The use of software tools is an important part of user assistance development. They make it possible to author, edit, and design our content. Tools are also required to transform our content into digital deliverables. Some tools are extremely robust and do many things. Others are very specialized utilities. Today, with our very diversified documentation sets, the number of tools we regularly use has become quite sizeable. This survey supplies you with a peer review to assist you in planning your tool acquisitions.
The original survey was published Feb 27, 2014 – July 31, 2014, using SurveyMonkey. We presented respondents with a list of commonly used tools and asked them to rate the ones they used based on the value (5=Very Important, 1=Unimportant) to their development efforts. There were 501 respondents. Anyone could participate in the survey. We required respondents to identify themselves by first name, last name, and a valid email address. Respondents were told their contact info would be deleted unless they chose to opt-in for our contact list. We also removed several dozen entries that came from the same crazy ip address within several minutes of each other, all of which had a single 5-point vote for the same product.
The tools could be rated from “5 – Very Important” to “1 – Unimportant” based on overall importance in development efforts.
This study comes with a couple of caveats. First, the majority of respondents are most likely customers of Welinske/WritersUA. Most of the survey submissions came in response to email broadcasts we made to our mailing list. However, the WritersUA constituency is large and probably is a fair representation of the overall user assistance community. We also announced the survey on LinkedIn and related discussion lists. Second, this survey is intended to represent the interests of technical writers involved in software user assistance and may not be representative of the technical communication or the software development communities at large. Additional survey notes are listed at the bottom of this page.
Below is a complete table of results. Since there are a variety of ways to interpret the data, we felt it would be most appropriate to display the full tabulation. At one time, we separated products by category. But that seemed to skew the results and some products fit across categories.
You can find links to many of these tools in the Resource Directory.
We hope the information is useful to you. Please send us any feedback you have on the survey or the analysis. To receive news and updates on future WritersUA surveys and events, join our mailing list.[table “” not found /]
We left Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint off the survey because they are so ubiquitous in the IT industry. In past surveys, over 90% of respondents indicated using Word. Including them would also mean including Google Docs and other emerging general business communication tools. We are trying to keep this survey focus on tools that are uniquely of interest to user assistance professionals.
We chose to list generic titles of products rather than individual versions.
We chose to list component parts of suites rather than list suites by name.
One of the considerations for adding new tools to the survey is the amount of write-in votes received in the previous year’s survey. You can get a sense of how big this survey would be if we didn’t do some filtering. Here is a list of other tools referenced by respondents. If a tool received more than one vote, the number is included. Most of them were listed by just one or two respondents:
Acrolinx, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Analytics, Adobe Audition (2), Adobe Digital Editions, Adobe PageMaker, Adobe Premiere (2), Adobe Reader, Agent Ransack, Alfresco, Altova XML Spy, Amaya, Arbortext, Articulate Storyline (3), Astoria CMS, Audacity (5), Author Eclipse Plugin, Axure, Balsamiq, BSR Screen Recorder, Business Object, Calibre (2), Cascade Server CMS (2), Catalyst, CHM2Web, Corel Photopaint, Corel Video Studio, Cosima CMS (Docufy), CQ, Cute PDF, Daisy CMS, DeepExploration, DiffPDF, DITAToo CMS, Document!X, DocZone (3), Dot Net Nuke, Doxygen (3), Drupal, (2), Edit Pad Pro (3), emacs, EmEditor, Epipan Capture Tool, ExamDiff Pro, Expression Engine, FastStone Capture (2), FileNet, FileZilla, FreeMind, FrontPage, Funduc, GarageBand, Ginger, Git (4), GitHub portal, Gotomeeting (2), GraphicConverter, Greenshot (2), HomeSite, HyperSnap, Idiom, iMovie, in5, Inkscape (5), IrfanView, Ixiasoft DITA CMS (5), javadoc, Jing (4), jira, Join.me, Kentico CMS, KindleGen and Kindle viewer, LATEX, Mac Flux, Macro Express, MadCap Analyzer (14), , MadCap Capture, MadCap Contributor (5), MadCap Feedback, Madcap Lingo (5), Markdown , MarkDownPad, MathType, MediaWiki, Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2013, MindTouch (3), MOU, Movie Maker, MS Snipping tool, MySQL, Nitro pdf, pdf-Viewer, Libre office, Notepad++, Nuance PDF Converter Professional (2), omnigraffle, Oxygen XML author (2), Paint.Net (3), PDMLink, PerfectIt, Perforce (2), PhotoImpact, Photoshop Elements, PHP Coder, PHP Editor, PSCertify, PSPad (3), Publisher, Python, Rally, RescueTime, RoboScreenCapture, Ruler, Samalander, Sandcastle, Scheme ST4, ScreenFlow, Scribus, SDL Trisoft (3), Send Word Now, Shutter , Sigil, SmartBuilder (2), SmartDocs (4), Socialtext, SolidWorks, ST4 DocuManager, stackedit.io, Storyline, Sublime Text (4), SVN, Swish, Syntext Serna (2), TestTrack, TextPad (3), TFS, TopLeaf, TorttoiseSVN (7), Trados (2), Tweetdeck, VallenJpegger, VENTURA, ViewletBuilder, Visio, Visual Studio (7), VMWare Workstation, WebExpression, WinBatch , WordPress (2), Xara, Xenu, XMLMind XSL Utility, Yammer, ZenDesk.
