What tools do you use for creating great content?

What tools do you use for creating great content? Writing is challenging. When you need to write for the web, the pressure to create and publish great content makes it even harder.

What tools do you use for creating great content?
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You can choose to start writing. Force yourself to start with an idea and a blank page. Which may result in not so great content. Or you can use a tool or framework to plan out what you want to talk about.

You can use simple tools like mindmapping or an outline like you used in school to write an essay. These are great tools for getting started planning. For some types of writing, you are going to need a different technique.

  • The Core Model
  • Content Framework
  • Pair Writing

The Core Model

What is the Core Model? It is a tool that helps you to map out your business goals, user tasks and context. The Core Model is useful in deciding how users find the content you are planning and sketching out the main content. It helps you to focus on your business goals and user needs before you start writing.

Content Framework

The Content Framework is a form that you can use to answer questions that are vital to the writing process. Questions like who is going to read this, what business goals does this page support, and what tasks do we want the user to do. It helps you do think about what you want to say and who is your audience before you start writing.

Pair Writing

What is Pair Writing? It is borrowed from an agile software development technique called “pair programming“. In Pair Programming, two programmers work together on writing code. One programmer writes the code while the other one reviews it. The second programmer offers suggestions for improvements. The two programmers frequently switch roles. This technique takes longer but generally produces better quality of code.

Pair Writing follows a similar pattern. One person writes while the second person observes, asks questions and provides suggestions. The two writers switch roles to take turns writing and offering suggestions for improvements. This technique can take longer but you get greater involvement from all members of your team.

Writing for the web is challenging. When you have a team of designers, developers, content writers and management, using a writing process like The Core Model makes thing easier. It helps you to plan out your goals, answer questions on what the content should be about and do and create content that focuses on your customers.

Stay healthy and keep coding

Do you play, work and learn using a computer? The way you use a computer may be harmful to your health. It can affect your posture, hands and more. When using a computer becomes painful, it can change how you use it. You may think that you need to stop programming.

Stay Healthy and Keep Coding
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To prevent that, you can focus on these 5 ways to stay healthy and keep coding.

How's your posture?

When you are coding you can get into the flow and forget about maintaining your posture. Check the way you sit or type periodically. If you need a reminder, have your computer remind you a couple times during the day.

Take regular breaks

Both your brain and body benefit from regular breaks. Depending on how you work, you many need to take a break every 45 to 90 minutes. One technique Pomodoro has you taking a 5 minute break every 25 minutes.

Optimize your workspace

When you work at a computer all day, it should suit your needs. Customize your computer to work for you. Try different type of setups. A new keyboard, mouse, chair or even a standing desk.

Move more

Moving can help you think better. Stuck on a problem, go for a walk. Find an exercise that you like to do and schedule it. By making it an appointment, your more likely to do it. Don't want to exercise alone? Get a buddy to exercise with. A buddy can help make exercise fun and make you stick to it so you don't disappoint them.

Eat better

Do you know what you are drinking and eating? Most people when they get busy or into the flow reach for what is easy and available. They don't pay attention to what they eat or drink. What can you do to optimize your eating habits? Make small changes. Swap out your afternoon snack with a fruit or vegetable snack that you enjoy. Buy a water bottle that helps you to drink more water during the day.

Want to increase your productivity as a programmer? You need to optimize the way you take care of yourself and develop a plan for staying healthy. The Healthy Programmer can help you change your work habits.

Moving to Markdown

What is your writing process? Whether you write a blog or technical documentation, you need to have a process. Not just a writing process, but a process for getting your work in a format that can be published on the web. My process is writing, converting to hypertext and publishing. It works, but it can be cumbersome adding the html code to my writing. What can I use instead? Markdown.

Moving to Markdown
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What is Markdown?

Markdown is a way to write for the web. It is text to html conversion tool. The goal was to make it as readable as possible without looking like it was marked up with a bunch of formatting code. This simple system was created by John Gruber.

