In the new tech-driven world, developers of all skill levels are in constant evolving needs of documentation tools. By now, you know that a good documentation can make your life as programmer so much easier and enjoyable. In the symphony of success, documenting your code might sound like a clair de lune , but it’s an indispensable part!
If you’ve ever had to use a piece of software you’re not familiar with, you understand the importance of helpful technical documentation. You don’t have time to guess how to use a piece of software when you have work to get done. You need straightforward instructions to help you complete your tasks.
Documentation is an integral part of any software product. It explains what the software does, how it works, how to integrate it into other tools, and provides a peek under the hood. There are several different types of software documentation, and they can all benefit from specialized tools that make creating them more manageable.
Unlike developing software, we aren’t really concerned with speeding up the delivery of our documentation. It’s not a race to build it first, or even second (or third). In general, it isn’t good to be in such a rush. And even if you were to hurry and deliver something that no one likes — what good is that? When trying to configure a team for success, I think it is important to take a look at how they write their documentation. It’s acceptable to use an out of the box template, but hopefully they build upon something that they like — or at least start with something they can work with. And ideally — if the documentation is delivered well and gives the developers the information they need — we will have a successful project. There are many moving pieces from having high performing teams that deliver outstanding software and one of those pieces is delivering awesome documentation as well. The “Best Documentation Platform” for your team might be different than what someone else uses. But just remember there are tons of features to consider when putting together your company’s process for writing and delivering documentation!
What is Software Documentation?
Software documentation is any written document that explains how a piece of software is built, operates, or used. For more complex software, it typically includes a section on general use as well as sections about each of the software’s various functions and features. Documentation comes in many forms, including user tutorials that demonstrate how to perform tasks, printed manuals or books with step-by-step instructions, or knowledge bases and FAQ pages on a company’s website.
Software documentation varies depending on the complexity of the software and the technical knowledge of the audience. For example, it can walk end-users through the basics of a piece of consumer software, assist IT and system administrators with software installation, and help software developers build or update programs.
Types of Software Documentation
There are many types of software documentation, from internal documents only accessible to software developers to user manuals for those who use a piece of software regularly. Two main types of software documentation are developer documentation and software documentation targeted toward the end-user.
Developer Software Documentation
Developers use a specific type of documentation created as part of, or in conjunction with, the software development process. These documents can include release notes that describe features and updates, README files in text documents that offer a brief explanation of the software, system documentation that describes requirements for installation, and API documentation explaining how to integrate and work with an API.
End-User Software Documentation
End-user software documentation provides information about how to install, use, or configure a piece of software. This type of documentation helps people understand how to operate a product. End-user documentation can include user guides, tutorials, troubleshooting manuals, and knowledge bases.
There are areas where the lines blur between different types of software documentation, especially when it comes to technical documentation. An example of this is the minimum system requirements for installing a piece of software. Even though it’s considered a technical document, it falls under end-user documentation because it’s written for software users.
What Are Software Documentation Tools?
Software documentation tools streamline the process of creating and managing documents by making writing or distributing documentation faster and easier.
Many documentation tools give you the ability to publish your documents once complete and distribute documents to internal teams or external users. Some documentation tools offer version control systems so your teams can track changes made over time.
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Best Software Documentation Tools in 2022
The software documentation tool you choose will depend on the type of documents you need to create. Here’s a list of the best software documentation tools for end-users and developers to help you make your choice:
BEST END-USER SOFTWARE DOCUMENTATION TOOLS
Whatfix is a Digital Adoption Platform that allows you to create step-by-step walkthroughs that act as real-time software documentation by guiding employees through your software. If you already have a knowledge base, you can display your documentation in a self-help widget.
Whatfix is redefining how software documentation is displayed and consumed, with new content embedded directly within your software applications in forms such as interactive guidance, contextual walkthroughs, self-help FAQs, popup notifications and beacons, and more. The platform also allows you to measure the usage and effectiveness of your documentation with user analytics.
Bit.ai is a documentation collaboration platform that allows you to manage all of your documents in one place. It allows you to create notes, documents, and wikis, and you can manage your company’s documentation across teams or departments.
ProProfs knowledge base software is a knowledge management tool that lets you create searchable online FAQs and help docs. In addition, you can add videos, audio, images, and infographics to your documentation to make your software documentation more interactive and compelling.
4. Dropbox Paper
Dropbox Paper is an online document workspace that lets you organize and display text, media, and files all in one place. It’s a web-based tool, so it’s accessible as long as you have an internet connection. If you’re already a Dropbox user, you can create and edit documents without leaving Dropbox.
