As a company, you know that you need to find the right tools for writing software documentation. Or you wonder how to get started on your requirements document. If so, this article is going to be quite helpful to you. I will tell you about best free tools for writing software documentation and start your journey with software development.
Software documentation is an important part of every software development project. At least it is for projects that you want to be successful in the long run and not just another piece of software that no one pays attention to. It takes more than just the basic knowledge of writing for make great documentation. You need a set of tools to help you get the job done. This article will show you some tips and tools for writing better documentation as well as some tips on how to write better requirements
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!
Software documentation has always been a mystery to me. I find it lacking in a lot of the software I use. And when I have tried writing documentation for some of my own small projects, the time spent working on it was worse than the effort invested. The fact that there are tools designed specifically for creating documentation seemed like a godsend. Some were outdated and hard to use, while others lacked features or unappealing enough to be used.
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.
Document360 is a popular SaaS knowledge base software that can be used to create and host technical documentation. Just create a project for your technical documentation content, and you should be set.
- Comes with a nice markdown and WYSIWYG editor for easy content creation.
- Supports multiple formatting tools like code blocks, callouts, etc. to format the documentation nicely.
- Offers in-depth insights into how people are engaging with the content.
- Is multilingual.
- Offers roles to streamline the technical documentation editorial workflow.
- Support Customization in a way that aligns with brand guidelines.
- Comes with AI- powered search feature.
- Comes with a Google-like drive for attaching downloadable/files.
- Supports complex categorization structures.
- Works nicely with Zendesk, Freshdesk, Intercom and many more.
- Can be a bit pricey for small businesses.
Pricing: Document360 costs $99 per month and supports 2 accounts with a 50GB storage limit.
ClickHelp is the most comprehensive technical documentation software out there. It’s the “online help authoring tool” that’s made for creating and hosting technical documentation. Being a SaaS solution, there’s no configuration or installation to do.
- Supports a host of technical documentation content types like manuals, FAQs, Knowledge Bases, Tutorials, API docs, etc.
- Facilitates editorial workflows with support for multiple roles (authors, reviewers, etc).
- Comes with 6 UI templates for the popular documentation types.
- Sports a powerful patented search engine.
- Comes with over 20 integrations.
- Is easily customizable.
- Comes with access control including password-protected docs .
- Offers rich reporting and content analysis with over 30 metrics including ones for readability. `
- Costs can add up really fast with this as you only get 150 topics in the $55/mo plan; a document counts toward a topic.
- The basic plan doesn’t support a custom domain.
Pricing: ClickHelp’s basic plan sells for $55/month (paid monthly). It supports one author account and 150 topics.
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.
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.
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.
What is software documentation?
“Documentation in software engineering is the umbrella term that encompasses all written documents and materials dealing with a software product’s development and use” – Prototype.io, Software Documentation Types and Best Practices
All pieces of software should have some form of documentation that explains, in detail, what the product is, how it works, and why it works that way.
“If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist” – Sitepoint, A Guide to Writing Your First Software Documentation
As a developer, your main aim is to write the best code you possibly can. You want your code to be best in class, easy to read, easy to use, and you want great things to happen as a result of it. Right?
But without documenting what you’ve done and why you’ve done it:
- No one else can use your code but you
- You can’t update or improve it
Despite this, software documentation is a task that gets rushed, is often done badly, and sometimes gets deprioritized or even forgotten about.
Before we start talking about what tools you can use to write software documentation, we need to think of a way to make sure the task gets done in the first place.
This is where Process Street can help.
Process Street is a piece of business process management (BPM) software that can be used to create, manage, and follow processes.
More about what Process Street is later, for now, let me show you how you can use it as a tool to help you fit software documentation into every software development project you work on.
Many companies still have the problem of unclear documentation. Even the most experienced developers, who have worked on various projects and have built their solutions based on the most modern technologies, are not safe from this problem. Maybe you’ve even had this experience yourself. No matter how justified your request for a revision of documentation might be, there are still many obstacles you must overcome to get it done. First of all, there’s a cultural barrier between writers and developers that needs to be broken through. Then there’s the problem of finding good writers who can write well. It’s no wonder that so many clever companies settle for poor documentation and pay dearly for it. In order to solve these problems and finally achieve real clarity in documentation, try out a new way of working together with quality documentation writers – get people who love what they do (writing) and hire them as a full-time team. Software documentation is an integral part of any software project, but many developers don’t take it seriously. It’s the responsibility of each developer to document their code and not leave it as an afterthought. It’s important to have clear communication between the software development team and the stakeholders. The best way to do this is by documenting your code and clearly communicating what you created to the stakeholders.
With the rise in popularity of XP and Agile methods in general, more and more companies are dealing with writing software requirements. This is a similar problem to documentation, yet with its own set of challenges. This article will describe a way of documenting requirements very similar to writing code documentation. The difference is that we are not dealing with what we normally call code. Software code documents how the software works; our documentation documents why the software needs to work that way.