Project documentation is the best way to document everything that you need for the project. But it is not easy to get things done well when it comes to documentation especially when you are dealing with multiple people working on a project. You will then need some tools and guidelines that will work well for your project.
Learning how to use a new software application is sometimes a challenge, but not when your using the best software for documentation. Finding the right user documentation software for your business or organization can help make the difference of saving valuable time and money. Documentation is one of the most important techniques used in software engineering. Even though many developers agree on this fact, it is also debated that documentation can be considered as an useless activity in terms of software development.
Instead of customers constantly seeking out your customer support team for answers to their questions, they can simply consult the user manual and get on with their day. User manuals save time for customers, who don’t have to wait for your agents to get back to them, and for your support team who have fewer requests to deal with.
If you’re looking to save time and budget, there is a number of best software for documentation out there. You can use them for documenting your projects in the best way possible. No need to hire extra IT experts and developers to write your documentation software. Just look through the list below, decide which one is right for you, download it and start using it.
What Is Software Documentation?
Remember, docs or it didn’t happen. Software documentation is any written document that explains how a piece of software works, why it was built, and how it is intended to be used. Depending on the complexity of your software, your documentation can contain information on the general use of the product and in-depth dives into functions and features.
Software documentation, according to Daniele Procida, can be divided into four categories:
- Learning-oriented tutorials
- Goal-oriented how-to guides
- Understanding-oriented discussions
- Information-oriented reference material
Document360 is our very own knowledge base solution which is perfect for creating user manuals. It offers an advanced portal for content producers with a state-of-the-art editor, category manager, and more. You can create up to six levels of categories and subcategories for your content which can easily be rearranged using the drag-and-drop UI.
The Markdown editor lets you focus on writing text-heavy documents but there is also a WYSIWYG editor for those who prefer that functionality. Both editors allow you to add links, images, videos, callouts, code blocks, and more. Never lose your work with Document360’s version history which allows you to roll back to a previous version.
Document360 comes with advanced analytics that allows you to learn where your knowledge base traffic is coming from, what your visitors are looking for and how they’re interacting with your content. Document360 also integrates with a large number of popular apps including ticketing systems like Zendesk and Freshdesk, live chat software like Intercom and Drift, as well as analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Segment.
Document360’s startup plan costs $49 per project per month.
Paligo is a help authoring tool with a focus on team collaboration. It’s called a Component Content Management System (CCMS) that gets every technical writer, SME or collaborator on the same page. Paligo enables you to publish your content across multiple channels, including HTML5, print PDF and SCORM.
Paligo integrates with market-leading help desk platforms including Zendesk, Freshdesk and Salesforce. It has a review workflow to enable your whole team to get collaborating including SMEs, reviewers and occasional contributors. It allows everyone to work on the same content in a centralized cloud platform.
With Paligo, you no longer have to rely on simple Markdown tools or HTML-based help authoring tools. Instead, you can take advantage of a robust XML format to ensure the proper structure and flexibility for your content. You can get rid of your complex toolchain for your user manuals and use Paligo as an all-in-one cloud-based CCMS platform. It includes capabilities for authoring, content management, versioning, branching, release workflows, publishing, translation management, and much more.
Paligo’s professional plan costs $179 per month per author.
ClickHelp is another help authoring tool that enables you to publish your user manuals to a variety of outputs. It offers easy imports from Madcap Flare, RoboHelp, MS Word and Confluence. ClickHelp is cloud-based and hosts your content and authoring environment. It is a structured authoring tool that allows you to reuse content as snippets, variables and conditional content.
You can publish multiple projects and project versions from a single portal. Output formats include online documentation, PDF, Web Help and more. You have the ability to publish either public or password-protected documentation, all from the same portal.
It includes a patented full-text search engine customized for documentation search so users can easily find content they’re looking for. You have the ability to create taxonomies and search customization features. ClickHelp also offers in-depth analytics and reporting with author contribution and reader behavior reports, 30+ content metrics that include readability, time to read, word count, etc, and topic ratings based on user votes.
ClickHelp’s Essentials plan costs $55 per author per month.
