Collaborative Technology for Today’s Writers

A Technology Stack for the Modern Writer by Brian McGuire

Most humanities majors focus on critical-thinking and writing skill acquisition in ways that often exclude technology. But in a changing professional environment, it’s important to embrace new tools that enable you to break away from conventional practices and work and collaborate in ways that are just not possible off-line. Think work-smarter-not-harder.

As a writer in a busy marketing shop, I’m pulled between the print and digital worlds. We publish magazines, brochures and the like, and develop content for websites and social media. Old-school ways – printouts, Microsoft Word, meetings – work in print; but, over time, fewer print pieces are being produced, and more content is online-only. The workplace and the nature of work are changing to be more agile and remote. The tools below will help you update your kit, at virtually no cost, and will enable you to work anywhere, anytime, on any device.

  1. Markdown

    Markdown uses a simple formatting methodology to convert plain text to HTML, allowing non-programmers to create web-ready copy. There are several great Markdown editors out there. My favorite is iA Writer. StackEdit is another. I have iA Writer on my computer and phone, synched through Dropbox (see below), so anything I write on one device is available on the other, anywhere. $10

  2. Dropbox

    Most people know about Dropbox. It’s cloud-based file storage and sharing. Markdown or .txt files are tiny, so I just need the free version; if you start getting involved with graphics or video files, though, you’ll probably need to upgrade to a paid version. FREE

  3. IFTTT

    If This Then That. “Put the Internet to work for you,” as their slogan goes. IFTTT allows you to set up integrations between various platforms and automate work. For example, if you’re publishing with WordPress (like this site), you can set up an IFTTT recipe to automatically tweet your posts, and/or post them to Facebook and/or LinkedIn. Or to post your Instagrams to your WordPress site. Or hundreds of other things. FREE

  4. Trello

    A lot of companies, especially in technology and web development, are becoming team-based and rely more on collaboration than on supervision. Trello is a digital re-boot of the Japanese Kanban method of project management. In Kanban, teams write tasks on index cards and move them around on a large bulletin board that represents the project and workflow. In Trello, you create virtual boards and cards, invite team members, then manage projects and collaborate online. File-sharing, comment threads and lists represent the workflow in a super-intuitive way. It integrates with Markdown, IFTTT, Slack and many other platforms. On my team, Trello is the soul of the whole stack. FREE

  5. Slack

    In Slack, you pre-sort messages using channels, talk to the people you need to and share files, all in one interface, desktop or mobile. It’s searchable and integrates with just about everything, so it’s a central hub for communication and notifications. Goodbye, email! FREE

  6. HTML

    Yeah, you need to know it. Even though Markdown is a workaround, you should still know what the wizard behind the curtain is doing. Most content management systems use a WYSIWYG editor meant to allow people who don’t know HTML to publish content. But, these rarely work as intended, and knowing the code behind them will save you a lot of time and frustration.

There are lots of other great tools out there. These five are must-haves for the modern writer, and adding them to your kit will make you more productive, make your resume stand out and enable you to hit the ground running when you get on the job market.


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