Using Trello for managing editorial projects


My work as a technical writer sometimes means having to manage my own projects yet communicate about them in a way that programmers and engineers can understand without having flashbacks to college freshman English. I’ve come to use Trello for managing document projects. Technical people are comfortable with the tool and I can speak to project status in terms they can understand.

Here’s how I use Trello to manage writing projects:

  • Set up a Trello board split into all of the phases (using columns) of content development including conceptualization, writing, editing, review, layout, and final publishing. I also include a project backlog columns to help me track project ideas that come out of meetings or I want to capture in anticipation of future requirements.
  • Create a card template (conveniently stashed in the Backlog column) that I use the checklists feature to map out an editing checklist I groom govern editorial quality and style. I also use the checklist to help remedy any of my usual writing mistakes.
  • Revise the project cards over time to keep my editorial checklist sharp such as when I make a stylistic decision that I don’t want to forget.
  • Use labels so I can slice and dice views over the documents I have in progress. For example, I use tags to specify audience, document type, and corporate group.
  • Display Trello on meeting room projection screens when I want to talk about writing projects that are currently in progress
  • Use the Trello iOS app on my iPhone 8 or iPad Pro when I’m at home and want to review progress on a document.

Trello helps me stay on course especially when I’m working on smaller documents in a work environment with ever shifting priorities. I use it to create a visual picture of my progress especially when I get blocked on a document because of team availability.

You don’t have to be faithful to agile project management or Kanban either when using Trello to manage projects

Another benefit of Trello is that I’ve found it easy enough for even non-technical users to understand. For example, let’s say you need to share a Trello board with your marketing department. They’ll have a minimal learning curve if at all. One of my concerns when Atlassian acquired Trello that it would be subsumed into the Jira mothership, I’m glad to see that Atlassian realizes that there’s room for an entry level tool that won’t siphon users from Jira. I’ve tried using Jira to manage writing projects on a past contract. I found it too hard to use. Then again the client in question was trying to use Jira out of the box with no customizations or extensions.

My experience with Power Ups has been mixed mostly because I’ve been using the free version of Trello. I’m happy to see that Trello’s focus on integrations continues after the acquisitions. After all, no development team or in my case solo technical writer is an island so integration with other systems is key when managing content development projects.

Are you a technical writer that uses Trello? Share your experience in the comments.


My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

3 things technical writers can learn from screenwriters

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

A few years back I took a screenwriting course through Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

It was a challenging course. The professor had a bit of an ego so I didn’t get as much out of it as I had hoped. Recently, I came back to some of the lessons I learned in the course:

  1. Write the picture. Screenwriting is all about telling the story in pictures. After taking this call and reading some screenwriting books, I am definitely rethinking how I approach article writing and technical marketing communications. Heck, for that matter, I may rethink even how I write procedures and product descriptions depending on the document. It’s been a wonderful creative exercise thus far and is pushing to make time for more creative writing into my schedule.
  2. Elicit emotions. Once upon a time, I was a college English Major who won campus wide awards for short stories and poetry. It feels like a lifetime ago after years writing about topics like network architecture, telephone number provisioning, and online collaboration. Technical marketing communications does need to elicit some emotion in order to elicit action from the reader.
  3. Get into the details of the story. It’s no secret that I rail against the so called technical writers who think they don’t need to be conversant in the subject they are writing about. Screenwriters spend time researching at the script treatment and scriptwriting stages so they can tell their story.

I’d like to return to screenwriting at some point and still find myself looking for another course to try.


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

Is “3” the answer to many of your document problems?

Photo by Tobias van Schneider on Unsplash

I’ve spent the better part of my professional career as a contract technical writer. During that time I got the chance to examine why some organizations struggle with their technical documentation. With limited resources and budget, it is sometimes too easy to shortchange technical documentation and other written communications. With some realistic planning, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Recently, I was talking with a marketing consultant friend of mine, and we were discussing documentation problems and how small companies could get past them. The number “3” kept resonating for some reason.

  • Three drafts because in the end any more drafts like that aren’t going to improve the document much and anything beyond that can dunk a project schedule underwater unnecessarily.
  • Three document review cycles before declaring the document final because beyond that mean splitting hairs over minor issues that may not be picked up in the final product anyway.
  • Three sets of eyes on the document because even two sets of eyes can miss something.

Granted our discussion centered on developing technical documents on small project teams but do you think “3” is the answer to many technical documentation problems?


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

The three shades of ghostwriting


With the popularity of content marketing and corporate blogging, it’s obvious there’s a whole lot of ghostwriting going on. Corporate CEOs, executives, and top engineers creating content takes them away from their day jobs.

Here are the three shades of ghostwriting:

1. Acceptance

Some organizations acknowledge the role of ghostwriters in generating their technical and thought leadership content.While the names of their executives and other key players may appear as the byline, the role of the writer who did the heavy lifting is at least heartily acknowledge the ghostwriter’s hard work behind the scenes.

The shade of acceptance is marked by more collaboration than the other shades. For example, it could be the ghostwriter collaborating with product marketing and subject matter experts (SMEs) with a C-level executive appearing on the byline. Take the example, one step further and the executive is participating in content reviews and even has expertise in the subject of the content being written.

I used a ghostwriter for a guest blog post a couple of years ago. It was more because of a timing issue than anything else. The post was about a topic I wrote about frequently.

2. Hubris

Having a ghostwriter on the team can go to some people’s heads, and they lay claim to the work as 100% of their own. The shade of Hubris often hits mid-level managers who get the budget for a ghostwriter for the first time.

The manager or executive may acknowledge the role of the ghostwriter in team meetings, but the exact contributions of the ghostwriter go unmentioned when that person is talking to their manager or even getting together their list of accomplishments come annual review time.

3. Disdain

There’s a good bit of discussion about the ethics of ghostwriting in business. Personally, I’m not sure where I stand on ghostwriting myself. I enjoy bylined work as much as the next writer, but I’ve seen my share of the hubris shade where ghostwriters help prop up the career of some unworthy people.

What I do think is that when ghostwriting becomes the ghostwriter doing 90%+ of the work and the name on the byline doesn’t have an original thought on the subject of the content is when the trouble starts.

The shade of disdain rears its ugly head when the name on the byline can’t speak about the topic themselves, takes all the credit, and reaps the professional and career benefits of becoming a false thought leader.

Where do you stand on ghostwriting?

Image by John De Boer via freeimages.com


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.