Looking to bring more cohesion to your remote content writers? These tools can help.
The life of a remote content writer isn’t all puppies and unicorns. Sure, you can work whenever you want and call any city on earth home, but it’s exactly that flexibility that can make things complicated. Regardless of whether you’re working solo or on a team, the ability to share, edit, and submit your work without issue is crucial to getting published and paid. Luckily, the days of sending documents back and forth via email are long gone and writers now have their pick of tools that make the entire process much, much easier.
We are going to look at 6 of the best collaboration tools for remote content writers to see how to make both their lives and the lives of their managers easier.
This post is part of a series we are doing on tools designed to help remote teams. To read more you can check out our post on 50 of the Best Tools for Remote Teams and 5 Tools to Help Keep Track of and Manage Remote Teams!
Google Docs (Free)
Let’s start with Google Docs as it’s not only one of the most-recognized writing collaboration tools available, it’s also what we use daily at Visiple to produce content.
Docs is actually a part of a collection of tools that allows users to work together on documents (Google Docs), spreadsheets (Google Sheets), and slideshows (Google Slides) on all of their devices, even if they are without internet. In addition, I can access Drive from my Mac’s desktop and save the one extra step of having to connect through my browser.
I love Google Docs for it’s simplicity and security. While milage may vary depending on if you’ve ever used it, I find it very intuitive and well-equipped to handle all of my creation and editing needs
Formatting - Having grown up using Word, formatting is a snap and the interface feels familiar.
Sharing - I can easily share any of my work by sending out a unique link or adding people via email. I can also set permissions to control who can edit versus just view.
Backups - Drive saves continuously so I never have to worry about losing my work. There have been a few times where internet and power outages could have set me significantly had it not been for this feature.
Export - Docs allows me to export my work in pretty much any format I’d need, making it easy to turn in via email when the time is right.
There’s not a lot of negative stuff I can say about Docs, it does everything we need it to and we’ve never worked with anyone that didn’t know how to use it. With that being said, there is one feature that frustrates me regularly:
Feedback - Feedback is left in the form of comments and I’ve found the layout to be a bit clunky, especially compared to other tools. Even after adding to or resolving comments, getting back and seeing what’s changed is confusing.
If you don’t mind that, or can look past it like we do, then Google Docs is amazing for remote content writers.
Draft is a writing tool that has all the features you’d expect from a word processor, but also manages to excel in places where its competition has failed.
Draft is a favorite of many of my colleagues for one main reason - it excels at version and revision control. It also simplifies the process of collecting feedback by putting two versions of the draft side by side and highlighting the differences so you can see any proposed changes before accepting them.
In addition, it offers unlimited drafts meaning you can easily restore old versions, find old work, or simply make sure things are saved for later.
There are a few other awesome features worth mentioning:
Markup - Compose your work using markup language or simply export it in that format.
Paste Directly to the Web - The Draft extension for Chrome allows you to start a new draft with a click and then copy into any text field on a website.
Cloud Integration - Draft lets you import and export to most major cloud services.
Word Counter - Who would have thought such a small detail could make a big difference? I love being able to see how much I’ve written and Draft makes this easy by putting the figure up front instead of hiding it.
Draft is really well-designed option for remote content writers, but it still falls short on a few things.
Formatting - Some people love the minimal look and feel of Draft. I don’t - I miss having all the formatting options at my fingertips and while Draft certainly offers a robust set of formatting options, they are controlled by keyboard shortcuts instead of menus.
Trello (Free or $45/year for extra features)
If I’m being honest, I’d say Trello is a project management tool that just happens to be awesome for remote content writers. Like many other companies, we use Trello to manage our content production and distribution feel it really handles both of those well.
Trello allows you to set up a board (we use one board for content) and then create custom lanes, or steps, that your content moves through on its journey from idea to being published. Ideas take the form of cards and can have details added to them, be assigned to specific users, and track progress and changes.
Customizable - Trello boards are fully customizable to meet the needs of every team and both cards and lanes can be edited as necessary.
Intuitive to Use - Even if you’ve never used a system like this, it’s easy to recognize the workflow patterns and how the board is set up.
Time Saver - Instead of having to send out emails or ping people on chat, content managers just need to check the board to see the status of each card or piece of content..
Intimidating to Set Up - Even with Kanban experience, I found Trello a bit overwhelming to set up and spent a lot of time trying to create the perfect content “flow”. My advice is to mimic another company at first and then adjust as needed to fit your team.
