Whether you are an experienced business analyst or a complete IT beginner, being aware of the best tools available to create process documentation is necessary. It is not too hard to imagine what process documentation can be used for – it works as best guide which will be helpful especially when your company needs to build or upgrade its IT infrastructure. Process documentation usually describes rules and procedures needed by your employees to achieve certain goals in a specific order.
If you’d like to know about the best software for process documentation, then you’ve come to the right place. As a matter of fact, there are numerous reasons why it makes sense to use software for process documentation. First of all, when you’re an entrepreneur without enough time to invest in writing your own workflow or process documentation software can prove extremely helpful. Secondly, using online software for documenting processes enables you to create a more memorable and convenient experience.
One of the hardest parts of writing software is documenting it. In order to write good software documentation, you need to use the right software documentation tools. Trying to open a gate with a chainsaw instead of using a key would be painful and time-consuming. Especially if you don’t really enjoy the process of doing it.
Most software engineers write the documentation for a project at the end of a sprint or they dedicate a separate sprint at the end of the development phase. At that point, they probably have already memorized most of the functions and writing software documentation can seem very cumbersome and useless. To make this process easier, there are several software documentation tools available.
Types of Software Documentation Tools
There are different formats and editors that can be used to write a well-structured documentation. The most common one is documentation written in markdown format. Documentation written in Markdown format can be done either through a Markdown Desktop Text Editor (installed on your local machine), a Markdown In-Browser Online Editor, or Automatic Generation Software Documentation Tools, such as LaTex (generally used by academia and scientific documentation).
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Markdown Desktop Editors
Markdown is probably the most widespread form of writing software documentation. It is a lightweight markup language that can easily be converted into HTML or other formats. What makes markdown one of the top choices is the fact that you can use almost any plain text editor to create markdown files.
Different text editors and extensions have been created to make the process of writing markdown even easier. We analyze the most prominent ones below.
Texts is supported both on Windows and Mac OS. It provides a visual representation of the markdown text, thus making it an easy to use software documentation tool for beginners. You don’t need to remember the markdown syntax and images are visualized directly within the text. Additionally, it provides portability and allows for conversion between different formats such as PDF, Word, ePub etc.
Another great feature that Texts provides is the integration with reference management applications and the bibliography support in standard BibTex format.
The text editor is customizable and you can choose from a set of themes. The only drawback is that it is not free. It costs $19 per user regardless of whether you are purchasing it as a team or as an individual.
A great drawback, however, is that in order to work with Texts, you must first install Pandoc, which is a universal document text converter.
This text editor is supported on all three main operating systems, Windows, Mac OS and Linux. Unlike Texts, Typora offers a file management system which can connect directly to any cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox. The outline panel on the side of the editor makes navigating through documentation much easier.
A noteworthy feature that Typora provides is its seamless live preview. The editor shows the modifiable markdown code only when the cursor is pointing at that specific position. When the cursor leaves the text, the markdown is hidden.
Additionally, Typora provides a range of built-in themes while also allowing users to create their own themes using CSS. The main drawback is that the text editor is currently in beta version and several features might change until the final release version. Many users don’t enjoy getting used to a text editor and then finding out that the new release is completely different from what they have been using all the time.
Since the editor is provided for free only while it is in Beta version, the final release will also result in users having to pay for using the editor.
Haroopad provides cross-platform support just like most of the other editors analyzed so far (Windows, Linux, and Mac OS). Its primary statement is that the experience of using the editor should be the same regardless of the operating system in which it runs.
This editor stands out because it provides some advanced features that most developers would appreciate. It supports vim key binding and more than 100 different programming languages with syntax highlighting.
Haroopad has four different display modes. The default mode features a split screen (Editor:Viewer). Then there are the Reverse (Viewer:Editor), Viewer only and Editor only modes.
A distinguishing feature as a software documentation tool is that it allows developers to draw flowcharts or sequence diagrams in order to visually represent workflows.
This markdown editor is provided for free. However, it seems that work on the GitHub repository has halted for the past two or three years. Haroopad will likely remain in Beta version unless some casual developer decides to complete it.
MarkdownPad is probably one of the most popular markdown editors for Windows. Its greatest drawback is that it runs only on Windows. Apart from that, it offers a wide variety of features.
The split screen with a live preview makes it very easy to edit documentation. However, it does not provide a seamless live preview like Typora does. Moreover, just like most of the other software documentation tools, MarkdownPad offers CSS customizability supporting multiple stylesheets.
The UI is very easy to learn, understand and use. It’s a very simple window with two toolbars, however, offering great customizability and efficiency. The latest version of MarkdownPad is MarkdownPad2.
Another important Markdown editor that I personally like to use and visually resembles MarkdownPad, is Visual Studio Code. Unfortunately, since the release of markdown extensions for VS Code, MarkdownPad has not been maintained and there is almost no activity on GitHub for it.
