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A Person using a Tablet and a Computer, representing the Importance of Knowing how to Use a variety of tools for Technical Writing
Essential Tools for Technical Writing (Guide) 5

One of the many skills a technical writer must have is utilizing various tools that can benefit technical writing. Anyone pursuing this profession should become comfortable using software that can help develop content, design style and formatting templates, and communicate information verbally and visually.

Technical writers with appropriate essential tools for technical writing can turn complex information into clear, concise, consistent, and valuable material for a target audience. In today’s digital tech writing landscape, every program on the market claims to be one of the essential tools for technical writing. An overwhelming amount of classic and new resources can be leveraged to improve technical writing processes and products. Below are some standard tools for technical writers to familiarize themselves with as they foray into the field.

Technical Writing Tools for Research and Writing

Research and Note-taking Tools

A person using a Typewriter, representing how technical authoring software is important as the New essential tool for Technical Writing.

Research is a critical, intensive stage in tech writing, yet research aids go unsung as a technical writing tool. This set of essential tools for technical writing is the most important for a technical writer. Don’t knock them before you try them.

Zotero: Zotero lets writers save sources and automate citations with the press of a browser extension button. Sources and citations are stored in a library and can be tagged for navigability and accessed by co-writers. Zotero best suits writers using multimedia sources, as it can save and cite websites, PDFs, videos, and other media.

Mendeley: Mendeley performs almost identically to Zotero, except it works best with PDF sources, not multimedia.

Authoring Tools 

Authoring and publishing tools for technical writing are used to create documents with complex layouts. It may require specialized training to take full advantage of their capabilities. These programs can accommodate various document sizes, shapes, and features. In other words, they can handle your 4.25 x 5 in. product manual, white papers, and standard operating procedures document. They are the most useful essential tools for technical writing.

Microsoft Word: Sometimes, the essential tools are the best ones. In addition to word processing, track changes, commenting, and formatting tools crucial for any writer, technical or not Word offers templates for guides, flowcharts, spreadsheets, resumes, brochures, reports, and more. As a standard feature in most workplaces and home offices, Word can be a familiar tool to fall back on when brainstorming, researching, and drafting for a technical writing project.

Adobe FrameMaker: Technical writers and FrameMaker go way back. FrameMaker is a word processor designed for writing, editing, customizing complex documentation, and quality PDF conversion. It is one of the original favorite tools of the tech writing community, and can be used for unstructured authoring, but it is most useful as a structured authoring, DITA authoring, and single-sourcing tool. FrameMaker’s consistent layouts, style conventions, and content outlines are vital for businesses and reduce a technical writer’s workload.

Adobe InDesign: InDesign can do a lot of what FrameMaker can do. However, InDesign is more widely used for shorter-form, visually communicative content like marketing material, white papers, data sheets, and brochures. It is not explicitly built for structured authoring. However, marketing and technical writing often overlap it’s worth any tech writer’s time to become familiar with it.

Adobe RoboHelp: While FrameMaker is primarily used to make printable consumer resources, RoboHelp is a helpful authoring tool for online content. It is used to create searchable or otherwise navigable information repositories for consumer software and applications. RoboHelp is typically used for short-form content.

Madcap Flare: Another favorite technical writing tool, MadCap Flare helps writers design and create technical documentation for online help, knowledge bases, API documentation, training content, learning programs, policy & procedure, and more. It allows you to import files from other authoring tools, edit the XHTML, and publish content with responsive authoring. Its subsidiary, MadTranslations, even offers translation and localization services.

Author-It: Author-It is a one-stop shop for your content creation needs. It straddles the line between a content management system and an authoring tool, storing projects, optimizing workflow, and offering a coding-free authoring system. It, too, has a translation feature built in.

HelpNDoc: HelpNDoc’s responsive HTML5 is compatible with eight different document formats. It also has useful features like a keyword analyzer and built-in spell-checker.

Click Help: Click Help is designed explicitly for technical writing. It allows writers, marketers, and SMEs to collaborate and acts as a content management system. Unlike some other programs, it’s an in-browser program.

Help+Manual: If you are new to authoring tools and would like something reminiscent of Word, Help+Manual is perfect. It offers all the basic authoring tool features like single-source publishing, project management, and templates. It also throws in translation management and works both online and offline. At no cost for personal use, it may be one of the best free technical writing tools available.

Software Documentation Authoring Tools

Not all authoring resources are built for every type of documentation writing. With the following programs, software technical writers can tailor their toolkit to their field to accommodate code and other software documentation needs.

Github: Github’s version control allows all team members to access chronological versions of a developing program or document. That way, changes can be seen by all and included in the documentation. With Github, technical writers can write and store documentation and publish it using its sister program, Jekyll.

Doxygen: In a field like software documentation where the devil is in the details, Doxygen is a great shortcut. It pulls sections of marked code directly into your documentation and can even automate diagrams from your source files. It is also compatible with Github.

Document Management Systems

Establishing a document management system itself may fall under the jurisdiction of company leadership, but clients will prefer technical writers who can navigate a DSM. They allow all business documents to be stored in a centralized, secure, scalable, searchable place.

