Tag Archives: research

10 Ways A Smart Phone Can Make You A Smarter Writer

Photo courtesy of SXC.

I got my BlackBerry phone just before Thanksgiving, and I have to admit, I’m mighty thankful for it.

One of the major reasons I got the phone was because I knew could use it in my freelance writing. And I haven’t been disappointed. Writers can become “smarter” writers by using a smart phone—not better writers, or wiser ones, mind you, but more intelligent in their use of time and resources by taking advantage of the integrated technology packages that these little mini-computers offer.

If you’re considering buying a smart phone, like a BlackBerry or an iPhone, here are 10 ways you can use it in your nonfiction writing work: 

  1. Record in-person or speakerphone interviews (on a land line) in lieu of an audio recorder. I record podcast interviews using my computer and a sophisticated digital audio recorder, but I want a back-up file. Using the voice notes feature on my phone allows me to record a file of respectable audio quality. I have been listening to that file on the light rail as I travel to my day job to create a log of the podcast, which speeds up the editing process.
  2. Fact-check statements on the fly at live events. Phones with Internet access have been around for a while, but the larger screens of smart phones make it a little less eye-destroying to research a speaker’s statements while taking notes at a live event.
  3. Take “reference” photos for descriptive writing with the phone’s still camera. Yes, you should make written notes of the things you want to include to set the scene in a journalistic narrative, but it’s possible to take photos fairly inconspicuously of people, locations and events that you want to describe accurately. Take care if you’re at an event or location that prohibits photo-taking, though.
  4. Use the on-board video camera to record answers to interview questions, create reference footage for descriptive writing (see #3), or produce live “on the scene” reports (or b-roll) for web media integration. More and more phones allow you to upload directly to a site like YouTube, or you can e-mail some smaller video files. Most phones still have prohibitively short maximum file length limits (mine is 15-30 seconds, I think), but with planning, you can get meaningful footage and edit the segments together to create a video that is useful to your writing, or is a credible product OF your writing-directing skill.
  5. Use a combo of photos/video to “storyboard” a multimedia story package. More and more nonfiction writers, particularly those working in journalism venues, are expected to be multimedia producers as well. Practicing developing these rich-media stories, or even initiating projects once research on an assignment has begun, may very well help boost your ability to find work in the future.
  6. Read PDF, PowerPoint, Word or Excel docs on the train on the way to an interview, or in the car before walking into your source’s office. My phone came with Documents To Go apps pre-loaded, although if I want to edit and save changes on documents, I’ll have to upgrade to a paid bit of software. Regardless of whether you choose to pay to edit files or not, if you’re able to review them on the phone, you can be green (saving tons of paper on print-outs), as well as efficient with your research time.
  7. Use that tiny keyboard to write! That way you always have a digital version of your assignment/story available. I’ve taken to typing in lists, short snippets of copy and other text into Google Notebook, which lets me remain platform-agnostic about the copy’s destination until I’m sure how I want to use it.  (Although it looks as if I might have to switch to Google Docs, since Google has recently stopped supporting Notebook.) It’s difficult to type with one’s thumbs for an extended period of time, but it is possible to make significant progress through smart-phone-typing over time. Some writers have been able to write entire books with a smart phone during their mass-transit commute.
  8. Upload blog posts to provide real-time updates for your readers/audience. WordPress has a mobile app for both BlackBerry and iPhone users, allowing updates that include text, photos, video, etc. With some publication start-ups looking at WordPress and other blogging platforms as a content management system, this feature could help reconfigure editing workflow for magazines and news organizations with an online presence.
  9. Research your source’s social media presence via Facebook’s mobile app. If you spend anytime on Facebook, it’s hard not to at least be curious about what’s going on in your newsfeed while you’re away from the computer. But it’s possible to do some actual reporting research if you use the mobile app for Facebook. Visit your source’s profile (if it’s open to all viewers), check out his/her friend list, surf their organization’s fan page, check for outbound links that provide additional details or data for your piece.
  10. Use the calendar/alarm features to keep you on track. Yes, it’s simple, almost pedestrian, and I know “dumb” (non-Internet-accessible) phones have these features too. But given all the other things you can do to move your writing projects forward on a smart phone, it would be dumb not to consider using the calendar or alarms to remind you of interviews, meetings, or personal appointments. BlackBerry, in particular, offers the ability to sync the phone calendar with any number of others (Google, desktop PC, etc.), so you can also put everything in your life on one calendar and not suffer from the downside of Multiple Scheduling Syndrome—which is to say, forgetting an appointment because it was on the “wrong” calendar system.

The questions to you:

How do you use your “smart” phone in your writing work?

Do you feel the integration of so many electronic tools in one device is useful, or a distraction?

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Twitter as writing coach, part 3: Digesting bite-sized research

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the microblogging service Twitter can improve your writing and teach writers a thing or two about creating compelling content . However, there’s one last way in which Twitter can be useful to you as a writer: finding the information you need to write a rich, nuanced and credible story.

Our last post on this subject for now covers some posts that discuss ways to use the service while researching a story. And since talking about using Twitter and actually using it effectively are two different things, these resources provide plenty of case studies and links to nonfiction writers out in the field tweeting away.

Twitter for research: why and how to do it, including case studies
Good basic intro from TwiTip to how Twitter works and how to tag your own tweets for future reference. It points out that the two easiest ways to find something out on Twitter are to ask (and ask to be retweeted) and to search, using Twitter Search as your search engine.

Another useful feature of Twitter explained in the article is the hashtag (#creative, for example) concept. Similar to putting tags on blog posts, hashtags are a simple way for Twitter users to slot their content for later retrieval. You can search hashtags by visiting Hashtags.org.

This post also has a comprehensive list of Twitter tools (many research oriented) and a number of research “success” stories.

How we use Twitter for journalism
Marshall Kirkpatrick gives a breakdown of the primary ways the ReadWriteWeb staff was using Twitter to write their stories: uncovering breaking news stories, conducting interviews (either multiple folks contributing short answer to a question or asking followers to help frame questions), doing QA checks (i.e., asking if people remember the name of a particular software, etc.) or promoting headlines once the story is online or published.

Marshall makes an interesting observation about the relationship with readers that develops as he interacts with them during the story development process (The bolding of the next to last sentence is my addition):

“If we’re working on something we think will be of interest, sometimes we’ll prime the pump a bit and let people know what’s coming up. So far, we’ve heard almost entirely positive feedback on these practices. That’s probably based largely on the relationships we’ve got with our readers, many of which were developed using Twitter. If you had 20 to 50 people that consistently offered feedback on your articles, wouldn’t that be great? That’s what it feels like we get on Twitter.”

If Twitter isn’t part of your online strategy, it should be

Chrys Wu’s Richochet blog is all about good ideas in online journalism, which should be a natural match for tweeting nonfiction writers. This short post, from the end of 2007, focuses mostly on examples of good uses of Twitter by journalists and news media. As Chrys says,

“Perhaps the real power in Twitter is in speed and community. Not only were media outlets able to broadcast breaking news updates (in the examples here), non-media people also sent updated, on-the-scene information. Talk about crowdsourcing…”

Twitter to journalists: here’s how it’s done
Monica Guzman of Eat Sleep Publish taught a class on social media to the (now) online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer last November and gathered the collective wisdom she presented in part by putting out a big public tweet about it. This post shares a lot of the “for journalists, from journalists” tips she got, and includes a number of case studies. Lots of journalists recommend following potential sources and give good advice for how to “come out from behind the byline” without sacrificing any journalistic principles.

Sweet tweets: Journalists using Twitter

Journalists on Twitter – Muck Rack
Muck Rack publishes up-to-the-minute tweets from reporters and writers for many major news outlets.

My Creative Team Wiki / Media People Using Twitter
A long international list of media folks who are active on Twitter.

One more Twitter “tool” (mostly for fun)

Visible Tweets – Twitter Visualizations.
Addictive visual display of current tweets on terms (search operators, hashtags, etc.) selected by the user. Might make a fun background screen for a presentation.

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