Visual Studio Code
The primary drawback of Visual Studio Code is that it does not support markdown editing by default. This means you need to install an extension. However, this is done directly from the application and requires no more than two mouse clicks.
What I like about using Visual Studio Code for markdown is that it offers a wide range of extensions for Markdown editing. For example, one extension can have a seamless live preview and also offer a bunch of other useful features. Another extension can offer different themes, whereas another extension provides live document preview on your browser so that you can preview the documentation you are creating as it would be treated as an HTML file.
Finally, VS Code looks very similar to Visual Studio, an application used by most programmers that deal with Microsoft technologies.
The project can be seen on Github or downloaded as a .zip or .tar.gz file. After playing around with it for a bit, we came to the conclusion that this markdown editor might not be as straightforward to use as the other editors and it requires some small technical knowledge from the user’s side.
Its biggest advantage is probably the extensive set of features it has to offer while not having to pay for it.
Sublime Text 3
Sublime Text is one of the most well-known text editors for programmers. It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS. Moreover, it comes with a plethora of cool features, but it does not support markdown editing by default.
Out of all the software documentation tools we have compared, Sublime Text is probably the most difficult one to set up. Installation is not straightforward since it first requires the installation of the Sublime Package Control and then the installation of the Markdown Editing Package.
Additionally, this editor comes at a price of $70 per user. If you only need a text editor to write markdown format software documentation, then Sublime Text is probably an overkill. It provides so many features that can be useful to programmers and developers but not as much to web writers.
The price, installation requirements and the set of offered features make this documentation tool a good fit for advanced users that can make the most out of the provided toolset. Inexperienced users who are looking for a simple markdown editor are probably better off with a different one.
Notepad++ is probably one of our favorite text editors. It runs on all three top operating systems and resembles very closely the default Windows Notepad application. However, it comes with a set of more advanced features. It’s a Notepad on steroids.
Asides from supporting different programming languages, Notepad++ allows us to create markdown files and thus use it as a software documentation tool. Certainly, it is not a dedicated application for writing documentation, but if you are already using Notepad++ in your daily work and feel comfortable using it, then why not.
At Tallyfy we also enjoy Notepad++ due to their frequent updates and because it is free.
Inkdrop is a note taking app for markdown lovers. We were quite hyped when I discovered it, to be honest. The app has a very slick UI and runs on all three main operating systems plus IOS and Android.
Our hype started fading away when we saw that you need to pay $4.99/month or $49.90 yearly. If we compare this note taking app to similar competitors like Evernote, we would say that the price of Inkdrop is quite convenient. However, since most users don’t want to think in terms of markdown when taking notes, people still prefer Evernote to Inkdrop.
Funnily enough, even the design of Inkdrop’s interface is very similar to Evernote’s interface. Furthermore, since most of the data is stored in the cloud, Inkdrop offers a good layer of security through an encryption with a 256-bit AES common key.
In terms of features, it provides a distraction-free setup, with a side-by-side live preview. Additionally, it offers code and syntax highlighting as well as key customizations.
What Are the Benefits of Product Documentation Software?
Many people think they can just get away with writing up documentation any old way, and of course nothing’s stopping them from doing so. However, not paying attention to documentation ends up hurting everyone in the long run.
Product documentation software is specifically designed to make writing correct and accurate documentation easy and intuitive.
For example, let’s look at the process of updating old posts when a new product update rolls out to your users.
Without any kind of information management system, you’d have to manually search through everything you’ve written and look up all the keywords related to everything the update changed.
Then, after finding and re-doing all of those pages, you’d have to publish them into whatever format your front-end uses, whether that be a static FAQ page or a downloadable PDF document.
As you can probably see, this leaves a ton of room open for mistakes. Searching through even with a find-and-replace guru is going to be spotty at best – and the consequences for omitting important information or keeping outdated information are unhappy users confused yet again by labyrinthine help docs.
Specialty software for product documentation avoids this by including powerful fuzzy search tools that help you instantly find all the mentions made of any feature or description. You can also tag each page and inter-link them to build up a useful and complete directory of help documentation topics.
And as you write your docs, you’re no longer limited to just a word processing interface. Power users can take advantages of Markdown layouts, and it’s easy to add multimedia like graphics, videos and even downloadable files to your documentation pages.
Process documentation is essential to any successful business. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or working for a larger organization, it’s important to know that your business is running smoothly. This is where process documentation comes in – it provides a way to organize and define the details of the processes that take place. The whole goal of process documentation is to provide a complete and thorough guideline for company operations.
Documentation is a part of any process improvement activity. You need to create documentation to cover the process as well as all individual tasks performed during the process work flow or cycle. Documenting every aspect of every task and process will help eliminate uncertainty and errors, cut time to market and avoid costly mistakes.