting their creativity.

Personally, when I’m struggling for inspiration, or just need some background noise, I plug in the headphones and let Guns N’ Roses destroy what remains of my hearing.

I appreciate though that others may have a different (not better) taste in music, or just need something a little more soothing.

This is where Coffitivity comes into its own. It recreates the ‘ambient’ sounds of a café to create a pleasant working environment. Not only that, but there is a range of coffee sounds to help you get in the mood, including some from Paris and Brazil.



BrainyQuote

Adding pertinent quotes from famous writers, politicians and entrepreneurs can be a great way of adding more depth to your writing and inspiring your audience.

You’ll notice that I included a quote at the start of this blog and in other posts I have quoted the likes of John F Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Maya Angelou among others.

Of course, it is not always easy to remember who the quote originally came from or whether you recalled it correctly.

This is where BrainyQuote comes in handy. The site not only enables you to check back on famous quotes but also search for more by topics, authors, and people in the news.



Word

It is not just going online that can improve writing. The ever-dependable Word also offers some useful tools.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

 

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

How to keep coming up with ideas for content

Adam Fisher 23rd May 2018 — 6 mins read
I

’ve written three blogs a week for three years now for our sister company Media First.

During that time I have often wondered where the next post is going to come from, yet I haven’t missed one yet. Of course, it helps to have a great team of inspiring people around me – including an amazing editor who is not only uber talented but exceptionally good looking (Ed – is this getting obvious now?)

Anyhow, here’s how I get my ideas for regular content: 

 

The news and trending topics

News sites are a great source of material and inspiration for the content I produce.

Whether it is news from your own sector or industry, or national or international news, current affairs and events are a source that cannot be ignored.

Sometimes the content I produce will be a direct commentary of these stories, but on other occasions, it will just help me find a way into writing about a wider issue I want to discuss.

I once used a news story about stoned sheep as a hook for a blog about media training, which, to prove one of my points you will read about shortly, was written in an A&E waiting room while waiting for my wife to be seen by doctors (ever the supporting husband).

When you are sourcing stories through social media sites, it is always worth looking at how people have reacted. This will give you a ‘voice of the people’ perspective and these thoughts can trigger an equally strong source of creativity. Via: @37agency

The other great thing about using this source as inspiration is that your content will be timely – often a key factor in motivating people to read.

 

Ideas come when you least expect them

One of the things I have found is that content ideas often come to me when I’m not really expecting or looking for them.

Some of the better ideas I have had have come to me on the commute, while playing with my children, in the middle of the night and even while sat on the loo (possibly too much information, but it is true).

Whereas it can often be a fruitless, smash-my-head into-the-desk kind of frustrating experience if I’m sat in the office trying to forcefully generate ideas.

The key for me is to make sure I make a note of these ideas when they pop into my head, even if it is just on my phone, because they can often quickly be forgotten.

 

Interview people

Carrying out interviews can be a great source of content and they can breathe fresh life into your blogs.

Not only can they be written up in a variety of ways, from a straight Q&A style to quotes throughout an article, but they also often generate additional content ideas.

People in your organisation, key influencers in your sector and people you have recently worked with could all make good interviewees and help you produce something a bit different for your readers.

My one word of advice would be to avoid the word ‘interview’ – it tends to make people nervous and cautious – not what you need for producing interesting content.

Make it sound informal by referring to it as a ‘quick chat’.

 

Recycling

This may sound unintentionally arrogant, but I find combing through the archives of content I have produced before a good source of material.

By that, I mean I find ways of repurposing that content into something new.

It could, for example, be as simple as updating an old blog. For our sister company Media First, I once wrote a blog that looked back on the best interviews of the year. Now I do that every year.

It may be that the topic has moved on and developed and that I’m now in a position to write to follow-up post capturing that new thinking.

Or perhaps I might now focus in on a specific part of a previous post and take a look at it in more depth.

I’ll also look back at the blogs that have been particularly successful in the past and think about how that content could be freshened up.

 

Your colleagues

The people you work with can be a great source of content ideas.

And they are often better placed to know the issues and problem your customers are experiencing and want answering.

The challenge, however, particularly for larger organisations, can be to get wider team members to buy into the content strategy.

There are two approaches here. One way is to hold formal brainstorming (I hate that word) meetings with a few people from different parts of the organisation. This can be a good method, but some people may feel reticent about coming forward with ideas which are not fully formed, particularly if there are more senior colleagues in the room.

The other approach, and one I generally find more productive is to speak to colleagues informally and more regularly and remind them that I am always after ideas for blogs. With this method, I tend to find people regularly send me an email or a text when a content idea comes to mind.  

 

The competition

Chances are some of your competitors are producing a lot of their own content, which could provide an inspiration.

I will do this very occasionally, but it is not something I’m a big fan of.

This isn’t because I think my content is better, but because I fear it can be too easy to fall into the trap of producing something similar.

Originality is a key factor for me in content that stands out so I prefer to find my inspiration in other sources.

 

Ask the audience

What better way to find out what your readers want to read about than by directly asking them?

If you feel you are approaching the end of your content supply, ask your readers what issues they would like you to address in future posts.

Or put the question out there through your social media channels.

Even if you only get a handful of responses, it could generate some fresh ideas.

Whilst I’m on this point – why not let me know what you’d like to see me write about next by emailing hello@thirtyseven.agency.

 

Turn to the tech

If all else fails, you can always turn to the tech.

There are plenty of blog topic generators available on the internet where you simply need to type in a few phrases and the algorithms do their magic. Hubspot has a pretty decent one for example and I used it to type in the words ‘content’, ‘marketing’ and ‘writing’. It came back with the following:

15 best blogs to follow about content

Think you’re cut out for doing marketing? Take this quiz

7 things about writing your boss wants to know

20 myths about content

What will marketing be like in 100 years?

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always relevant or unique, but they are free and they may just come up with something you can work with and develop.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
23rd May 2018 - 6 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.