I look back to my early days as a communicator— when people referred to the internet as “The Information Superhighway” and mainly used it to host “Star Trek” fan pages—and wonder how I fooled the world into thinking I was a halfway-competent practitioner.
We live in an amazing world in which we have access to an auxiliary brain holding the entirety of man’s knowledge. We use it almost exclusively to share pictures of cats.
With nothing more than the right search string, anyone can sound coherent, twist a phrase cunningly, or tie things together graphically. In between sharing pictures of cats.
Here are six tools—plus one BONUS tool, free!—I depend on to turn the typewriting monkeys in my brain into communications gold:
The ‘pedia that World Book could only dream of becoming just barely makes this list. You think, “Well DUH; everyone uses it.” I include it because I remember it wasn’t always this way.
Wikipedia has a bad rep in academe. Early on, it was for being horribly inaccurate. Now, it’s for being TOO easy to mine for (mostly) accurate information. But for those who need a quick place to begin research, it’s a magical site of easy knowledge.
Bonus points to Wikipedia Commons for hosting free high-resolution pictures.
It’s on the tip of my brain—the word for a thing where you can’t think of the word, but if you describe it with enough words you can figure out what the thing is?
No, it’s not my girl Erika—it’s the Writer’s Dictionary. I can’t tell you how many times this has helped me out of one of those green cucumber things … yes—a pickle!
Seriously, try to stump it. It’s fun to torment the Writer’s Dictionary with random words.
3. Brainy Quote
Quotation sites are everywhere. This is my favorite. It’s designed cleanly, with authors, subjects and picture quotes broken out.
It’s a place I go to for one quote, and an hour and 18 entries later, I’m bawling over Maya Angelou or having a conversation with Steve Martin in which I dazzle him with how well I get him … You know, forget that last one.
Named for the modern-day saint of brevity and clarity, the Hemingway App is everything we love about Word’s grammar check, and nothing we don’t. It checks for long wordy, verbose, sentences, wisely suggests removing adverbs, and urges passive sentences be deleted. (*WINK WINK*)
I’m throwing in Alltop, not because I use it to create communication, but because if I’m going to give people context about how our business fits into the rest of the world, I better know what’s going on in that world. Some of my best work comes from connecting those dots for people.
6 . Piktochart
Ever made an infographic? Think they’re too complicated? They don’t have to be if you have Piktochart.
With a little practice, anyone can make gorgeous infographics. For beginners, there are ready-made templates you can update. For the experienced, create your own. Best of all, it’s FREE with plenty of great tools. And if you fall in love like I did, paid plans start at $15 monthly.
7. Graphics Tools
It doesn’t matter if you’re old school like me and stuck on the classics like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator (now cloud-based). Nor does it matter if you’re a newbie using something like Canva. Everyone in communications needs to have SOME way to do basic graphics.