Some businesses kill two birds with one stone using their authoring tools as DSMs, while others rely on Google or Microsoft Suites as DSMs. Either way, it’s worth investigating more robust alternatives.

Confluence: Confluence is like an upgraded Google Docs. It offers workflow management through Jira, collaborative editing features, version control, templates, and a virtual whiteboard. If you are working with high-security information, be warned that Confluence defaults to keeping all documents open-access so that no one misses out on information. However, some user permissions can be instituted as needed.

Nuclino: Confluence is a classic, but Nuclino may be a faster, sleeker option. It offers similar collaborative editing features, workflow tracking and management, and app integration, but is easier to set up and interface with.

Document360: Document360 is a knowledge base management system for external and internal use. It offers version control, localization management, workflow management, templates, and Markdown authoring. It is designed to streamline all the technical writing a business could need, including SOPs and API documentation. It’s a no-code-required tool with an easy learning curve and advanced access permissions.

M-Files: M-Files uses metadata to organize and manage documentation. It offers collaborative authoring, version tracking, communications automation, app integration, access permissions, regulatory compliance features, style compliance features, and more.

Plagiarism Checkers

Before publishing or submitting your work, it’s a good idea to run your document through a plagiarism checker. Without this set of essential tools for technical writing, writers could run into legal issues.

Scribbr: Scribbr is a top plagiarism checker with one of the most comprehensive databases, including academic journals. It ensures that writers don’t plagiarize their writing and catches plagiarizing that has been edited to skate by sensors.

SmallSEOTools: SmallSEOTools scours the web to ensure that a given text is original. For ease of use, users can specify which sites to exclude from comparison — if you are editing an already published work, that work won’t appear in your search.

A Computer with a Graphic design tool is shown in use, which is an important type of Essential Tool for Technical Writing.

Technical Writing Tools for Editing

Graphic Design Tools

Graphics enhance communication. They’re a must-have for technical writers whose job is to ensure their writing is as well-communicated as possible to their target audience.

Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop is a staple in graphic design. It allows tech writers to edit and retouch traditional photos and create and manipulate digital images and pixel graphics.

Adobe Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator is a design tool that can edit vector graphics, crucial for web development, print, video, animation, apps, and more. This tool allows users to scale images without losing their clarity.

Microsoft Visio: Microsoft Visio is a diagramming and vector graphics application that helps create simple or complex diagrams from various built-in shapes, objects, and stencils. Visio makes drafting professional flowcharts, timelines, Venn diagrams and more accessible. While Illustrator is used most in graphic design, Visio is used primarily for diagramming.

Screen Recording Tools 

Screen recording tools capture and record actions performed on a computer screen. These recordings or images can be edited by adding audio, text, and other elements. Although less crucial than, say, an authoring tool, screen recordings are still critical essential tools for technical writing. For example, when making an image-based guide like a software user guide, screenshots of the interface can be used as the foundation of a labeled diagram.

Snagit: Always a popular choice, Snagit allows users to scroll capture (capturing an entire webpage, document, etc.) and capture and edit short videos and GIFs.

Camtasia: Camtasia excels as a video-capturing and editing tool. It also offers animations and other visual effects. If you are producing longer-form video content, Camtasia may be for you.

Adobe Captivate: Captivate is best used for software simulations. Users can create and edit slides with embedded audio, images, video, text, and interactive functions.

a pile of Books, representing that References such as books are important essential tools for technical writing.

Technical Writing Tool for References

Between your research, authoring, and editing sessions, give your eyes a break from the screen and read a book.

Books

Technical Writing Process: Subtitled as the “Simple, Five-step Process that Can be Used to Create Almost Any Piece of Technical Documentation Such as a User Guide, Manual Or Procedures,” this book will establish the foundational framework you need before you dive into your career.

The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing: This book offers advice from a seasoned pro on determining if technical writing is the right career choice and how to optimize it once you start. Van Laan covers everything from indexes to schedule management.

Style Guides

 As a writer, but mainly as a technical writer, you’ll need to have a few style guides down pat. Although some style specifications can be automated as style templates in specific authoring tools and DSMs, a writer must understand style guides before making a template.

  • Chicago Style: Chicago is most often used in business writing
  • APA Style: Technical writers who use APA will likely work in the sciences and education
  • AP Style: AP style is typical in journalism and other public-facing media

Get Started Now

Producing high-quality documentation starts with having the right essential tools for technical writing. Without them, a technical writer can only do half their job. So, if you decide to pursue a career in technical writing, be prepared to face and become well-versed in the essential tools for technical writing.

As technology grows, so will the technical writing tools necessary for succeeding in rapidly changing industries. Therefore, a technical writer should always be ready to learn to use the following up-and-coming tools.

Technical Writers with Essential Tools: How EDC Helps

At EDC, trained technical writers with a wide range of experience address your business needs. Senior to junior technical writers can create documentation for a large enterprise or a small business. As technology continues to evolve, so have the technical writers at EDC. They have the skill set to use the latest automation technology to handle the high-volume data your business produces. EDC will transform your documentation by improving how you create, develop, and store it, making it easier for your business operations to run efficiently.

Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or sales@edc.us to get started.