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Tricks of the trade: Best online tools and apps for writers

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations at ProfNet, a free service for journalists in need of expert sources.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) recently held its annual Writers Conference, which featured more than 80 sessions covering a wide variety of topics, from how to write a book proposal to how to break into magazines.

One session, “Online Tools and Apps for Writers,” focused on the latest in online software and mobile apps for research and reporting, and all the ways these tools can improve your productivity and help you promote your work.

Here are some highlights from the session:

SAM GREENGARD, freelancer.

Sam Greengard, author

Sam Greengard

Sam Greengard, author of AARP Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love: The Essential Guide to Reinventing Your Life,” has written for AARP The Magazine, American Way, Discover, Hemispheres, IndustryWeek, MSNBC/MSN Online, PM Network, Southwest Spirit, Wired and others.

As a freelancer, you need to be able to access your data anytime, anywhere, said Greengard. If you aren’t able to access all of your information digitally, you’ll wind up duplicating efforts, which will increase your inefficiency.

Greengard offered three areas to focus on to get to a paperless office:

1. Get rid of every notepad and every pen on your desk. You need to have everything digital, or you’ll be duplicating efforts, which decreases efficiency.

Some of the tools he recommends to get you paperless:

  • Microsoft OneNote or Mac Devonthink Pro, which capture Web pages, drag PDF/Word/Excel files from email. Devonthink also synchs to your iPhone/iPad so you can have that data with you anytime, anywhere.
  • Evernote, a cloud-based content storage service.
  • SOHO Notes, a digital note-taking application for Mac.

2. Equip your computer with the right software, such as Things, a task management program for Mac that lets you create project lists and offers an easy way to keep track of your emails.

Other software Greengard recommends:

  • Microsoft Office. Although Mac Pages is available for Macs, Greengard feels it’s robust enough, and you need something that lets you track changes in articles.
  • A PDF program, like Adobe Acrobat, which has signature capability for contracts.
  • Apps like DocScanner let you take a picture of a document and turn it into a PDF.

3. Make your data available. Like Greengard mentioned, it’s important for you to be able to access your data and documents no matter where you are. Some tools that can help:

  • Apps that give you access to your documents include iCloud, Dropbox, Box.com and Google Drive.
  • Programs like MailTags that let you tag your emails with keywords can help eliminate the cumbersome process of trying to find files or folders.


BILL PFLEGING, tech expert.

The Geek GapBill Pfleging is a computer and tech expert and a former director of Internet community for the Lycos Network. He is the co-author of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive.” He covers technology for the Woodstock Times.

Pfleging suggested the following tools to help writers increase their productivity:

  • Lifescribe pen records everything you write and transfers it into your computer. It also records audio in stereo. “It’s a very useful tool,” said Pfleging.
  • CamScanner turns your smartphone into a scanner. You can turn a scanned document into a PDF and email it to yourself or others.
  • WorldCard is a business-card reader. The app scans both sides of the card and turns it into usable text by saving it to your contacts.
  • magicJack is a device that plugs into a USB port on your computer and lets you make unlimited phone calls to almost any phone.
  • Google Voice  gives you one phone number that connects to all your phones. It’s a good tool “so you don’t lose contact and you don’t lose work,” said Pfleging.




Executive Director of Interactive at CBS Newspath

Court Passant

Court Passant is executive director of interactive at CBS News. He was previously executive producer of CBS News on Logo and is a veteran of CBS News, working on the overnight broadcast “Up to the Minute” and managing CBS Newspath.

One of Passant’s roles is to take CBS News into the digital era. He teaches correspondents and producers how to get the most out of their phones when covering news and writing stories. He also helps CBS News staff with their use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Passant said there are hundreds of apps that can help you cover a story or be used as multimedia in your projects. He recommended everyone experiment with the photo apps available for cellphones to bring pictures to a whole new level.

Some tips:

  • Every time you take a picture on your cellphone, the picture is “geotagged.” You can then load them to Picasa Web and create a map with all the pictures, or create a slideshow you can sell to publishers/editors.
  • Invite others to hang out with you on Google+ Hangout, a free way to hold video conferencing. It can also be recorded and played back later.
  • Ustream lets you broadcast live speeches, seminars, breaking news from your mobile phone. You can also interact via social media and live chat.

Other cool apps:

  • 360 Panorama to take panoramic pictures with your cellphone camera
  • iMovie for video editing
  • Audioboo to post and share audio
  • Steadicam, a camera-stabilizing mount for iPhone


You can read more from Maria Perez at her blog on ProfNet Connect.

In Basics, Featured, Networking, Social Media, Technology.

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