Top Word Processing Software and Apps for Writers

Flopps disks

Photo by frankieleon (Flickr)

Technology can certainly be a distraction when you’re trying to get some writing done: Who hasn’t started researching something for a writing project only to find themselves looking up from Facebook or Wikipedia an hour or two later, wondering where the time went? But technology can also be a huge help to writers, from providing basic tools that make the physical process of writing easier to giving us help with organization, motivation, and capturing great ideas before they slip away. Here, we’ve collected a list of some of the best writing software out there, including a word processor comparison and some recommended apps for writers on the go.

Best Word Processing Programs

It’s hard to imagine being a writer without computers, but there was a time not all that long ago when we would’ve had to use a typewriter or even a pen and paper to put down our thoughts. Thank goodness for time-saving, paper-saving, hand-cramp-reducing word processing software! But which is the best writing software for you? You have a few different options to choose from:

  • Microsoft Word: Word is the granddaddy of them all, having gotten its start way back in 1983, before most of us even had computers. These days, there are many other programs out there with the same or similar functionality, but a lot of businesses use the whole Microsoft Office suite, Word included, and Word’s .doc file format is commonly accepted in the publishing world. It’s also particularly good when you need to track changes to a document while collaborating with another writer or an editor. However, Word isn’t good if you’re on a budget: It costs $110.

  • LibreOffice Writer: Want fully functional writing software without the hefty price tag? Download this open-source word processor, which also comes with a suite of other productivity programs. LibreOffice proves that free word processing software can be just as good as Word for most purposes, and since it’s open-source, it tends to be patched more frequently, making it more secure. It can still open and create .doc files, too, just like Word. For many, it’s the best free word processor out there.

  • Scrivener: If you’re looking for the best novel-writing software, Scrivener is a good pick, as it comes packed with a ton of useful features for those hoping to write the next great literary classic. Capabilities include an outlining tool, templates for project types like novels or screenplays, character sheets to help you keep track of who’s who and where they are in the plot, and a corkboard view that lets you reorganize things easily. It also has a split-screen function that allows you to look back at what you wrote in one window while writing in the other, so you don’t lose your place when you need to refer back to something. Scrivener also allows you to output your book to Amazon Kindle Direct for self-publishing when you’re finished. All of these features explain why many consider Scrivener to be the best software for writers and well worth the price, which is $40 for Windows or $45 for macOS.

  • Google Docs: Looking for word processing software you can access from anywhere without downloading anything? You’d be surprised how much you can do with this free Google word processor. Google Docs is simple to use and has most of the capabilities you’d expect from any piece of software for writers. It’s also cloud-based, meaning that you can work on your documents from anywhere with an Internet connection and collaborate with others in real time. And it saves your work for you periodically, which is a nice touch. Of course, working online can present plenty of distractions, which can be a drawback; you’ll have to consider how prone to distraction you are when considering whether this free word processing software is right for you.

Software for Writers Who Need Help Focusing

Typing on a laptop

It happens to the best of us: You sit down to write, check your email, look at Twitter, grab a second cup of coffee, stare at the blinking cursor for a while … yeah, nothing’s getting done. Fortunately, there are a few word processing programs that can help you focus and get your writing done.

  • FocusWriter: This free word processing software removes on-screen distractions by taking over your whole desktop, leaving just your writing space and a wallpaper image. You can even set it to fade out everything but the specific lines of text you’re working on, so you can’t be distracted by the urge to revise what you’ve written rather than moving forward. FocusWriter lets you set word count or time goals, and it has timers built in for those who work best with a tight deadline. The program is technically free, though it gives you the option to “tip” the developers when you download it.

  • Calmly Writer: Calmly Writer works much the same as FocusWriter, but it’s actually a free, Web-based program rather than downloadable software. It doesn’t take over your whole screen by default like FocusWriter does, but that is an option you can turn on. Calmly Writer also features a “dark mode” with white text on a black background.

  • OmmWriter: Hone your Zen-like focus with OmmWriter, which takes a meditative approach to blocking out distractions. The interface is simple, covering your entire screen with a text box laid over a minimalist, nature-themed background, and meditative audio tracks are also included. The cost to download OmmWriter is based on what you think it’s worth, with the minimum set at $7.33.

  • Write or Die: Need some serious motivation? This program is all about rewards and punishments, and the punishments can get pretty severe. Write or Die pushes you to keep writing by penalizing you when you slow down or stop typing: You might hear an annoying noise or see spiders on your screen, and if you use this program in “kamikaze mode,” if you pause long enough, it will start deleting all of the vowels in what you’ve typed. The program also includes a reward mode, though, which can show you pictures of cute kittens or puppies and play soothing sounds when you reach your goals. A lot of frequent participants in NaNoWriMo swear by Write or Die as the best novel-writing software to help them churn out 50,000 words in a month. It costs $20 to download, but hey, you can earn a lot more than that once you land a book deal, right?

