Published: 6 June 2017

Five productivity tools every charity communicator needs to try

Image: Pexels / CC0. Creative Commons

While these online tools might not automatically create your annual report (more’s the pity), they can help make your team more organised and effective writers.

1. Hemingway App

Free at hemingwayapp.com

Say what you like about Ernest Hemingway, but he did have a way with a concise sentence. And while the free app that bears his name won’t help you churn out The Old Man and The Sea – it can make your charity writing clearer.

That’s because, if you paste in a paragraph of your writing, it’ll flag up both long complex sentences, and where you’re using the passive voice. You already know that both are the enemies of inspiring copy – but they can often creep into writing unnoticed. 

Test it out yourself, or use it as a teaching tool for people in your team.

(Hat tip to Sarah Myers and Trina Wallace who alerted me to this app).

2. Word Readability Stats

Free with Microsoft Word

Most professional writers have a love/hate relationship with Word’s spellcheck function. While it can stop spelling and grammar doozies getting through it’s all too easy to change ‘current’ for ‘currant’ with a distracted click, or mistakenly switch to US English.

However, there’s one hidden tool in Word which many people don’t use. Enabling these settings in Microsoft Word unlock some handy stats you can use to improve your writing.

These include an average sentences per paragraph measure (which ideally should be around three) plus average words per sentence (ideally below 25). Plus it also features a Flesch Reading Ease score as well (the higher the better).

3. Doodle

Free (for basic product) at doodle.com

The best tools are so easy and intuitive to use that it feels like they’ve been part of your work life forever. That’s definitely the case with Doodle – a simple and efficient way to schedule editorial meetings (and post-5pm socials) online.

The killer touch is that it allows multiple team members to quickly click on a tailored link and share their availability over a certain period with minimum faffing around. Then, you can see at a glance when’s the best time for you all to catch up.

Best of all, it’s completely free. Unless you want to pay for a premium version, which allows you to chase people, or ask for email addresses (which, in small teams, you won’t really need.)

4. Grammerly

Free (for basic version) at grammarly.com

On paper Grammarly sounds like an editorial magic bullet. It promises to basically take Word’s spell-check function, supercharge the idea, and then apply it across everything from emails to social media.

And it works, sort of. For experienced writers, the constant prompts about grammar, spelling and passive sentences are really irritating. But for junior comms people and infrequent writers who need additional support, it’s a useful teaching tool.

However, like all the tools on this page, it’s still no match for a colleague casting a critical eye over your copy.  

5. Freedom

$2.42 per month, or $119.99 for life from freedom.to/

Can’t stop sneaking peeks at Facebook, or rolling news on the BBC, when you’re in the middle of a massive writing project? Then Freedom is the nuclear option for improving your productivity. 

The app works by disabling your access to the internet at scheduled times (or just to certain time-sapping sites if you choose) giving you the space you need to write without any distractions.

In novelist circles installing Freedom has a certain cachet (and it’s not for nothing that US writer Jonathan Franzen named his tricky-to-write fourth novel “Freedom”). But does it work for charity comms purposes? 

Well, yes, if you need an extra nudge to get writing – and your IT department is willing to install it. Having said that, taking yourself off your work server – or disabling your Wi-Fi is a much cheaper option (though maybe not quite as cool).

Are there any useful tools we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Matt Chittock, copywriter, freelance

Matt Chittock is an experienced copywriter, journalist and proofreader working in the not-for-profit sector.