With the National Spelling Bee happening right now in DC, I thought it might be a good day to talk about some tools you can use to make copywriting easier and better. Of course, none of the tools mentioned here will do your writing for you, but they will help you see what’s going on with your own writing habits.
The first is a tool that I use on almost every piece of user-facing copy I write: the Web Frequency Indexer by Georgetown Linguistics. Just drop your copy into the text box, choose how to sort, and submit the form and you’ll see how many times you used each word. It’s handy to see when you might need to think of a few more synonyms for “great” and to make sure your organization’s keywords are mentioned frequently enough. The one thing it can’t do is associate similar words, so you’ll have to manually add counts of “donor” and “donors.” But it’s still among my most frequented bookmarks, particularly when I’m writing a multi-email campaign and various drafts and segments are starting to blend together.
Word clouds are also becoming pretty popular as a way to visualize high frequency terms. Snapshirts has a generator that parses a given URL, which can be handy if you’re looking at search engine optimization for your site. Tagcrowd is similar, with a cloud visualizer that lets you set a few options and gives you the code to paste it on your own site – a Pollster.com reader did clouds for the first Democratic and Republican Presidential debates. For more visual people, word and tag clouds can be a helpful way to see what your copy is focusing on.
Lastly, I still make use of Microsoft Word’s own readability statistics, which appears after a grammar check. Every client audience is different in terms of expected writing complexity, but in general, most experts recommend staying close to the 6th-9th grade level. The grammar check also gives you a count of characters per word and words per sentence, which can tell you if your writing is punchy enough to get their attention or if it might be too circuitous for the web.
There are dozens more useful tools out there to help you write better, but I think I’ll close with a paean to that tool that those of us who didn’t complete in the national spelling bee likely couldn’t write without: the spellchecker.