Best Free Tools And Services For Technical Writers
by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — software documentation tool
In case you are not familiar with the term “technical writing”, according to ClickHelp Team, it defines written form of technical communication used in a variety of technical fields — computer software and hardware, chemistry, aeronautics, engineering, robotics, finance, etc. Some people define this term as “writing complex things in a simple form”.
So today I’ve got a list of tools and services for technical writers. They include:
- Video & Image Editing
- Community & Social Networking
- Statistics & Analytics
Video & Image Editing
- FastStone Image Viewer (Windows)
FastStone Image Viewer is a freeware tool for Windows which allows you to:
- crop, resize, rotate pictures;
- adjust color, levels, curves, etc.;
- apply image color effects and other special effects (drop shadow, framing, annotation, etc.);
- draw lines, texts, geometric shapes and callout objects;
- manage images (including the possibility of creating tags), etc.
The supported formats: GIF, PNG, TGA, BMP, JPEG, JPEG 2000, PCX, TIFF, WMF, ICO, etc.
For more detailed info concerning pros and cons of this tool please check the full article (the link can be found at the end of this review).
- LICEcap (Windows and Mac)
Techwriters often use GIF format files to create short demonstrations or to add visuality to help topics and tutorials. LICEcap is a freeware program for creating GIF animations. You launch the program, resize the recording window, set max FPS, and click ‘Record’.
- Advanced Image Editing — GIMP (Windows, OS X and Linux)
You are probably familiar with this one. Started out as a school project back in 1995 (Wikipedia), GIMP has grown into a complex and powerful open-source graphics editor considered by many as the best tool of its kind. GIMP supports all popular formats and gets updated on a regular basis.
Being complex and multifunctional, this tool possesses all the necessary functionality for screenshot/image editing. Using its toolset you can customize your documentation design to increase usability of your user manuals and to make it more visually attractive and unique.
Community & Social Networking
- Disqus — Commenting Service
Disqus is an online commenting service used in various online resources — from blogs to software documentation. If added to a website or a community, it allows to leave feedback, discuss the material, and even get assistance from others without logging in. According to Wikipedia, around 75% of websites, which used a third-party commenting or discussion system, chose Disqus in 2011.
The idea is very simple — you create a Disqus account, and then it will give you a ready HTML markup to insert to your web pages. When applied, it adds a commenting area at the bottom of the page. Disqus supports comments moderation and management, so you are notified when a new comment has been added, or you can delete the comments if required.
- AddThis — Social Tools
AddThis makes it quick and easy to add sharing buttons to any online resource — websites, online user manuals, FAQ pages, etc.
If you have some truly unique and interesting content that you believe people might want to share with others — you need to give them an opportunity. This is the case when sharing buttons are of great help. When people share your content through social networks, it brings more traffic and gives additional exposure to your company.
SurveyMonkey is a great tool used for creating surveys and analysing the results. Surveys can be used for both interaction inside your team (Folks, where are we going next Friday?) and getting feedback from customers (Which feature of our product do you like most?).
You can easily create a survey and add a link to your user manuals to receive feedbacks.
The best thing about Survey Monkey — you don’t need to have any special skills to start working with it. The survey layout is very clean and simple:
Even though the free version has some restrictions, the author strongly recommends this tool. A “must have” for doing a quick research.
Statistics & Analytics
- Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free statistics service launched by Google in 2005 to track web traffic. You can get statistics for both desktop and mobile traffic.
To tell the truth, it is not entirely free. But even if you stay with the free version, it won’t make you feel like you are using a product with limited functionality.
Google Analytics is not only for websites — it can help to make online documentation a better user experience. Gaining more experience in this field will help you learn a lot about your audience, the market you are in, what is expected of your company and much more. Highly recommended for any companies, regardless of their size and structure, for analyzing online documentation and websites.
- Webmaster Tools
Webmaster Tools is a great addition to Google Analytics that deals mostly with SEO. The main idea behind Webmaster Tools is websites indexing. You need to submit your sitemap to ensure your site is indexed properly.
Once the website is indexed, it will increase its visibility on the web and improve views count. Next time you’ll need to worry about indexing is when your website gets updated. Webmaster tools can help index the updated pages, so they will be visible in search engines as soon as possible.
Webmaster Tools is great for analysing the search keywords people use in Google when they get to your website or online help. Looking through keywords can help you see what people were looking for and expecting to find. Probably this will make you reconsider your keyword strategy: paraphrase or delete unused keywords and add popular ones.
All in all this service is a good choice to boost your SEO efforts and make your website more visible.
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Have a nice day!
Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors