Writing

It’s been a heck of a week – one of those where I’ve beaten myself up for not solving particular problems or delivering work I’d committed to doing. I close my eyes and see Chrome’s Developer Tools seared into my eyelids. The toughest part has been not finishing the first draft of an article I’ve been due to write for a while. A combination of writer’s block, imposter syndrome, and disappearing down a code rabbit hole has ended in the inevitable result: no words on the page.

Earlier this summer, I completed a documentation project at the University of Warwick (my employer) for a web application called Tabula. The design and development teams rewrote the coursework management component, roughly a quarter of the app, from scratch. I was responsible for writing the support pages on the IT Services’ website for use by staff and students, and contributing to alpha testing. The development team releases new versions of Tabula iteratively, typically once a week.

When you spend significant time writing in web applications – say, in a CMS, social media client or a bid submission portal – a quick way to count words and characters is useful. Here are my favourite tools to count words or characters without leaving the browser.

The Craft of Words is a 49-page guide by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson (a tweed-clad duo also known as The Standardistas).

They advocate words and language – both their meaning and visual form – as the starting point in any design process, before things like colour and aesthetics. Tone and voice play a critical role in communication. When you craft words with as much care as visual elements, the effect you achieve with your design is greater than the sum of its parts.