Best Apps for Writers on the Go

Phone in one hand, latte in the other

The writing process doesn’t necessarily take place when you’re in front of a computer. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself plotting out new ideas while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting in the break room at work eating your lunch, or curled up in your favorite chair at the local coffeehouse. At times like these, your smartphone can also be a smart writing tool. Whether you need an app for writing down ideas before you forget them, brainstorming your outline, or helping you to stay focused on your goals, the chances are good that yes, there’s an app for that.

  • Trello: If you’re the kind of person who likes to plot out what you’re going to write on sticky notes or index cards, try this app, which is sort of like a virtual corkboard. Create a board for what you’re writing, make lists of cards, and drag cards around as needed to organize your ideas. Trello’s available for iOS and Android and on the Web, and it’s free.

  • Evernote: The mother of all brainstorming tools, Evernote lets you take down and organize ideas, capture clippings of inspiring things you find online, take pictures, add notes to images, and search through everything quickly and easily. It’s an all-in-one solution for pulling your thoughts together. It’s also free for Android and iOS.

  • Dragon Dictation: Do you find that some of your best ideas come to you while you’re driving, showering, or in some other situation where you can’t write them down right away? Remember more of your ideas by using this free iOS app to take down your thoughts without needing a pen or even your hands.

  • Pomodoro Timer Lite: Plenty of writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique to stay motivated and productive, and with this free Android app, you can give it a try. This time management method breaks your work into intervals and can increase your productivity and focus. This is a great novel-writing app to pull out at a NaNoWriMo meetup, or just use it on your own to help you get more words on the page faster.

  • Story Tracker: Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, it’s time to send it out for publication. If you’re pitching submissions to multiple publications at once, this iOS app can help you keep your efforts organized, tracking where you’ve submitted articles, what the status of each submission is, whether it got published, and how much you got paid for it. Story Tracker is $7.99, but it’s one of the best apps for writers hustling to get their work published.

Posted in Freelance Writing

What Is a Title Tag, and How Do You Write One?

Title tagFor those who are new to SEO writing, there can be a little bit of a learning curve, even if you’re already an experienced writer. You need to learn things like how to find and incorporate authoritative links, how to use keywords, and how to write title tags and meta descriptions. That last part seems to be difficult to master for many people, even experienced SEO writers, so we thought we’d take a few moments to review these topics, starting with how to write title tags for search engine optimization.

What Is a Title Tag?

The title tag, also sometimes called a meta title, is the title of a Web page that you see on a search engine’s results page. It’s that big, blue link that you click on to go to a page.

Title tag example

Why Are Title Tags Important?

A good title tag will do two things:

  • It will encourage Google or Bing to rank the page higher in search results.
  • It will encourage people to click on it.

Satisfying both of these “audiences” is key to the practice of search engine optimization. The goal is to write good content that people will want to read, but if they can’t find it with a search engine or if the title doesn’t make them click on it, no matter how great your article is, they’ll never see it.

How to Write a Title Tag: What Should You Include?

You’re trying to please two different types of readers, so it’s important that you include something for each of them in your SEO title tag.

  • For the search engines, make sure that you include at least one high-value keyword phrase toward the beginning of the title tag. Using more than one keyword phrase in the title tag is even better, but make sure it doesn’t sound forced.
  • For the human readers, make sure to write a title tag that will make them want to click it. First, consider what the reader is looking for, based on the keywords you have: Is the reader looking for information, or are they looking to buy something? If they’re looking for information, you’ll want to be pretty straightforward with the title tag, using the keywords to show that this page has the information they want. But if the reader’s looking to buy something, give them a glimpse of why they should click and buy here. Think about what makes the client unique, what selling points they have that set them apart from other companies. Do they offer free shipping? Do they guarantee the lowest prices? Maybe they offer 24-hour support, or the largest selection, or bulk discounts. Almost every company has something like this, something that makes the company more appealing to potential buyers.

SignpostsNote that we didn’t include the name of the client here anywhere. More often than not, the name of the company just isn’t that important to the reader. If it’s a brand name that’s well-known enough that you think it might actually make people want to click on that page, put it at the end of the title tag, but usually, you’d be wiser to use those characters for something else.

What’s the Max Title Tag Length?

The short answer is that Google will only display 600 pixels of your title tag, which is between 65 and 80 characters. But just because people may not see every word you write doesn’t mean that the search engines won’t, so you don’t have to confine yourself to that title tag length. Try to get the most important information into the first 60 characters or so, so it’s visible to human readers, but feel free to keep going a bit longer than that to include words that will still be “seen” by search engines. (Note that we said “a bit”: There’s some flexibility, but try to be as concise as possible.)

What Does a Good SEO Title Tag Look Like?

Let’s look at a couple of hypothetical writing projects and examples of title tags that might work well for them.