Tettra is a tool for internal company use. It’s a wiki and knowledge management system that lets teams create content other employees can read and comment on. This tool is specifically built to work with Slack and features integrations with several other tools, including GSuite, Microsoft Teams, GitHub, and Zapier.
Tallyfy is workflow and process management software that lets you capture and automate your company’s knowledge. This software offers the ability to see the status of your tasks, and it is built to integrate into many other systems like Slack or Gmail. It also automates the process of tracking document changes.
Scribe is tool that automatically creates software documentation. It’s a Chrome extension and desktop application that captures a process you complete in a software tool, then turns your actions into instructions and screenshots in seconds.
Users can then modify instructions, edit screenshots, redact sensitive information, and more. Scribes can be shared to select people or teams, or be made available publicly. They can be embedded in a CMS, knowledge base, wiki, help center, or other platforms.
BEST DEVELOPER DOCUMENTATION TOOLS
GitHub is a cloud-based website and service that stores code and helps developers control and track changes through a version control system called GIT to host and review code. In addition to their repository, they offer GitHub Pages, a website hosting service that takes files directly from a GitHub repository and runs the files through a process that creates a website. This feature gives developers an easy way to create software documentation in plain text or Markdown.
Apiary by Oracle is a dedicated host for Application Programming Interface (API) documentation that lets you design, prototype, document, and test APIs. One helpful feature is the ability to prototype an API without written code.
10. Read the Docs
Read the Docs is open-source documentation software that helps developers build and host documents. It can also build multiple versions of your documents by creating a separate branch or tag in your version control system, which is helpful for making sure your documents stay up to date.
MarkdownPad is a full-featured Markdown editor for Windows. This tool allows you to create text-based web content, blog posts, websites, articles, READMEs, and software documentation.
Typora is a simple document reader and writer that provides support for Markdown — a plain text format that’s easy to read and write. This software appeals to developers who want to remove distractions by hiding unwanted elements, like preview windows. It also has a live preview feature to allow you to focus on your content.
Doxygen is a top-rated tool for generating documentation from annotated C++ sources, and it supports other programming languages. It can generate online documentation and offline reference manuals from specific source files by extracting information directly from the source, creating continuity between your documentation and source code.
If you work in the software world, the chances of you not being familiar with GitHub are next to nil. GitHub is a community for developers to host and review code, manage projects, and build software alongside 28 million developers.
GitHub believes in the power of quality documentation and knows that every healthy software project needs one. On GitHub, you can create well-maintained docs use GitHub pages and Wiki features.
GitHub pages let you convert your GitHub repositories and documents into a visually appealing website to showcase your portfolio, documentation, or your projects easily. GitHub pages provide you with one free webpage, GitHub hosting, and the ability to route a custom domain. Use Jekyll (a tool that converts plain text files into websites) and easily create an elegant web page.
If you don’t want a separate website for your documentation, every GitHub repository comes equipped with a section for hosting documentation, called a wiki. Wiki is the place to store details about your project- how to use it, how it’s been designed, and so on. It’s a great way to quickly store all the critical information about your project for others to use.
MarkdownPad is one of the most famous markdown document editors for windows. You can use MarkdownPad to write articles, READMEs, and of course, software documentation.
With instant HTML previews, users can quickly see what their documents look like in HTML as they create them.
MarkdownPad offers a lot of customizing options like color schemes, fonts, sizes, and layouts. It even supports your custom CSS stylesheets and has a built-in CSS editor. Users can easily convert their written text into HTML or even export their documents as PDFs.
With a simple, easy to use user interface, MarkdownPad is a great document editor for software documentation. However, the lack of cloud features and the fact that it’s only supported on windows can be a bummer for a lot of you out there.
Select a Software Documentation Tools Based on Your Needs
When choosing a software documentation tool, there is no such thing as the “perfect” option.
To make sure you choose the right tool, start by creating a list of crucial features to look for — at the least, your software documentation tool should integrate with other tools to reduce friction and increase productivity across departments.
It should also have options for customization and encourage collaboration. You should also ask your employees how they currently complete tasks to help you choose the right tool and improve adoption when it comes time to start using the new documentation software.
Documentation is in our nature. And when it comes to machines we instinctively want to explain how they work, where the buttons are and what the indicator lights mean. Yet for some strange reason, software companies and IT still put up barriers to this natural curiosity. Sure, there are plenty of sources for information but people like me always end up seeing a multitude of different answers to the same question and not just from a different perspective but also contradictory information to what I already know, which distracts me from doing my job.
Documentation is an important part of the app building process. As an application grows, the build slides into maintenance mode and this is when documentation becomes a key element of your development operations. You want to ensure you have the right processes in place to help developers maintain your projects.