This article is the concluding piece in the series about Technical Writing Tools. If you have read Part 1 (5 Most Effective Information Gathering Tools For Technical Writing) and Part 2 (17 Awesome Technical Writing Tools For Documenting Information) of the series, you are already abreast with the popular tools used in the early phases of the documentation lifecycle – Gathering and Documenting Information. In this final installment, let’s take a closer look at the tools used in Phase 3 of the lifecycle – Publishing Information.
In the old world, publishing essentially meant printing thousands of copies of documents in a printing press. So once the design and layout of the document were finalized, bulk printing was taken up, owing to cost considerations.
In today’s digitized world, publishing takes on a new meaning. Written a blog and done with the review/editing? Great, just click the ‘Publish” button and the job’s done! Your page is live – for millions of readers to view – the next moment.
However, without accompanying marketing effort, the documents could be available but remain largely unseen. Hence the publisher also has an obligation to ensure the written content reaches a maximum number of potential readers. Online documentation has a powerful ally in social networking sites. By making smart use of social media – such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc companies can promote their written content to target readers, at almost zero cost.
Promoting web content through social media and SEO are separate concepts, they are not the focus of this article so let’s leave that part out. And get on with the technical tools that are used for publishing information.
Technical writers in industrial product teams often require layout design tools for printed material. This could be brochures, newsletters, ads, business cards or books. Virtually anything that is made up of a combination of blocks of text, photos or other artwork. Adobe Indesign’s purpose is to take the elements that you create in Illustrator and Photoshop and put them together in one place, with a master theme for the entire layout. It has succeeded after older Adobe tools like PageMaker.
This will help you understand whether your need Adobe InDesign or not:
This tool is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud solution with expensive monthly rentals. Free alternative tools like Scribus can do the job equally well. Unless you require all major tools that part of this solution (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc), this tool is not a must have.
Powerful and intuitive page layout software for desktop publishing. Designed exclusively for Mac. iStudio Publisher comes with an exhaustive set of templates for page layouts, which result in a very professional finish for the documents produced. Newsletters, brochures, adverts, flyers, invitations, menus, reports, posters, greetings cards, and yearbooks – of any size – can be easily produced using this tool. The key strength of this tool is its self-explanatory styling which appeals both to amateur users and expert designers.
Authors’ Tip: It supports some unique features such as spread editing (layout of 2 pages laid side by side create content across the fold of the hand-out) and text flow linking (non-adjacent text & image columns linked for continuing information).
Being a completely free and open source desktop publishing tool is the major USP of Scribus. However, do not expect a sophisticated tool with excessive hand holding and step by step guidance within the tool. It is minimalist in nature but does not compromise on major features.
It does come with good template options and a very authentic WYSIWYG feel of the layout design, even when compressed to different sizes. The major complaints from users are the lack of supporting user documentation and high memory usage for large documents.
There are other small scale tools such as Hail and Mag+ which perform a similar function, but Scribus is the best free / open source tool around.
Authors’ Tip: Not only is the software open to customization by end users, even page layouts and data generated by users are stored in neutral XML formats. Thus users can make last minute changes to their layouts even using a simple text editor.
Whatfix had already found a mention in the web help documentation category of our earlier technical writing tools article, as part of the second installment in this series of articles. However, it finds a place again under this section because of its versatility.
All the three aforementioned tools are desktop based applications and as a contrast, Whatfix is a cloud based application. Available and accessible anytime, Whatfix will allow you to create real-time contextual interactive walkthroughs that can be effectively plugged into product websites as technical documentation.
Whatfix’s interactive walkthroughs is a new-gen technical writing and publishing tool that relies on helping users “learn by doing”, instead of the traditional “read-understand-apply” model. The Whatfix help balloons simply fit themselves into the layout of the product to show interactive demonstrations for FAQ’s and others customer queries. So there is no separate layout for the help content, it gets embedded within the product, saving the user the need to refer to an external source.
