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Best Software for Technical Documentation

Ah, technology. What would we do without it? Maybe you love working on a new technology project or maybe you have to keep the software running on existing equipment or software. There is a common thread though, which is the support and maintenance of that technology. It’s software documentation stuff, which I am sure you’ve thought about at least once. After all, you need to read these things if you are going to be able to keep the computers running smoothly.

Software development is a complicated process that requires great deal of communication and cooperation. Perhaps, this is why documentation is an integral part of every software project. If you want to make your software project successful, you’ll need to use the best technical documentation software for the job.

Documentation can seem like the most boring piece of the software delivery process. Those days are over — documentation is now more important than ever. I recently had to implement a documentation system for a client, and with all the options out there, it was hard to choose what was right. I decided to write this post to share my experiences and hopefully save you some time

A business that sells technical documentation tools as its main service is facing a tough challenge. It needs to provide the best-of-the-best when it comes right down to information on the tools they’re offering. For some reason, more and more businesses are not following suit by also providing the best information about their particular products or services. Keeping in mind that a product can always be changed, there is still one thing that everyone agrees on: it’s reliable product reviews from existing users. No matter how good your service or product is, you will always benefit from feedback from existing users.

If you ask me, pretty much every business should invest in creating great documentation. But first things first. It is important to know what tools technical writers use for their core activities and whether their job is simply sitting at the desk typing or rather more creative. The answer may well surprise you.

Whatfix is transforming how technical writing is created.

Whatfix is innovating the technical writing tools space by disrupting the very idea of lengthy continuous written content. Our interactive guides will help you become more productive by providing you a quick and effective way to create technical documentation. Get a personalized Whatfix demo now!

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1. Whatfix

Whatfix signifies a paradigm shift in the way help documentation is presented online. Static and lengthy web help pages do not catch the user’s attention as effectively as the interactive, pictorial guides presented by Whatfix, popularly called ‘balloons’. 

Moreover, online help in today’s world needs to spread across various gadgets – be it PCs, tablets, or smartphones. Whatfix automatically adapts the help content to suit the gadget. And the same help content can be accessed in different forms – as a slideshow, PDF, or video.

Author’s Tip: Whatfix supports a unique feature – Real-time Interactive walkthrough – wherein you put your help snippets directly into the live product page. The user reads the snippet in the Whatfix balloon and performs the action accordingly on the page. This is a popular technical writing tool amongst business looking for a shift from the traditional methodologies.

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Easily create interactive technical documentation with Whatfix

Discover how Whatfix’s Digital Adoption Platform can help your organization create in-app technical documentation with curated content including in-app guidance, personalized workflows, and self-help knowledge bases. Try Whatfix now!

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2. MediaWiki

Displaying your product’s online help as wiki pages is a simple and effective idea. Your pages can be integrated into Wikipedia directly if you don’t have a separate website for your online product. Alternately, you can host Wiki-like help pages on your product website. The high familiarity of this format among online users is a key advantage, and the free wiki editing tool MediaWiki Visual Editor makes help creation quite simple.

MediaWiki is a PHP-based web editing tool, which Wikipedia uses. However, even major software corporations, Intel being a key example, use this tool to present their sales and marketing information, How To’s, and help pages on policy and procedures.

Author’s Tip: This technical writing tool comes with good support for extensions – for multi-language content, collaborative reviewing, tracking edits, built-in search, etc.

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3. Adobe RoboHelp

Industry-standard authoring tool used to create help systems for desktop or web-based applications. No computer user is a stranger to RoboHelp. Every time your press F1 in any of your standard software applications, the help window that appears is almost always created using RoboHelp. However, it can also be used to churn out the conventional technical documentation for print, such as guides and training manuals.

The sophisticated RoboHelp IDE enables technical writers to develop large-scale help projects and render them on multiple hardware devices/operating systems, and in multiple formats (PDF, HTML, DOC, etc). The Older version of RoboHelp can be purchased as a low-cost edition if budget is a constraint. However, small companies can stick to simple, free alternatives such as WordPress blogs or Wikis. Good old MS Word also can generate basic HTML help files for you.

Author’s Tip: Managing large software products with regular upgrade versions can be a major challenge for technical writers as they have to be in sync with the product change history. Help files often show configurable user-defined variables that are repeated several times throughout the help documentation. (For example, a variable such as “Sleep time after inactivity” is set to 30 sec in the previous version, to be set to 1 min in the upgrade.) The RoboHelp project would take care of updating the variable value throughout the help files!

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4. Notepad++

A very effective beginner’s HTML editor. Most people learn the basics of HTML programming on this technical writing tool. If your software product does not require very heavy online help documentation, for making help files of medium size, this tool is more than sufficient.
Its customizable GUI allows for easy editing, it supports WYSIWYG for printing, and also has multi-language support options.

Author’s Tip: Notepad++ comes with a rich set of plug-ins. Multi-clipboard, Code Compare, Auto-Save are some popular ones. Technical writers need to pick the right set of plug-ins, which can transform an ordinary beginner’s editor to a viable option for online help editing.

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5. WordPress

The go-to place if you want to have a technical documentation for your product in the form of blogs. WordPress is an open-source, free, online content management platform. Blogs written on WordPress can either be accessed directly from the WordPress blog URL or can be integrated into your company website.

