What are Your Favorite 10 Technical Writing Tools?

drinking sheepI’ve used the same technical writing tools for the last 5 years. A few products have come across my desk but nothing that really blown me away.

Here’s a run-down of what I use to write my technical documents. No order of preference. Which should I keep? Which should I replace?

Microsoft Word

90% of my technical writing is in Microsoft Word. Like it or not, this is the most popular technical writing tool on the planet. Adobe FrameMaker might get the kudos but Word is what most all engineers, testers, and other contributors use to write docs.

This is the one technical writing tool that I can’t live without.

Could you?

Adobe FrameMaker

Perfect for ‘long documents’. I had Adobe FrameMaker for years before it finally crashed and that was my laptop’s fault. It’s hard to beat on stability but the user interface is a dog. This is ideal for complex ‘books’ with graphs, tables, and diagrams. Unlike Word, it retains the settings and the master templates are a joy.

Downside?

Hard (for me) to customize as I would wish and importing/exporting documents, even to PDF, can be problematic. You would think Adobe would have ironed out these areas buy now…

Camtasia

I use this for creating movies, tutorials and other type of screen recordings. Techsmith products are a delight and this is no exception. It lets me make movies say of an application, add sound, annotations and then export it to HTML or Flash. Arguably my fav tool. Wish I had more reasons to use it!

Snagit

There are other cheaper and free screenshots tools out there but this is the only one I use to taking screen grabs/screenshots. The price is not that much considering how much you get back in return. Also, the folks at Techsmith are very helpful.

What’s so special?

I like the way I can take screenshots with one click (you can add it to the web browser) and then crop, edit and modify the image in the editor. Other features let you batch edit the images, for example, add your website address or add a nice border to all images.

Photoshop

I started in DTP after college so this always has a soft spot with me. Actually, doing the graphics is a nice counter-balance to writing activities. I’ve also found the documents which look nice graphically are more appreciated than plainer ‘image-free’ documents.

Visio

The only tool I’ve used for process mapping and diagramming. Smartdraw is better priced but I know this inside out and can get large diagrams into Microsoft Word (edit, paste special) quickly without destroying the document in the process.

Learning how to create process maps (correctly) was what showed me how this works. Not the most intuitive of apps but wonderful when you get into it.

Epic Editor

My most recent exposure to DITA and structured authoring was with this tool. It’s very unforgiving (unlike Word for example) but once you get the hang of it, you’ll really see its strengths. Expensive but worth the investment if you need a heavy-weight tech authoring tool. Ideal for creating content ‘chunks’, DITA maps and task type information.

Notepad++

Wordpad is fine and I also have also used UltraEdit. Actually, UltraEdit was the best tool I used but it became a commercial tool somewhere along the way (or I kept getting nagware ads) so I gave up and moved to NotePad++.

I like the way it re-opens your last tabs (i.e. files) so you can hit the ground running. The Line Counter is also a nice touch.

RoboHelp

For creating help files and online documentation… well, I want to say that it’s Doc-to-Help as this is what I started with in London all those years back.

Sadly, Doc-to-Help seems to have lost market share and RoboHelp has went from strength to strength. Once Adobe bought it, it ploughed tons of resources into it, aligned it (somewhat) with Adobe FrameMaker and it’s now the defacto tool for HAT.

Or is it? Flare?

Good news!

I’m now working with a client who used Doc-to-Help and may be persuaded to purchase a new license – but it’s not that cheap. Let’s see…

XML Spy

We all get dragged into XML at some point. This tool has a nice UI that shows the tree structure of the tags and how they inter-relate. For someone with zero XML knowledge, this helped me get my teeth the code, create the docs, and get out without mangling the application.

Honorable mentions

  • Acrobat
  • Doc-to-Help
  • InDesign (replacement for PageMaker)
  • MadCap Flare and Blaze
  • SmartDraw
  • Turbodemo (for creating screen recordings and tutorials)
  • WhiteSmoke (more for writing business documents)

So, what do you use?

Which of these tools do you think I should ditch? Is there a better tool that Adobe FrameMaker for creating mammoth documents? Or, should I drop Visio and use something open source?

Let me know what you think.