Authors’ Tip: Whatfix provides an easy-to-use guide creator that will allow you to create interactive walkthroughs in a jiffy. The look and feel of the help content can be customized to match the underlying product to create a well-integrated appearance.
Yes, the name is misspelled deliberately. Issuu is a digital magazine portal with the facility to both e-publish your content and promotes it through social media. It’s meant for periodically published content, with holders for each issue. The basic version is free, however, the paid versions come with SEO support, page viewership statistics etc.
You can embed the content published on Issuu on your own blog or site quite easily. It has good search engine discovery. The full-screen e-reader is visually appealing. Often used in combination with InDesign.
Authors’ Tip: Good product but dragged down by poor customer service. That’s the overwhelming user opinion on this tool.
A sophisticated WYSIWYG web site development tool where you get to design and publish your website without being technically savvy. It is an HTML 5 compliant editing tool but it takes time for the user to familiarize with its rather complex UI design. However, if you are comfortable with web programming, Dreamweaver allows you to build or customize the pages directly using the code view and the layout view.
Adobe Dreamweaver is an old world web publishing tool but it does produce some very professional looking page layouts. Unlike WordPress which directly runs live on your web server, Dreamweaver builds a set of HTML, CSS and graphic files on the local PC and then uploads them on to the web server.
Authors’ Tip: Mostly used in companies which adopted DreamWeaver over a decade ago and still use it. New age web designing is mostly done the way WordPress does it. That is, directly design/redesign, publish/unpublish your page on your company web server itself.
A PowerPoint slides web-hosting product, Linked Slideshare just supports that one feature but does it well. Its recent versions allow users to upload even KeyNote and OpenDocument presentations. The tool is home to millions of technical literature slides, uploaded both by individual users and corporates.
Viewers can see the content, share it and comment on it right there. It is like the Youtube of presentations. The basic version is free which is good enough for most users. However, the slides shared are publicly viewable by any viewer, selective viewership by invitation is not possible.
Authors’ Tip: Small companies can use it to showcase their presentations through quick webinars with potential customers or in promotional activities, as an alternative to WebEx or GoToMeeting.
Google Docs is a free of cost replacement to Microsoft Office. Now that’s old news. But Google docs finds a mention under this section of tools owing to its public and collaborative nature. Documents on Goo gle docs are inherently public, as they are not on your own PC at all. The group editing feature of shared documents is a key benefit to technical writing teams. Now, merging multiple sections drafted by different writers, group review and correction becomes an easy and fun exercise.
Author’s’ Tip: Designate your editing team and review team clearly while allocating share permissions for the document, so that unauthorized users do not get access to it. The accompanying chat feature can help resolve issues through group discussions.
SharePoint is used by large corporations which swear by MS products. It’s used for integrating the document library of the entire organization and accessed by authorized employees as users. SharePoint and Lotus Notes are predecessors to Google Drive in the world of document management. The tool allows documents to follow a workflow within the organization and pass through various stages of development.
With its integration with Office 365, it remains a popular collaborative suite of applications which now work quite effectively on mobile devices too.
Author’s tip: The decline of the Microsoft mobile market has led to the Google suite of apps taking center stage in the industry. Being completely free is a clincher too, goes without saying.
Zoho business suite of applications is mainly marketed as a CRM solution for SMEs. But in reality, it has good document management and collaborative tools. It comes with an entire gamut of applications at a reasonable cost when compared to commercial products such as Office 365 suite.
Author’s tip: It has a good admin console for monitoring document status, ownership, and access control. Very effective in maintaining document sanctity and confidentiality.
With this set of tools, we come to the end of the 3 part series on technical writing tools. At least for now. No doubt there will be new tools or old tools in new avatars in the market all the time. Also, the concept of technical documentation is itself undergoing a revolution. My documents were stored first on paper, then on my PC and now on the cloud. We shall ardently follow this trend and see what sort of tools evolve in the future!
Do you any tools that I missed? Let me know in the comments.