November 27, 2017

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

Someone told me way back in J-school that journalists should write at an eighth-grade reading level. Or maybe it was sixth. Either way, like many of us, I’ve largely ignored that advice out of vanity. And sometimes laziness.

Some concepts just seem impossible to explain in layman’s terms. The Affordable Care Act, for example, is dense, full of jargon and written at a college level. And have you ever been assigned an article about a research study? You’re stuck with either dumbing down the findings and likely upsetting the researchers (possibly also getting the facts wrong in the process) or filing a story denser than the fruitcake your granny used to bake this time of year. 

Readability tools with fancy names like Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog have been around forever but you have to know a little about what they’re looking for to understand them. 

That’s why I like the Dejargonizer, a tool designed to help scientists analyze jargon in their writing. Just copy and paste your article over, click “start” and look for the red words. If striking them doesn’t sacrifice clarity or correctness, replace them with something that’s easier to understand. 

THE MORE YOU KNOW: Are you trying to verify someone’s identity on Twitter? Or have you noticed a politician or other public figure seems to have some unsavory connections? Burrrd is a Twitter account analysis tool that can show a Twitter user’s connections, top words and hashtags and even a text complexity score (funnily enough, based on that Flesch formula I mentioned above). It’s a lot like the Account Analysis tool I shared last month but with a few more bells and whistles.

FIX THIS: Love it or hate it, there’s a good chance that Slack has become an integral part of your workplace. Unsurprisingly, many of the communication dynamics that disadvantage women came with it. Here’s a thoughtful piece about sexism on the modern workplace’s most ubiquitous communication tool. 

POCKET UPDATE: Goodbye Facebook Mentions app, hello Facebook Creator app. Long, long ago, during the baby days of Facebook Live, the Mentions app was briefly a requirement to go live on your phone. Once the regular app integrated Facebook Live, Mentions became pretty pointless. I moved it to a dusty folder on the last screen of my iPhone and forgot about it. Until last week. Imagine my surprise when I found an app called “Facebook Creator” on my phone and that it gave me a bunch of new Facebook Live options like intros and outros and custom borders. It’s a definite upgrade.

CHECK YOURSELF: It sometimes seems like the whiz-bang excitement that some of my favorite storytelling tools provide is at odds with accessibility. There’s a lot to keep in mind, but you’ve already excluded an audience if a screen reader can’t read it. Here are some other tips and tools to consider for making your website accessible to people with disabilities. 

GIVEAWAY: It’s not surprising that Racked, Vox’s shopping vertical, gets a lot of swag. Like, a lot of swag. They cover a lot of beauty products and clothing, industries that are more than happy to send a journalist a “free sample” of hundreds of dollars worth of products. It all raises an interesting question: What are the ethical implications? And what do you do with all that stuff? 

I’m bringing this up because I occasionally get free thingamajigs from tools companies. I don’t feel comfortable keeping many of them, but I’d love to share the wealth with you. Subscribe to the Try This! newsletter and send me a message and I’ll put your name in a drawing for something cool.

LAST WEEK: Why are you still transcribing your notes? It takes forever and is a total waste of brainpower. We put some of the top automatic transcription tools through rigorous testing. While Trint came out on top for us, you might find another one works better for you based on what we found. Did I miss a tool to test? Voicebase, Temi, Descript, EndNote and Google Docs’ transcription features are on my radar for the next round of testing. 

And you know what? It’s the holiday season. We need to remember to have a little fun. Here’s my favorite journalism-adjacent app for that. 

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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