  • Client: Clean Living Rehab Center
  • Project Title: Is Caffeine Addictive?
  • Keyword Phrases: caffeine addiction, is caffeine addictive, addicted to caffeine, how addictive is caffeine
  • Client Selling Points: Immediate admissions available; counselors available by phone 24/7; provides holistic therapy programs

Based on the keyword phrases given, this person seems to be looking for information, not to make any sort of purchase. They might be a student doing a research paper on caffeine, or they might be someone who’s wondering if their five-cup-a-day coffee habit is a problem. Even if it’s the latter, though, that person isn’t likely to be looking to sign up for a rehab program right now; they’re just gathering information. A good title tag for this project might look like this:

Is Caffeine Addictive? Learn the Truth About Caffeine Addiction | If You’re Addicted to Caffeine and Need Help, Call 24/7 to Speak With a Counselor

Here, we’ve put the keywords up front and emphasized that this is going to be an educational article, which the reader is probably looking for. But just in case someone thinks they might have a problem and might want to talk to a professional about it, we’ve added a little extra information about that (and slipped in another keyword phrase in the bargain).
Let’s try another one …

  • Client: Tabby’s Terrific Teas
  • Article Title: Loose-Leaf Earl Grey Tea
  • Keyword Phrases: best earl grey tea, buy earl grey black tea, decaf earl grey tea, earl grey loose leaf tea, best loose leaf earl grey tea
  • Client Selling Points: Free shipping over $20; bulk discounts; sample sizes available

Figuring out the user intent with this one is easy: “Buy” is right there in the keywords. They’re looking to buy some really good Earl Grey tea. So let’s make sure they know that this page has what they want and that they should buy it here:

Buy the Best Earl Grey Tea and Get Free Shipping | Order High-Quality Earl Grey Loose-Leaf Tea: Sample Sizes Available | Regular or Decaf Black Tea

We’ve got the first keyword phrase toward the front of the title tag. We’ve got a couple of nice selling points in there. And we’ve sprinkled in some of the other keywords, too. Note that we put in “decaf” and “black tea”: If you can’t fit in entire phrases without sounding redundant, it’s still helpful to get some of the individual words in there.

Title Tag SEO Pro Tips

  • Make sure to vary the wordings and formats you use if you’re writing multiple articles for the same client. It shouldn’t look like you created one title tag template and then just substituted different keyword phrases over and over. Title tags should be uniquely written and look like a real person took the time to create each one.
  • Use the pipe character (|) rather than dashes to separate parts of a title tag: Pipes take up less space.
  • If you’re not exactly sure whether the title tag should sound more educational or commercial, try plugging a few of the keyword phrases into a search engine and looking at the results you get. This is your competition: Write something like what you see, but better.
  • Remember that keyword use should look natural and not redundant. If you have a bunch of very similarly worded keyword phrases, use the first one, then try to sprinkle in some of the unique words from the others.
  • If you’re one of our writers, we also strongly recommend that you watch the video in our Writer Resources section on this topic, which was created by an expert in SEO writing best practices.

Posted in Content Marketing, Writing Tips

Helping the Reader Along With Transition Words

Woman leading someone by the handThere’s something to be said for keeping your writing simple and concise, but it’s easy for some writers to take this too far, creating sentences that sound like staccato drum beats rather than music to your ears. Many times, the problem is that their sentences are just too short and choppy, lacking the variety and complexity needed to lead the reader naturally from one thought to the next. What’s needed is sentence and paragraph transitions, but alarmingly, it seems like fewer people have been taught how to use transitions at school in the past few decades. But don’t worry: It’s never too late to learn something new and improve your writing. Read more ›

Posted in Writing Tips

How to Start a Book Club

Book club discussion

Photo by K. Kendall (Flickr)

With the arrival of summer and the end of the school year upon us, it’s a good time to take stock of our reading goals for the year. After all, summer is a perfect time for reading, whether it’s enjoying a good beach read on vacation, lazily paging through a classic while sitting on the porch feeling too hot to move, or working on an assigned reading list for the upcoming school year. And if you’ve gotten a little lazy about that New Year’s resolution to read more books this year as the months have gone by, the end of a school year feels like a good time to make a fresh start. One great way to make headway on that to-read list is by joining a book club, either in person or online … but what if there isn’t one near you or you can’t find one that appeals to you? Beverly Cleary once said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.” Similarly, if you don’t see a club you want to join, perhaps you should create one. Read more ›

Posted in Fun Stuff

How to Use Keywords: A Recipe for Success

Cookie ingredientsIn the world of content marketing, keywords are king, and many articles that freelance writers are asked to complete will include a list of keyword phrases that need to be incorporated into the text. What are keywords, exactly, and how should you use them? There are two approaches to this sort of task, but only one of them will lead to the creation of consistently high-quality, well-thought-out content. The difference lies in how you view SEO keywords: as chunks of text to be shoved into an existing framework or as inspiration for an original creation. Read more ›

Posted in Content Marketing, Writing Tips

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