Dylan Tweney

The top tools for collaborative writing, part 2: Project management and publishing

Google tools are the dominant project management choice, but that's not the whole story.
Dylan Tweney 4 min read
Photo showing a person doing project management with sticky notes on a large paper pad
Photo by Brands&People / Unsplash

In my previous post, I talked about the top tools content pros use for writing and editing.

But collaborative writing goes beyond the mere creation of content: You also need some kind of project management tool to keep track of assignments, deadlines, approvals, and so forth. 

In other words, you need an editorial calendar.

So, what’s the best platform for creating and managing an editorial calendar?

In my survey of content professionals, I found that Google Docs (used by 74% of content pros) and Google Sheets (used by 66%) are the most popular project management tools for content projects.

Bar chart showing the popularity of different project management tools used by content pros

In my experience, the same things that recommend Google Docs for collaborative writing are exactly why it and Google Sheets are ideal for editorial calendars. They are cloud-based tools, so there’s no need to worry about version tracking. They’re ubiquitous — almost everyone can access them. And they support real-time updates, so as soon as someone makes a change, everyone else on the project can see that reflected on their own screens.

The real-time nature of Google Sheets is why I came back to it again and again during my tenure as an editor at WIRED and VentureBeat. (Related: What does an editor do?) Although we experimented with different editorial calendar management tools (and at VentureBeat, we even built a custom, database-driven tool), we could never match Google Sheets for its combination of flexibility, ease of use, and real-time updates.

Personally, I feel that Google Sheets is a better choice for editorial calendars than Google Docs because it handles sorting and filtering, and its grid structure can help enforce some consistency in entering needed data.

Still, a good number of content pros are using Microsoft Word (45%) and Excel (32%) for content project management. Godspeed to them.

Tools that are specifically designed for project management score fairly low on this list: Monday.com (used by 11% of content pros), followed by Asana, Trello, and Airtable (8% each). 

I’ve built editorial calendars using Trello and Airtable, and I even built one using Jira. While they are good choices for some situations, such tools require a work culture that is committed to doing project management well, and an organization with the technical resources to support the customization you’ll need. Most content pros are not database pros, and with Airtable and Jira in particular, you’ll need some database expertise to make the most of them. 

Trello is simpler, and its Kanban board approach is well suited to an environment where many pieces of content go through a predictable series of stages (from ideation to publication), and where they don’t have strict deadlines. But Trello can be counterintuitive for some organizations, and it doesn’t easily allow filtering or sorting by various date fields, so I don’t necessarily recommend it unless there’s a pre-existing cultural commitment to Kanban boards or there’s a strong Trello champion.

CMS and design tools

I also asked content pros if they used a content management system, or CMS. Today, a CMS typically means a platform for publishing content to the web, although it sometimes also encompasses the management and curation of content behind the scenes.

More than a quarter, 26%, reported that they use WordPress. That's not surprising, since WordPress powers over 43% of the web, accounting for some 474 million websites. 

Just 8% of respondents use Hubspot, the CMS favored by many marketing organizations. Almost a quarter said that they don’t use a CMS, and 42% either didn’t know what CMS their organization used or they used some other system mentioned by only one respondent. Those other CMSes include Drupal, Contentful, Notion, and Sitecore. 

Pie chart showing the proportion of different CMS platforms used by content pros

The answers for design tools were predictably dominated by Adobe tools: Photoshop (used by 37%), Illustrator (32%), Figma (29%), and InDesign (26%). 

The surprise response was Canva, with 34% of content pros saying they use this simple, web-based design tool. I use it too, and I appreciate the ease with which it lets me put together basic images for sharing on social media or simple one-page documents for presentation.

Bar chart showing the popularity of different design tools used by content pros

What tools do you use?

What tools does your organization use for project management and publishing? Are there any obvious missing pieces in this picture? Please let me know how you manage collaborative writing and editing.

I look forward to hearing from you!

MORE: The collaborative writing series

  1. Writing as a team
    How creating content collaboratively is different from solo writing
  2. The POWERS process for effective team writing
    A six-step method for making collaborative content creation simpler and more effective
  3. How to start a writing project with a team
    How to prepare effectively for a group writing project (this post includes links to two templates you can use: an assignment brief template and a meeting agenda for kicking off a content project)
  4. Three ways to write an outline - plus one that is better than all the others
    Why an outline is so important, and 4 different types of outlines
  5. How to write - and how to avoid writer's block
    5 tips for getting started when you’re stuck
  6. Avoiding that "Untitled document" feeling in Google Docs
    How to ensure that no one is confused about what to do next.
  7. What does an editor actually do?
    Good editing aims at improving the writer as well as what they’ve written
  8. Release management for content products
    How to create and use a pre-publication checklist (includes a sample checklist template you can use)
  9. How to measure content effectiveness
    Quantitative and qualitative metrics you can use to study and improve content production.
  10. Blogs are alive and well, survey data shows
    Over 80% of professional content creators are busy writing blog posts for our companies and clients, according to my survey.
  11. The top tools for collaborative writing, part 1: Writing and editing
    Google Docs is the runaway favorite tool for writing and editing, used by 79% of all content pros.
  12. The top tools for collaborative writing, part 2: Project management and publishing
    What's the best choice for managing an editorial calendar? Once again, Google tools lead – but that's not the whole story.
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