I only have one question for you: do you know the best free documentation tools? I mean, do you know for sure? You are a software developer or a web developer or an app developer or a mobile application developer. Write your code; build your product; develop your application. But do you ever stop to think about how to improve software documentation? I’m going to cover some options that can help you with that.
One sure way to make the process of creating, publishing, and maintaining technical documentation even more tedious is to use a half-baked technical documentation software. Documentation allows non-technical personnel to learn, use and support a product as efficiently as possible. There are many factors you should consider when selecting a documentation tool including: platform, cost and scope of your project. While all of these factors vary, the software documentation tools tend to fall into the same categories. When evaluating a selection of the best software documentation tools for your project, keep in mind that you’ll want to choose one that works with your requirements and capabilities.
So many things can feel off with it. To start with, it could come with a clunky editor that doesn’t inspire your resources to do their best writing. Or, it could have restrictive pricing schemes where it just won’t be feasible to get your entire team to contribute. It could also come shipped with a poor search functionality that will fail to help you find what you need among other unrefined features!
Choosing a technical documentation software is indeed a lot of work. But we’ve done the homework for you. Before we see our picks for the best technical documentation software, though, let’s look at what technical documentation is.
So what is technical documentation?
Technical documentation can mean different things in different contexts.
In one context, technical documentation for a business might be just documenting the content that its engineers or developers or technical resources use — source code, for example.
But it goes beyond that. Here’s one great way of looking at it (via Transcom):
The term ‘technical documentation’ refers to different documents with product-related data and information that are used and stored for different purposes. “Different purposes” mean: Product definition and specification, design, manufacturing, quality assurance, product liability, product presentation; description of features, functions and interfaces; intended, safe and correct use; service and repair of a technical product as well as its safe disposal.Transcom
So you can see that the term technical documentation has evolved to include every piece of documentation a product uses across its lifecycle.
Following this definition, everything right from how-to guides, SOPs, product documents to release notes are all examples of it. That means your technical documentation software solution must support all of these.
Choosing a technical documentation software Solution
In addition to reviewing a solution for its support for the different documentation types, pay attention to these selection criteria.
- Pricing plans: Technical documentation software solutions often come with per user per month billing plans that are capped at storage limits and page views. These quickly become a problem when you have a large support team and get a high volume of hits, these can add up fast.
- Good access control: Your technical documentation is usually a mix of private and public pieces. So your technical documentation software should come with at least some level of access control.
- Comfortable writing and editing experience: Of course, you need a good writing and editing experience that your technical writers and other team members enjoy.
So with all that in mind, let’s drive straight into our list of the top technical documentation software solutions you could choose from.
KnowAll is the most popular WordPress-based knowledge base solution that’s ideal for creating technical documentation. It beats even the slickest SaaS alternatives, giving your support content the power of the world’s most robust content management system.
- Comes with the most-loved WordPress editor (so creating and maintaining even the most complex technical documentation types is as easy as creating and updating blog posts).
- Offers formatting tools like accordion elements, tabs, notices, toggles, etc. that let you create rich, refreshing technical documentation.
- Comes with Google-like search and autosuggest features (so finding what you need takes moments!).
- Is translation-ready (so it can speak your language).
- Can be easily customized (so you can make it your own).
- Supports attachments (so you can offer downloadables directly).
- Comes with widgets and shortcodes.
- Supports complex structures with multiple categories/sub-categories.
- Works very nicely with Slack, HelpScout, and Gravity Forms.
- Comes with an easy annual plan supporting unlimited users and technical documentation.
- Search analytics isn’t available in the $149 plan.
- Although it’s a very easy-to-use WordPress theme, it will take some effort to get the initial setup.
Pricing: KnowAll comes with easy annual plans starting at $149/year.
If you are worried about writing content and re-using the existing content (like single-source writing) then you can consider Adobe FrameMaker as an option for your technical writing!
Adobe FrameMaker is a sophisticated document processor that suites large industrial standard documentation. It can be used to generate structured documents with an XML framework that’s 100% Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) compliant. FrameMaker is a DITA-friendly technical writing tool with the built-in ability to print a PDF and a great alternative to editors like MS Word.
Additionally, documents created with FrameMaker span over 200+ pages with pre-defined templates in several industrial standard formats – such as financial statements and legal agreements. You can also generate automatic hyperlinks, a list of figures, a table of contents, and a list of tables in just a few clicks.
- One-click image resizing
- XML file handling
- Multidevice publishing
- Mini table of contents
- Starts at $29.99 per month
- Full version at $999
ProProfs Knowledge Base is an excellent technical writing tool that provides amazing features and smart settings to help you create technical documents that reflect perfection.
This tool is beautifully engineered to meet the demands of businesses all over the globe, it helps you create a company-wide knowledge platform, more like a manual, that can be easily accessed via multiple devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.