Trello is an incredibly versatile project management tool that is more than capable of aiding your content proudction, and once you get it set up it should be easy for anyone to use.
Hackpad (Free for 5 users, $2/user after that)
Hackpad might be the most collaborative tool for remote content writers on this list. In my opinion, it’s designed more for notes (which is what I’ve used it most for) than full content, but that’s obviously up to the end user.
It does a great job of tracking changes, accommodating multiple users, and incorporating shortcuts, but I’ve found it difficult to fully make the switch from Google Docs for my long form writing.
Obvious Edits - No more guessing or scrolling back through logs to see who changed your latest “Top 5 List” - Hackpad puts the users’ names on the side of the document to make it easy to see who wrote what. Any change also triggers an email alert, keeping you up to date even if you’re not in the document.
Awesome Add-Ins - Insert things like checklists and inline comments with ease. Again, this is more geared towards note taking or meetings, but it’s a great addition few other tools do well.
Export and Downloading - Even when you work in the cloud it’s important to be able to download your projects. This is something Hackpad hasn’t mastered yet as they limit your file types to HTML, plain text, and Markdown. In addition, downloads happen via an emailed link instead of directly through the tool.
Etherpad is a completely open-source, real time editor with endless customizations. While I haven’t used Etherpad personally, it has been recommended to me and I am glad to have this chance to investigate it further.
Etherpad was acquired by Google a few years ago and released as an open source project. Since then a few other tools have used the Etherpad software due to its ability to be fully customized and hosted on private servers.
Endlessly Customizable - The fact that it’s open source means there is no limit to how you and your team can use it. You can host it on a subdomain, create plugins, and generally tailor it to your specific needs.
Real Time Is Nice - Being able to seamlessly work on a document with other people is great, and Etherpad helps remove confusion by color-coding sections based on who wrote them. Also, the ability to see who is currently typing is a great addition when in a collaborative environment.
Version Control - While Etherpad saves constantly like Google Docs, it also allows users to save versions at their own pace. This, coupled with their slider feature, allows you to easily find and restore previous work.
Limited Formatting - Even with customizations and shortcuts, Etherpad lags behind other editors when it comes to formatting options. This might not be a big deal to some, but could be quite frustrating to others.
Grammarly (Free or $140/yr for Premium)
Grammarly is like the editor you always wanted - full of advice and available whenever. You can access it from either a Chrome extension or their website, and its robust set of features has made it a regular in my toolbox as a remote content writer.
Grammarly has all the features you’d expect from a tool designed to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself with your writing, and a few that I didn’t realize I would appreciate so much. Contextual suggestions is the biggest one, meaning that if you use a word that doesn’t make sense in a certain context, Grammarly will flag it even if it’s spelled correctly. It also alerts you if you’re mixing up tenses or using poor punctuation, making it more of a sentence checker than grammar checker.
Smart and Thorough - Grammarly quickly learns any irregular words that you use often and makes it so they aren’t flagged in the future. It also lets you add words to its dictionary if needed.
Awesome Editor - While I primarily use Grammarly as an extension, the web based editor is pretty great as well. It flags all the issues and suggestions along the side of your document and also lets you save your work in the platform.
Works Everywhere I Need It (Almost) - Grammarly does a great job of working with most major platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Wordpress, meaning errors get flagged for pretty much every post, status, and update you write. There is one glaring exception to this though, and it’s mentioned below.
Doesn’t Work with Google Docs - If you recall, I use Docs to write the majority of my content, but Grammarly isn’t compatible with any Drive tools yet. This is frustrating since I think it does a better job than Docs at catching errors, but not a deal breaker as I can still copy my work into the editor itself.
Accessibility - Grammarly doesn’t work without internet, and while this is becoming less and less of an issue, it is incredibly frustrating in certain situations. However, being that these are all cloud-based tools on this list, it’s hard to count this against them too much.
Remember when I said being a remote content writer wasn’t all puppies and unicorns? I lied a little - it’s pretty cool to be able to work with people from all over the world and capitalize on some of the awesome technology that’s designed to make the whole process easier. These tools are just a few examples of that, but each one is designed to make managing, planning, and collaborating easier than ever.
Want more tools? Check out this huge post I wrote on 50 of the Best Tools for Remote Teams!