Writing software documentation plays an integral role in the work of a programmer. As they say, if it isn’t documented, then it doesn’t exist, and in the most cases, documenting your code in a proper manner is as important as actually writing it.
“No matter how wonderful your library is and how intelligent its design is, if you're the only one who understands it, it doesn't do any good. Documentation means not just autogenerated API references, but also annotated examples and in-depth tutorials. You need all three to make sure your library can be easily adopted,” said
Nicholas Zakas, a well-known front end engineer and book author.
That’s why today we decided to take a look at some of the best and most commonly used tools for software documentation and technical writing.
Help authoring tools
Help authoring tools play a major role in software documentation and technical writing, as they make it much easier to design, write, publish, and maintain software documentation. They allow you to reduce time and effort needed when creating all kinds of help materials both for end-users and other programmers / employees.
MadCap Flare is one of the most popular help authoring tools thanks to its rich selection of features that allow you to do much more than just writing help documentation. MadCap Flare was designed for advanced topic-based authoring, single-source publishing and content management. It allows you to create Help and customer support websites, FAQs, knowledge bases, online learning centers, guides, policy and procedure manuals, and more. MadCap Flare’s features make it easier to reuse the same content in multiple channels and publish it quickly over a range of platforms.
Document360 is another widely used web platform that allows you to build, publish and update all kinds of knowledge bases and help materials. It also has multi-profile functionality, including a simple Markdown text editor, Category Manager to build the knowledge base structure, landing page customization features, versioning rollback, backup and restore, flexible roles and permissions adjustment, and so on.
Adobe RoboHelp is another powerful alternative help authoring tool, which offers a slightly different selection of features compared to MadCap Flare and Document360. In particular, Adobe RoboHelp offers easy multiformat publishing, allowing you to publish content to a wide range of popular output formats, including Frameless Responsive HTML5, PDF, Microsoft Help (CHM), and even less common formats such as EPUB 3, KF8, and MOBI.
Help+Manual’s major advantage is its simple interface which makes it very accessible and easy to use, along with full functionality of a WYSIWYG XML editor, multi-channel publishing, full support for multimedia and complex modular projects, Webhelp tool for seamless integration of the documentation into active websites, and so on.
ClickHelp also provides quite a powerful web platform for software documentation in the form of knowledge bases, FAQs, tutorials, and other Help formats. Supports multiple formats such as Word, HTML, RTF, CHM, ODT, CHM, HTML5 Web Help, PDF, DOCX, etc. Some of ClickHelp’s signature features are patented full-text search that makes it easier to find specific topics or articles both for authors and users, as well as a choice of several pre-built templates for the documentation design.
Screen capture tools
Most software documentation and help materials need to include screenshots, so it would make sense to make a brief overview of the best screen capture tools out there.
If you are using Windows as your OS, it comes with a Snipping Tool, which allows you to make screenshots of the entire screen, separate windows or a portion of the screen, and use the pen tool to highlight some specific parts of the screenshot.
FireShot is a popular browser plugin that supports pretty much all modern browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera. Allows you to capture the whole web page or some specific part of it.
SnagIt is a more complex screen capture tool. It allows you to capture scrolling areas of any page, as well as support video recording. You can also use this picture to create GIFs and record specific sets of actions on the screen.
Spelling and grammar checkers
Making sure your documentation is written correctly with no grammar and punctuation mistakes is also important. Here are some of the tools that will help you find mistakes in your texts and fix them.
One of the most popular free online spelling and grammar checkers. Scribens can identify and correct over 250 different types of mistakes, including nouns, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, homonyms, punctuation, typography, and so on.
Another great free tool that located various mistakes in your texts and provides a number of options to improve your wording.
As an addition to showing typos and mistakes in your texts, Grammar.com provides you with relevant suggestions as well as grammar rules and ebook to improve your writing (everything for free).
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