We asked for additional feedback. The following notes were provided by respondents:
A timeline that each of us could populate with version numbers and changes that are significant … like “an upgrade from version 3.546 to 4.019 caused our server to crash and the Help team lost three months work … ”
Adding video interviews of subject matter experts to help.
Also use wikis and starting to look at content management systems. So far use sharepoint. Also trialling “professional” social media.
Although you left them out, I basically use Word and Ginger for editing. For photography, I use the Epson Scanner, Nikon and Fuji software and cameras, SnagIt, and Microsoft’s Snipping Tool.
Author-it includes Localisation Manager
Currenlty evaluating TechWriter for XML schemas (Adivo).
Glad to see some of the more obscure tools that I love and use (like Fullshot) on the list.
I marked the tools I have and use. I thought Framemaker was going to be a great tool to use for our current deliverables but the learning curve is too steep and developing an .edd to time-consuming, up-front effort.
I only deal with the writing side, we have graphic designers for the graphics, so they may use more tools for developing multimedia for our user assistance. I included the tools that I use.
I produce Help for developers, and so need to use developer tools.
I put DITA Open Toolkit as 5, but as an IBMer, we have our own DITA tooling based off a specialization of the Open Toolkit. I would guess many shops have their own specializations and transforms if they’re fully entrenched in DITA. The Open Toolkit is rather barebones. Maybe put just “DITA.” Shouldn’t the scale go from “Always used” to “Rarely used”? Does “Unimportant” mean that it’s in our shop but I don’t use it? I’d consider “Not used” and “Unimportant” to be the same thing. And, if I mark something as 2, is it also considered unimportant since it’s below the 3 middle (which could be considered neither important nor unimportant), or would 2 be considered “sometimes important” starting from 1 and moving up as in the “rarely to always used” interpretation? Maybe each number could be explicitly described.
I think including Office tools like Word and Excel would be telling, to show how much the industry needs to improve its tools.
i use a company wide wiki, build on jive
I use Notepad++ alot. I almost didn’t check it because I’d never heard of a tool called “Notepad++ Author”. A Google search on “Notepad ++ Author” takes me to the Notepad++ site (the developer’s info), so I’m assuming that you mean “Notepad ++”. If other respondents react the way I did, Notepad++ use may end up under reported. (Or, if there is a different tool called Notepad++ Author, it’s use may be over reported.)
I use oxygenXML through DocZone for DITA authoring and document component management
I use WinBatch to automate the help generation process, which includes making custom updates to the generated output folder. I still use a custom-designed field-level help based on ideas gained at previous WritersUA conventions, and these web-based files are maintained in MySQL databases and generated via PHP pages.
I used to be a big fan of MadCap Analyzer, but it appears that the bigger my project gets, the less useful it is, which is a bitter irony in my book. Any reason this product didn’t make your list or did I just miss it? Thank you.
I would never use anything besides MadCap!
I’d love to learn and use most of these products, but my last three contracts have been start-ups, and all they had to offer me was Word.
I’m a technical writer and I use certain tools in my day-to-day. I answered this way. However, for overall doc quality, there are other tools used by Designers and Tools folks who might not know of WritersUA. Maybe make it clear whether you want info on tools that we, peronally, use or that our organization uses.
