My Ten Favorite Technical Writing Tools

I’ll be honest. I love Microsoft Word! Adobe FrameMaker has it’s moment but, y’know, it’s can be so lame that it beggar’s belief. I’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?

Technical  Communication Software Tools

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 MS Word is what most all engineers, testers, and other contributors use to write their document. This is the one technical writing tool that I can’t live without. Could you?

Adobe FrameMaker

Perfect for so-called ‘long documents’. I’ve used 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. Adobe FrameMaker is ideal for complex ‘books’ with graphs, tables, and diagrams. Unlike Word, it retains the settings and the master templates are a joy.

The problem with FrameMaker is…

It’s so hard (for me) to customize. I wish importing/exporting documents, even to PDF, can be problematic. You would think Adobe would have ironed out these areas buy now…

Camtasia

I use Camtasia for creating movies, tutorials and screen recordings. Techsmith products are a delight and this is no exception. It lets me make movies, for example, 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 Snagit 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.

Adobe 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?

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

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

So, what tech writing tools 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.

Download these templates to start

Acceptance Test Plan

Contingency Plan

Software Development Templates

Acquisition Plan

Conversion Plan

Software Requirements Specification

Action Plan

Cost Benefit Analysis

Software Testing

API Documentation

Database Design

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Audience Analysis

Datasheet

Statement of Work

Availability Plan

Deployment Plan

System Administration Guide

Bill of Materials

Design Document

System Boundary

Business Case

Disaster Recovery Plan

System Design Document

Business Continuity

Disposition Plan

System Specifications

Business Plan

Documentation Plan

Technical Writing Templates

Business Process

Employee Handbook

Test Plan

Business Requirements

Error Message Guide

Training Plan

Business Rules

Expression of Interest

Transition Plan

Capacity Plan

Fact Sheet

Troubleshooting Guide

Case Study

Feasibility Study

Use Case

Change Management Plan

Functional Requirements

User Guide

Communication Plan

Grant Proposal

Verification and Validation Plan

Concept of Operations

Implementation Plan

White Papers

Concept Proposal

Installation Plan

Work Instructions

Configuration Management Plan

Interface Control Document

Software Development Templates

Acceptance Test Plan

Maintenance Plan

Software Requirements Specification

Acquisition Plan

Market Research

Software Testing

Action Plan

Marketing Plan

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

API Documentation

Needs Statement

Statement of Work

Audience Analysis

Operations Guide

System Administration Guide

Availability Plan

Policy Manual

System Boundary

Bill of Materials

Project Plan

System Design Document

Business Case

Proposal Manager Templates

System Specifications

Business Continuity

Proposal Template

Technical Writing Templates

Business Plan

Quality Assurance Plan

Test Plan

Business Process

Release Notes

Training Plan

Business Requirements

Request for Proposal

Transition Plan

Business Rules

Risk Management Plan

Troubleshooting Guide

Capacity Plan

Scope of Work

Use Case

Case Study

Security Plan

User Guide

Change Management Plan

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Verification and Validation Plan

Communication Plan

Setup Guide

White Papers

Concept of Operations

Social Media Policy

Work Instructions

Concept Proposal

Contingency Plan

 

Configuration Management Plan

Conversion Plan