HelpDocs is another knowledge base software solution that allows you to host your user manuals with very little friction. Content can be easily edited using the WYSIWYG editor and you can add custom formatting options, such as call-outs, headings, ordered and unordered lists, code blocks, and more. HelpDocs comes with intelligent search that works out of the box, which is tolerant of typos, to give customers accurate results in milliseconds.
It’s easy to change up your knowledge base by dragging and dropping articles and categories. In HelpDocs’s analytics, you can know whether you’re getting more traffic, and making an impression with tickets avoided compared to the previous period.You can keep your articles fresh by using HelpDocs’s Stale tools to schedule an update for later. The software has powerful integrations with tools such as Lighthouse, Slack, Front and Intercom.
HelpDocs’s Start plan costs €40 per month.
Nuclino is a good way to organize information within teams into workspaces. You can use Nuclino to create beautiful user manuals for your employees that contain all the relevant knowledge for their roles in your company. Workspaces can be public or private. You can bring your content to life with text, images, videos, files, tasks, embeds, code blocks, and more. Write your content even faster with Markdown or use the WYSIWYG editor.
You can collaborate in real-time so you can see the changes your team members are making as they type, which means there’s no risk of version conflicts. You can type @ inside an item to link to another page in the knowledge base and use workspaces and clusters to organize items.
There’s a powerful search bar that you can type into to find relevant content. Work visually by organizing your team’s content into boards and graphs. Nuclino integrates with a large number of apps including Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox and more.
Nuclino’s standard plan costs $5 per user per month.
KnowledgeOwl is knowledge base software that allows you to create either an internal or external knowledge base to host your user manuals. It features an easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor that enables you to create your knowledge base content. The software comes with pre-loaded themes and layouts to make it simple for users to browse through your knowledge base. You can tag content to make sure it shows up in the powerful search results.
You can make your knowledge base secure and prevent unauthorized access with KnowledgeOwl’s advanced user and reader management. You can require users to sign in with SSO or to come from a specific IP address to access your knowledge base. You can assign specific permissions to different users and readers based on their needs.
KnowledgeOwl offers multiple user feedback features including comments and ratings so you can find out how users feel about your content. Enable questions and comments through contact forms. KnowledgeOwl uses Zapier to integrate with other software. KnowledgeOwl also allows you to embed a contextual help widget in your website or application that allows people to search and view your knowledge base without opening a new tab or separate window.
KnowledgeOwl’s Flex plan costs $79 per month.
Helpjuice offers simple knowledge base software that you can use to create your user manuals. There is a simple editor panel that you can use to create content, as well as the ability to create multiple versions of the same article. Easily switch back and forth between different versions in the editor. Structure your content in Helpjuice’s easy and intuitive category and folder system.
You can control who sees what by setting your articles to public, internal or private so you can choose if it’s available to a public audience, internal only, or select specific people or groups. Helpjuice supports dragging and dropping files into the article editor and copying and pasting from MS Word. You can interlink your articles easily from the editor.
Helpjuice comes with intelligent analytics so you can measure article impact in a specific time, see what users are searching for, measure what topics your audience is consuming, and analyze the productivity of your article authors. Helpjuice also integrates with a number of popular software solutions including Slack, Google Chrome, and Zendesk.
Helpjuice’s Starter plan costs $120 per month.
ProProfs knowledge base software is a powerful and robust tool that enables you to create a user manual right out of the box. ProProfs allows you to create both public and private knowledge bases, from customer facing user manuals to internal employee handbooks. You can drag and drop content and categories.
You can control the article status to let your team know what’s going on with your content. You can easily customize your knowledge base from within the settings, including changing the theme, adding a favicon, updating the logo, and so on.
One of the big advantages of ProProfs knowledge base is you can integrate it with their live chat and help desk software for a more unified support experience.
ProProfs also integrates with Google Analytics, Zendesk, Freshdesk, and Desk so you can link your existing support software stack with your knowledge base.
ProProfs’s essential plan costs $60 per month.
Helpcrunch is knowledge base software for customer support and allows you to quickly create a user manual from scratch. Its articles are SEO-friendly, and it offers live chat widget integrations with Helpcrunch’s other software. Users can access knowledge base content without ever leaving the widget, and your support team can suggest articles too.