I’m interested in seeing the results.
It is a nice survey. Writers get to know about the various Tools available in the market. Usually companies use a set of tools. These surveys give us n avenue to explore the other available tools.
It seems a tad misleading to rank tools by importance without also identifying the amount of time spent using each tool. For example, Visio and SmartDraw are “important” for a couple small projects of mine, but I use them perhaps less 20 hours per year.
Just a thought: You might want to reconsider the inclusion of MS Word in a future survey. It may be very interesting to see how much of a tech writer population still uses Word – many with 3rd party plug-ins to aid in structuring, XML, etc.
Just to clarify, our development organization uses Confluence for project collaboration. The doc team relies on it to find out the latest decisions made project features. The doc team does not use it as product documentation tool.
Knowledge of CSS, CSS3 is also paramount
Lots of scrolling.
More emphasis on rapid elearning as a user assistance tool.
Moving from (old) AIT to latest Flare. Painful and still not clear this was the right decision, but AIT’s licensing model is now prohibitive for small (1-2 person) user base.
Not sure why you left off Word (which I would rate as very important) and Excel (which I would rate as important).
Not totally convinced of the value of a tools survey. Tools use is determined by personal preferences, or by what licenses a company already had when someone started working, or specific needs that can’t be generalized. I have always thought our industry puts too much emphasis on tools.
Note that I don’t use Notepad++ for authoring, more for looking at code and doing diffs, so above selection may not apply. We are slowly planning a transition to another authoring tool (from Framemaker/WebWorks) and we’re strongly considering Author-It. So next year results may be different (knock wood!).
Please include all of the individual tools in the MadPak Suite and not just Capture, Mimic, and Flare. Thx!
Structured Word using the full gamut of tools the app provides is big in our group. It’s a federal case to get new software so we do what we can with what we have. Heavy use of styles and the basic stuff is assumed. We rely on smart use of the doc properties and a good set of macros (with a little custom VBA code here and there) to tie it all together. Nothing fancy, but does the trick. More important than the tool is to know the content and hit the sweet spot between disciplined structure and flexible adaptation to change. We’re learning and always seem to find a way we could have done things better and the system, if it could be called that, changes as we learn, Best, Tony.
survey redesign–maybe have Not Used selected by default, and make the columns more narrow. Survey is difficult to complete on a laptop.
Survey was easy to complete.
Thanks for conducting this survey. I used last year’s results to justify a purchase requisition.
Thanks, Joe. This is a comprehensive list!
The MadCap suite of tools have almost completely replaced all our other tools.
We do use Word and Excel, but not very much. 🙂
We use MadCap Flare for html help and manuals. I believe the MadCap Blaze product has been incorporated into Flare. Therefore, I marked Blaze as not used, but we recently started using Flare for manuals, which is very important.
We use SmartBuilder for most of our WBT because it can be “programmed” to do many things more easily than Storyboard (although Storyboard is more user-friendly in other ways). For example, it is easier to set SmartBuilder to repeat questions answered incorrectly at the end of a test. Or, with SB you can pull in a name from the LMS for a certificate.
When you say rank in your developments, do you mean my contribution or what it takes to get a document set completed? Graphics and web people who assist me may use additional products in order to complete a doc set. I’d be curious to see the results. Particularly, the percentage of responses that imply they are participating in XML-based design.
While not deemed to be tools, knowledge in xml, css, html(5), should also be added to this list.
You may think Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are mere “office tools,” but they play a major role in nearly every contract project I take on. Word in particular, for all the justified grousing, probably produces more formal documentation than all the other tools put together—certainly more than any individual tool. Any survey that leaves off “office tools” is hopelessly skewed. It’s like surveying what cars people drive and excluding General Motors products as a choice because you don’t think they make “real” cars.
You really ought to consider putting SmartDocs on the survey. Yes, it’s a Word add-on, but it brings content reuse principles to the Word environment. It offers variables, conditions, and reusable snippets, and it can include the use of a “front-end” that automatically assembles a document from certain snippets and populates its variables, based on user responses. For some organizations, I think it’s quite an appropriate tool, whereas a tool such as my favorite — MadCap Flare — would be too much overhead.
Your tool list is just unordered. I would appreciate, if you either group the tools by task. Or at least alphabetically! Then it would be much easier to check, if a certain tool is in the list or not.