This article itself is hosted on the WordPress blog called Whatfix Academy. If the goal is to publish online content about your company and associated technologies regularly, then set up a WordPress blog account. Blogs can also capture user responses in the form of comments and likes, which makes it easier to engage with your target audience and sense their appreciation for your product.

Author’s Tip: Blogs in isolation may not gather sufficient eyeballs. So, write your blog first, promote your blog on social media platforms next and finally measure the viewership/responses before getting on with the next set of blogs!

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6. Adobe Photoshop

One tool which most technical writers across the industry swear by. It is the world’s most popular image editing tool for creating and editing photos and raster (pixel) based artwork. Can be used to create user interface designs, web pages, banner ads, video graphics, editing pictures for print, manipulating an image, superimposing one image on another, refining a photograph to iron out imperfections, correcting lighting issues, and more. Image editing process is reversible and incremental so that changes can be rolled back easily.

Author’s Tip: For professional designers, who are constantly in need of an image editing tool, there is almost no replacement to Adobe Photoshop. However, if you are an occasional user, try GIMP which is open source. It does support only RGB color schemes whereas Photoshop also supports CMYK (CYAN YELLOW MAGENTA BLACK) color mode. And the learning curve is higher for GIMP, but its free while Photoshop costs a bomb!

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7. Adobe Illustrator

Tool for creating and editing vector-based illustrations such as logos and brand marks or other design elements. Graphic designers often make the mistake of designing their product logos on Photoshop. But the same logo needs to be printed on visiting cards, as well as massive advertisement billboards. So, image scaling without losing clarity is the key here, which vector graphics-based imaging tools achieve. Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw are the leading technical writing tools technical writing in this space.

Author’s Tip: This tool is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud solution with expensive monthly rentals. Free alternative technical writing tools like Inkscape or Affinity Designer can do the job equally well with SVG formats. Unless you require all major technical writing tools that are part of this solution (Photoshop, InDesign, etc), this tool is not a must-have.

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8. Microsoft Visio

A popular diagramming tool used in engineering applications design. Technical writers often need to design flowcharts, architectural diagrams, electrical circuit diagrams, software product design, and so on. Visio is a convenient aid for this.

It is an IEEE compliant technical writing tool that conforms to software industry standards such as UML (Unified Modeling Language) and BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation).

Authors’ Tip: Visio has not been part of the traditional Microsoft Office suite, has always been sold separately similar to MS Project. But a very recent announcement from Microsoft says that online subscribers of Office 365 can now access Visio also.

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9. Windows Snipping Tool

If you are looking for screen capture options that are more sophisticated than PrntScr on your keyboard, Snipping Tool is a good choice.

Apart from full-screen capture, you can also capture freehand crops, or partial screen area crops. To capture still images from videos, use the delay option so that the exact frame can be saved as an image.

Authors’ Tip: It is part of the Windows suite of software, but may not be enabled by default in some editions of Windows.

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10. Windows Movie Maker

A simple video editing tool that technical writers can use to make their product demo videos. It is part of the Windows Essentials suite. However, since January 2017, this software has been discontinued, without the announcement of a proper replacement. So, all those users with older Windows versions, thank your lucky stars.

Authors’ Tip: Videos and audio clippings can be arranged and edited in a storyboard view, frame by frame. Or a series of still images can be stretched on a timeline. Audio voiceovers meshed with background sounds can give your videos a sophisticated edge.

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11. Document360

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Document360 is a technical writing tool that has some cool and advanced features that you would not find in most of the tools. It is a knowledge base platform that helps businesses like yours create self-service platform to help your customers understand the technical aspects more easily.

With Document360, you can write any form of technical writing which is not just limited to user manuals or memos. You can write content forms like product descriptions, white papers, business proposals, and so on. To deliver the exact output that your customer desires, you need to choose the right technical writing tool. Because the right technical tool is equally important like how a great technical writer is important for a business.

A lot of editorial features are packed with Document360. You can use either Markdown editor that helps you edit the way you want or the HTML editor. Category manager helps you to create categories, subcategories, group similar files together and creates a well-structured hierarchy of all your information. With version history, you can roll back to the previous version that helps you especially when you overwrite a content by mistake.

These are some of the most common features and not just that, you will be able to view the analytics and get powerful insights to make your content looks even more engaging and converting. With great and easy to configure features, you get 100% cloud-based architecture, enterprise SSO, auditing, and much more. A great documentation tool is when it has all the simple features without making things complicated. You can set review reminders, check SEO, and collaborate with other editors, which is the most important task for a technical writer.

The best part is that you can integrate your documentation with your favorite apps like Google docs, Slack, Zendesk etc.,

Try These Technical Writing Tools Today

All of the tools on this list can help you improve your technical writing, whether that’s finding the right tool for creating content, getting help with images and videos, or publishing your content to your own self-hosted WordPress knowledge base or to multi-platform destinations.

Try out the tools that you find most interesting and enjoy a more streamlined technical writing workflow.

Conclusion

Technical documentation is more complicated than you think. It’s important to have the best technical documentation software in your arsenal, and that means sometimes it takes looking at some of the less-known options.

Technical documentation software solutions help solution providers convert their products’ manuals and guides into a digital format that features images, charts and tables. The software also gives them the ability to share these manuals with clients or customers via an electronic medium such as a USB drive, email attachment or web pages. A great technical documentation software solution should feature easy-to-use drag and drop tools for importing existing PDFs, as well as file conversion tools for translating existing manuals into different languages.

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