You can easily create help articles in the WYSIWYG editor and add images, videos, tables, and publish new articles for your customers to see. Helpcrunch organizes your content into categories and sections to help your users navigate your knowledge base. The smart search bar on your knowledge base automatically suggests articles based on keywords and enables your users to quickly find the content they’re looking for.
Helpcrunch’s Standard plan costs £12 per month per user.
HappyFox offers robust knowledge base software that you can use to create your user manuals. It’s beautiful, searchable, social media ready and responsive for mobile. You can make your knowledge base external for customers or internal only for staff members. HappyFox’s intuitive CMS allows you to create articles and sections, and embed images and videos.
When customers type queries into the search bar of your knowledge base, HappyFox automatically generates suggestions of related knowledge base articles. They can also view top articles and most useful articles directly on the homepage, so popular content is always surfaced.
You can stamp your company’s identity on the knowledge base by customizing header color, logo, and colors on the support page. You can choose a content layout for your knowledge base homepage that best suits your structure. You can add relevant tags to your knowledge base articles so customers can find every piece of content related to a specific topic. HappyFox also offers an embeddable widget that you can place on your website with a link to your knowledge base.
HappyFox provides pricing on request.
developers and users, which you’re most likely going to do by hosting the docs on the internet since it isn’t the 1980s.
Use Process Street to document any recurring process
For training new developers and keeping your documentation living all in the same place, Process Street is a solid choice for software documentation.
First, you could create a process for writing your documentation, to make sure you capture all the right details and make it as useful as possible.
Then, using the following easy-to-use features, you can write up and store your documentation in one single place:
Creating and storing all your recurring software documentation within Process Street means it can be accessed by everyone in the company. You can share it with others, send it for approval, set reminders to review it, and update it easily.
It’s simple to set-up and even easier to use. Here’s a sneaky look at one of our checklists in action:
If something can be documented, it can be documented in Process Street.
Sign up for a free trial here and see for yourself.
11. Read The Docs
It’s remarkable that Read The Docs is free when you see all that it can do. Similar to GitHub, you can create as much open-source material as you like that gets openly indexed on the site, but it’s going to cost you if you want to make the docs private and internal to your company. For our purposes, it’s likely you’re going to be alright with having the docs readily available for users on the web.
The reason Read The Docs is so good is that you can effortlessly import documentation from any version control system including Git, Mercurial, Subversion, and Bazaar. It also supports webhooks so the docs get built automatically whenever you commit code.
Check their Getting Started guide to get a feel for how it works and how your docs would behave when hosted there.
12. GitHub (& GitHub Pages)
If you’re using GitHub to manage version control for your software, you have, at the bare minimum, a README.MD file in the repository. To use GitHub for documenting your software, like millions of others have done in the past, just fill that README in with markdown.
A great example is sferik’s t repository, screenshotted here:
If you want more than just one sheet of formatted text, you can take advantage of GitHub’s Pages tool (you get one free webpage + hosting with each GitHub account, and you can even route a custom domain to it). Pages even has great looking default themes that make your documentation look professional.
Above is atom.io documentation for Electron hosted on GitHub. It’s a smart choice because it automatically works with GitHub’s version control, just like the rest of your software. See the site’s repository here.
13. Dropbox Paper (for internal use)
For internal software documentation use, Dropbox Paper is an excellent choice. Like its predecessor Hackpad, you can use it to create a private wiki for employees. You can link documents together, insert code blocks, images and page jumps, just as you’d demand from any documentation tool.
As you can see from the comments on the right, you can also use it to go through approval processes and collaborate over the creation of documentation. Overall, it’s a great tool for internally developing and creating documentation, perhaps with the view to publicize it later, or just keep it for internal use.
14. Atlassian REST API Browser (for API use)
Atlassian’s REST API Browser (RAB) is included in JIRA Server, Confluence Server and Stash instances by default. It’s built for discovering APIs available for use in JIRA/Confluence environments, and also a place to host your documentation. If, of course, your API fits the bill.
Document your API using this tool to give your JIRA/Confluence compatible API more exposure. Check here for Atlassian’s documentation on doing that.
15. Tettra (for internal use)
Tettra is a kind of knowledge base software where you can document your development, or anything at all.