When you write HTML, it can get very complicated looking with the tags and extra formating:
HTML Code Screenshot

With Markdown, it looks much simpler:
Markdown screenshot

Changing your writing process

Markdown is easy to learn. The syntax is very simple. In five minutes or so, you can start writing in Markdown. You can use either a text editor or an app for Markdown.

What if you don’t want to use a special app? You can install it in IDEs like Atom or Visual Studio. With an IDE like Atom, you can use the preview mode to see how it will look in a browser before you publish your writing.

Want to get started learning Markdown? Start with this Markdown tutorial. It goes through each concept one lesson at a time. You can also use this cheatsheet to look up how do write Markdown.

Tips for Building Your Developer Portfolio

Developers like to build stuff. Apps, websites, apis or a quick little script that does something quickly and easily for you. A developer portfolio shows your best work. Whether it is a single page website or a full website with a blog, your portfolio shows your unique style and approach to solving problems.

Tips For Building Your Developer Portfolio
Photo by: Fancycrave1

Tips for building your portfolio

1. Start with a plan
Treat your portfolio like it is a project for a client or your employer. Plan it out. Think about what pages you want to create, what projects you are going to include and additional resources like screenshots you are going to need. Write your copy and sketch out your design. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to showcase your best work.

2. Consider what tools you use
You can build your portfolio with whatever tools you want. Whether you decide to build it from scratch or use an existing framework, don’t choose to use a framework or technology because you can. You want to make it easy for you to maintain.

3. Buy your own domain name
Why? With your own domain name, you control how it looks and what you can do with it. If you want to create new projects like an app or a tutorial website, you can. Your own domain name makes it easier for potential clients or employers to find you.

4. Make sure it works on mobile
You want your website to be readable and look good on as many platforms as possible. There are different ways to test your website for mobile from resizing your browser to testing on a mobile device. Choose the method that works best for you.

5. Choose your best work
Don’t show everything that you have built. Choose projects that demonstrate your current skills. If you develop mobile applications, don’t include projects from when you created websites for WordPress. Be picky. Show the pieces that reflect who you currently are.

See how other developers created their portfolios

When building your first one or updating an old one, it helps to see what other developers have done. Be inspired by other developers.

  • Brent Krueger is a freelance web designer and developer. He uses a beautiful photo of the state capitol building in Madison, WI in his website’s header.
  • Christina Richardson is a UX Researcher and Designer. She has a one page portfolio with a timeline of her career in UX and an infographic of her design process.
  • Jess Johnson is a full stack developer. He uses great typography and a simple color scheme.
  • Ali Spitel is a developer. Her website has a minimalist design with simple navigation and a great use of color.
  • Kyle Ledbetter is a designer and developer. He uses a mix of background colors and images for each section. In his About, he uses the states as subtle background images.

3 Dashboard Design Tips

Dashboard design sounds simple. You want to create a way of presenting data to your users that is clean and easy to understand. Easy right?

3 Dashboard Design Tips
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No, dashboard design is more difficult than it seems. You need to consider your users before you can decide what data to present to them and how.

Ask these questions before you start building

  1. What data needs to be show to your users? You want to track a small number of key metrics. Not all data should be on a dashboard. Some data belongs in a report. If the data your considering is a summary or analysis, it may work better as a report.
  2. How am I going to present this data? You can choose to display the data as a chart, gauge, totals or a simple table.
  3. What actions do you want the user to take? Should they click on a link to open a report, update some information or do nothing?

Sketch out your design

After you researched and learned what data the user wants to see, you need to decide how to organize the data. You may find that you have too many pieces of information to present to the user. Sketch out your dashboard before you build it to determine what pieces of data go where. An easy to read dashboard has from 5-9 pieces of information on it. Remember that less is more.

Keep the design simple

You want your users to be able to scan the dashboard quickly. Help them by choosing to limit the number of pieces of information, colors, fonts and other UI elements. Your design should be minimal.

By asking questions before you build a dashboard, sketching out the design and keeping the design simple, you can give your users key pieces of information quickly.

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