ProProfs offer compelling features, such as MS Word-like editor, Google-like search functionality, workflows, customization options, and more, merged to provide you an ultra-modern experience. It even facilitates minute tasks like adding text to multiple pages at a go, adding your firm’s logo, creating toggle content, etc.
- Branding features
- Revision history
- Compatibility with multiple devices
- Library of themes, designs, fonts, etc.
- Offers a free plan
- Pro starts at $40
Taking screenshots in technical documentation is not just a process- it’s a compulsion! Without images, it would be extremely difficult to comprehend the content.
Most technical writers enhance their screenshots with various attributes like- frames, arrows, circles, etc. These elements help readers to understand images in a simple and fast!
One such tool that offers a collection of beautiful pre-made elements along with the functionality of taking screenshots is Snagit! Snagit is a powerful screen capture tool targeted towards technical writers that make their documents look consistent and professional!
- Panoramic scrolling capture
- Captures drop-down menus
- Borders and image effects
- Exports to cloud storage
- Offers a 15-day free trial
- Pro plan starts at $50
MarkdownPad is one of the most popular Markdown document editors used by technical writers. It provides a lot of customizations like fonts, color schemes, sizes, and layouts. It even has a built-in CSS editor and supports your custom CSS stylesheets.
Users can quickly convert their written text documents into HTML or even export them as PDFs. With quick HTML previews, users can easily see what their documents look like in HTML as they create them.
They can use MarkdownPad to write articles, READMEs, and of course, technical documents. However, the lack of cloud features and the fact that it’s only equipped for Windows can be a bummer for a lot of writers out there.
- Built-in image uploader
- Session management
- Configurable automatic updates
- Offers free download
- Pro plan starts at $14.95
No one likes to see technical content in the form of a boring, endless document that makes it hard for your audience to resolve their problem. When you are showing technical documentation online, you have to keep away from the lengthy, robotic web pages. Whatfix helps you with that!
This technical writing tool allows you to create compelling guides and help articles, presented in the form of real-time interactive walkthrough elements.
Moreover, Whatfix automatically adapts the help guide based on the device you use. And the same help content can be accessed in other formats – as a video, slideshow, or PDF.
- Customizable user interface
- User tracking
- Multi-browser compatibility
- Multi-format support- videos, graphics, images, and text
- Get a quote
Apiary is a documentation tool designed specifically for software developers and API creation. It’s not only for documenting data but also for designing and testing APIs. Customers can make a server mock for API design available for their team members or clients, so they can try out the API. They also have access to an open-source blueprint with server mocks, validations, and code samples through an integration with API Blueprint.
Users can link Apiary to their chosen GitHub repository, which then updates commits when users update their Apiary documentation.
The Apiary CLI Gem tool provides command line capabilities like automating workflows, validating blueprints, or previewing a document. Developers can send API calls through a debugging proxy that reveals detailed data to help them fix problematic calls.
- API mock sharing with teammates or customers
- Integration with open source API Blueprint
- API call traffic inspection
- Connection to GitHub repository of choice
- Apiary CLI Gem software for command line features
Bit is a documentation tool for teams that need to segment and organize their documents and collaborate with both employees and external users. For organizations that need to regularly share documents with third parties, Bit provides features like guest access and permissions. Employees, clients, business partners, and contractors can be added as collaborators within the software.
Users have access to a sizable template gallery. The template options for formatting text, designing a theme, and adding content like tables are reminiscent of WordPress’s interface.
The document design interface also transforms inserted links into embedded visuals. Bit has document tracking features that reveal user behavior, like scroll distance. It also allows businesses to insert custom lead capture forms into their documents.
- Collaboration controls and access permissions
- Separate document management between teams
- End-to-end encryption
- Unique subdomain and a branded login page
- Independent link tracking for multiple links within a document
What are software documentation tools?
Software documentation tools are applications that provide content creation, collaboration, and organization capabilities for software developers to maintain software and write programs. Documentation includes lists of instructions with helpful tools, such as videos and links, so developers can quickly access and update processes. Many documentation tools aren’t just for developers, either: technical writers and other employees within an organization also use them to document company processes that don’t involve software development or engineering.
The main benefits of documentation tools are:
- Organization of a wide range of company processes and tasks, including software installation and development
- Centralized content management, so that new documents can be published and updated in one place
- User-based access permissions and customizable notifications
Software documentation has been in the periphery of software industry concerns for a long time. In fact, the first book on software documentation was published over half a century ago. The software industry is independent and rapidly growing, so it’s logical to think that the software documentation needs are going to grow as well. If you’re a programmer, or interested in how to write documentation, you will find quite a few useful links on this page.
Software documentation is a developer’s best friend. Unfortunately, creating high-quality documentation can be tedious and time-consuming. This can cause many developers to put off this important task. A number of developers share their documents using standalone documentation tools like MS Word, Google Docs and more.