Authoring Tools in Technical Writing

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The Technical Writer creates, edits, designs, publishes and delivers the technical document in the form of user manuals, online help and other form of deliverable to the target audience. For creating technical documents, the Technical Writer has to use various types of authoring and image editing tools. There are numbers of authoring and image editing tools that can help the Technical Writers in performing their task efficiently. In this article we will discuss these tools.
Commonly used technical writing tools are Microsoft Office, Adobe Framework, RoboHelp, Adobe Photoshop, Madcap Flare, SnagIt, HTML editor and XML editor.
The Technical writer should have basic knowledge of using authoring tools that are typically used in the technical writing environment. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these tools to write technical content. Authoring tools are used for various purposes, such as creating online help, desktop publishing and image editing.

Help Authoring Tools

The Help Authoring Tool (HAT) is a software program used by the Technical Writers to create, design, publish and maintain online help files.
The HAT can be either a compiled help file in a format such as Win Help (HLP) or Microsoft Compiled HTML Help (CHM), or no compiled file formats such as Adobe PDF, XML, HTML or Java Help.

Some HATs provide extra functions such as:
• Automatic or assisted Index generation
• Automatic Table of Contents
• Spelling checker
• Image editing
• Image hotspot editing
• Import and export of text in XML files, for exchange with computer-assisted translation programs

Following Help Authoring Tools are commonly used by the Technical Writers:
• Adobe RoboHelp
• Doc-To-Help
• MadCap Flare
• HelpConsole
• Help & Manual
• WebWorks ePublisher
• Help Generator
• ProProfs
• HelpNDoc
• HelpSmith
• Sandcastle
• AsciiDoc

Unstructured and Structured Authoring Tools

There are two ways to author content – Unstructured and Structured.

Unstructured Authoring

Unstructured authoring refers to writing content that is not organized in the particular data model. Unstructured authoring is used to create low volume content with little scope for reuse of the content, which in turn creates auditing and maintenance issues and inconsistency in formats, style guides on documents.
Some of the unstructured authoring tools are listed below:
• Scrivener
• Microsoft Word
• Apple Pages
• Open Office Writer
• Acrobat – Acrobat is the PDF tool used to create PDF documents by the Technical Writers.

Structured Authoring

Structured authoring refers to writing content which is organized as per the pre-defined data model. Structured authoring has the advantage of having consistency across documents, and can be reusable which in turn reduces time and cost.

Some of the structured authoring tools are listed below
• Adobe Frame Maker(structured)
• LyX
• Docbook
• oXygen XML
• Adobe FrameMaker
• XMetaL Author
• ArborText Editor
• DITA Open Toolkit

Graphic Editing Tools

The Technical Writers often come across graphic editing work if they have to use graphics in their technical documents. Graphics may be available or the Technical Writers may have to take a screenshot of the UI and edit them for their manuals.
We will talk more about the commonly screen capturing and image editing tools below.

Screen Capturing Tools

Instead of writing detailed description or lengthy series of instructions to perform a task one can simply take a screen-shot to complete the task.

We can use the following screen capturing tools:
• Snipping tool
• Windows Paint
• Camtasia Studio
• Captivate
• SnagIt
• Corel Painter
• MWSnap (Windows)
• Wink (Windows, Linux)
• Screen Hunter (Windows)

Image Editing Tools

The images and other visual elements catch attention of the audience, and are easy to understand, instead of writing paragraphs. Image editing tools are used by the Technical Writers to design, capture, crop the visuals in documents like photos, icons and diagrams.

You can use following image editing tools:
• Adobe Photoshop
• Pizap
• Picasa etc.

Software for graphics:

To create statistic information graphs and flowcharts are used.

For graphs and flowchart, we can use following graphic tools
• Microsoft Excel – To create charts and graphs.
• Microsoft Word – To create SmartArt.
• Microsoft Visio – To create technical illustrations, flowcharts, network diagram.
• Smart Draw – To create charts, diagrams and floor plans.
• Zoner Callisto – To edit, share and download images from UI.
• Adobe Illustrator – To create illustrations, charts, graphs, logos, diagrams.
• CorelDraw – To create graphics.
• Adobe Freehand/Fireworks – To create image editing.


I think this article would provide handy information about the technical authoring and graphic editing tools which you can use to create technical documents in various forms and formats.
I would like to know your experiences with any specific tools that can help in writing technical documents and editing graphics. I would welcome your suggestions and comments related to this article
Author: Renu Lasne
Editor: Amit Siddhartha

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