Several months ago, while working on a pitch for a tech site, I had to interview two attorneys, parse through a 47-page legal document, research three separate legal rulings, and transcribe 45 minutes of audio—all in the span of just a few hours so I could hit my deadline.
Whenever writers have to handle too much work near the finish line, that’s when mistakes happen. If you’re not careful, that type of scenario can lead to embarrassing correction notes.
Fortunately, my story didn’t turn into a deadline disaster. How, you ask? I save time—and stay sane under the gun—by using some excellent shortcuts that can shave hours off my research and help me verify the accuracy of my information.
Here are seven of the best tools for getting your work done under the wire.
Quimbee is not an official legal resource for writers; it’s actually a CliffsNotes-style tool for law students, full of case briefs, video lessons, and educational courses.
I use it to get up to speed on the legal knowledge I need for posts when dealing with tight deadlines. Sometimes I have about eight tabs open and am referring to multiple rulings and assorted PDFs, so I go to Quimbee and peruse the legal briefs. While other briefs online are written in complicated and confusing language, Quimbee sums up case law in clear language that’s easy to understand. Not only does the service save me time, it also makes me confident that I haven’t glossed over any important details.
Quimbee’s content is fairly broad, so those highly specific questions will probably go unanswered, and you do have to pay a monthly fee of about $20 to access. But the site can save you when you need last-minute help. Unless you’re friends with a lot of lawyers who can answer your harried texts, you should check out what Quimbee has to offer.
Any time you’re stressed for time when writing about fields like health or science, it’s easy to let your guard down and make mistakes that could seriously harm your readers. If the dizzying array of health claims online makes your head spin, the Examine.com Research Digest might help.
The website is a leading resource on nutritional supplements, but the digest breaks down individual studies on nutrition and supplements in accessible language. Each monthly issue has eight reviews of studies that came out over the previous 90 days. Research Digest is usually $29 per month, but journalists may be able to get free access. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with your credentials and tell her Yael sent you.
Public records requests are absolutely crucial for adversarial reporting that leads to increased government transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, filing these requests is a pain in the ass. However, MuckRock keeps the process moving along, making record requests easy by helping you file, track, and share your requests. The fee is reasonable—you can pay $20 per month to file four requests or subscribe for $40 per month if you plan on filing a lot of requests.
The system helps you save time searching for contact information for government agencies and automates follow-up queries for you. Plus, all of the requests and responses are sent and received via MuckRock, which keeps things nice and organized within its interface You can even use its mailing address if you’d like to keep yours private.
The service also makes it easy for you to link to your docs when writing an article about them, as I did with this Vice story based on a single FOIA request.
If you’re racing against the clock, coming up with the perfect synonym for that term you’ve used three times in two paragraphs suddenly becomes a lot harder. WordHippo not only helps you find antonyms and synonyms, but also related adjectives, adverbs, or nouns for words you pick. When I want to use words like “demonstrate” or “indicate” over and over again, or repeat a verb that’s already in a pull quote, I go to WordHippo for new example. It can even help with translations. Plus, its mascot is a pink hippo—which is obviously a good sign.
There are a lot of reasons to love Muck Rack: weekly tweetchats, free portfolios, tools to see who shared your link, Director of Product Strategy Rob Shapiro giving out whiskey at conferences. But my favorite resource that Muck Rack offers is a daily snapshot of trending topics, which I can quickly glance at each morning to see if any stories in my beat are on other people’s radars… or if there are any articles I overlooked during my reporting. I also use this to see if there are any trending stories I should be pitching before they’re yesterday’s news.
Nuzzel is one of the tools I use the most when putting together news roundups and making sure I’m up to date. My editors expect me to have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in my beats, and even though I’d love to be on social media all day, it’s easier to keep track of everything with a little help. Nuzzel, available for free on both iOS and Android, sorts through posts shared by your friends and lets you filter by the time or number of people who shared them. You can even look at specific links shared by people on your private or public Twitter lists.
Steve Buttry’s Accuracy Checklist
After one too many embarrassing errors, I started using a makeshift version of Steve Buttry’s accuracy checklist, which has helped me quash mistakes before the post went live. (For me, that’s mostly misspelling proper nouns, and now the world will never know which ones I would’ve gotten wrong.) I’ve found that if you have a resource you check after every draft, it’s a lot easier to fix your copy before you submit it than it is to try to get editors to make corrections after the fact… and it may well save you from the dreaded correction italics.
Got any other resources we should know about? Let us know on Twitter @yaelwrites and @TheFreelancer with your best suggestions.