We use Tettra internally at Process Street for a bunch of use cases. Day to day, I use Tettra to have a single place where all my processes are documented so that I never forget how one relates to another or how the various automations we’ve built have been set up.
Tettra is great if you’re looking to create a library of sorts. This means it’s brilliant for software documentation or even just as an internal wiki for your company.
Given that Tettra is specifically designed for knowledge management, it comes with a host of other supporting features too. For example, it can make suggestions as to what extra content or sections you might want to add to give a more complete picture of your org and how things fit together.
You can see a little video here for how a dev team might look to use Tettra: How Product & Engineering Teams Use Tettra.
Or, you can go here to read about how we use Tettra alongside Process Street: Automating Workflows and Checklists: Process Street Case Study.
Check it out!
16. Apiary (for API use)
Anyone can test the API without having to go into the app or actually program a call, which makes it a super accessible way to share your API, document it in-depth, and boast about what it can do.
We’ve discussed where to store your software documentation, now it’s time to look at how to write it.
Writing tools for software documentation
Software documentation is often written in markdown to allow for hyperlinks and formatting while keeping it plain text so it can live alongside the code files in version control. That means that a lot of my choices for writing tools are simple markdown editors that make the writing experience enjoyable. Additionally, there are also a couple of very effective non-mparkdown solutions thrown in there.
With a free and premium version — both with a ton of great features — MarkdownPad is the most popular markdown editor for Windows. It’s optimized for blog posts, websites, articles, READMEs, and, of course, software documentation.
iA Writer (Mac)
iA Writer is a simple, beautiful markdown editor with a library feature meaning you can easily reference back other documents in the sidebar. It’s missing internal links between documents like you’d expect there to be in software docs, but you can always do a pass on those when it’s in its final form (that is, if it’s going to end up on the internet in a site).
If you write your whole documentation in one, broken-up page, you can use page jump anchors to help users navigate.
iA Writer costs $9.99 from the Mac App Store.
ProProfs Knowledge Base
ProProfs Knowledge Base is a fantastic little tool for all stages of document creation; from writing and editing, to customizing, setting workflows, and publishing. You can add multimedia, import existing content from word docs, PDF, or PPTs, save multiple versions of the document, and restore them when required.
But the real beauty of this tool lies in its useability. Anyone and everyone can use it to write software documentation. Whether you’ve been documenting software for years or have only recently started, it’s an incredibly simple and easy to use tool.
ProProfs is free to use, or you can upgrade to the premium package which is $112 per month.
SimpleMDE is 100% free! Get the source on GitHub here.
Markdown is one of the two most commonly used languages for writing software documentation, but there’s another we’ve not looked at so far, and that’s reStructuredText. It’s very similar to markdown, but worth learning for software documentation purposes.
- A plugin for vim
- Emacs (in rst mode)
- A plugin for Eclipse
- A plugin for TextWrangler/BBEdit
- NoTex (for browsers)
The point of reStructuredText is that it’s easy to convert between different formats, especially from plain text to a static website. See more info here.
Tools to automatically generate documentation from source code
There’s nothing like the human touch when it comes to documentation (it’s clear in the docs of Slack and Giphy, to name a couple). However, as a starting point (especially for huge source libraries), it’s best to generate the skeletal documentation automatically. This work by analyzing the source’s functions and comments, and there are a few different options depending on language:
- Doxygen (C, C++, C♯, D, Fortran, IDL, Java, Objective-C, Perl, PHP, Python, Tcl, and VHDL)
- Javadoc (Java only)
- Docurium (Ruby)
Before you go ahead and rely solely on automatic generation, I’d suggest reading this StackExchange thread which weighs the pros and cons.
Software documentation is often a dull topic for developers, but it can be crucial for your team. And software documentation is actually a lot easier than you think. Use the best user documentation software to put together detailed and crystal clear information that both stockholders and users can understand.
If you find it hard to manage documentation or work flow documentation or documentation software, then help is here. You can make your whole team a lot more efficient with an application that provides project and work flow documentation software. The problem with most existing solutions is they are either too complicated or very expensive. But there is one simple application that makes effective and cheap documentation software easy for everyone.