Software for technical writers?

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webfork
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Software for technical writers?

#1 Post by webfork » Sat Dec 15, 2018 1:17 pm

This post hits on several topics I've focused on before, but in an effort to bring it all together in one place.

Some years back I was doing a lot of software testing and tried to put together a list of tools. Portable software was ideal because it meant less interaction with the host machine and generally tries to keep out of your way, preventing interference in testing and making the whole process easier. Since then, having since done a fair amount of work in the technical writing sphere (itself very close to software testing), I put together a list of resources that other folks in similar areas might find useful.

Writing

It's hard to get away from Microsoft Office for most operations, but there are plenty of problems with the program from compatibility, instability, poor collaboration, flaky macros, and of course problems with SharePoint. Anything I can do outside of MS Office always ends up saving me time and trouble later.
  • LibreOffice - it takes some getting used to and invariably there's some configurations that I disable (such as autocomplete), but the program is very stable, won't flinch at 200+ page documents, and works reasonably well with every other format out there. Importing from Microsoft is never going to work right for obvious reasons, but the DOCX exporter has so far been flawless. Also has a few useful PDF functions you won't find elsewhere.
  • DocPad (not portable) - a number of technical writer functions are discussed in thread
  • Notepad++ - extremely stable, lots of neat, integrated text transformation tools, and skins are easy on the eyes.
  • Zoho Writer (web-based) - it's not perfect but, as I'm moving away from Google's tools, this is my go-to collaborative editor. Some of their recently added features are very welcome ("keep with next" sounds like nothing but it's huge in my world).

Documentation

I've done a fair number of posts about as-you-click screenshot tools. The general idea here is that you can walk through a process or procedure and then use that as a starting point for a HOWTO or manual. My current preference is for the 6.x series of ActivePresenter as the new version adds and removes a few things that don't really seem to add much to the program.

Other programs include PSR, Imago, StepShot, Steps To Reproduce, etc.

Alternatively you can do a high quality screen recording using ShareX and then just take screenshots of the recorded process at your own pace.


Screenshots
  • ShareX - my goto program because I take a LOT of screenshots and this has some easy, built-in automation that speeds up my process.

Research
  • DocFetcher is indespensible. You can search the contents of 500,000 files with intelligent search criteria and the program doesn't slow everything down while integrating itself with the operating system, unlike every other similar program.

Versioning

When you have a 2 TB hard drive, there's no reason not to save absolutely every version of everything you're working on every minute of every day -- you're never going to fill up your hard drive with Microsoft Word edits. Then, if you accidentally remove something, it's easy to go back to a previous version.
  • AutoVer - preferred
  • DSynchronize - also does versioning, along with a whole host of useful operations

Paste-as-text
  • Ditto - At least a dozen times a day, I remove text formatting from something I'm pasting. This is an exceedingly important function that dominates the programs' primary function, which is to catalog items that you've copied so you can look through them later.
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I can talk more about this if anyone's interested. Feedback/suggestions welcome and appreciated.

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webfork
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Re: Software for technical writers?

#2 Post by webfork » Sat May 09, 2020 5:54 pm

Update:

Some other recommended programs for my fellow writers:
  • OBS - there are many meetings I've been in where this program has let me focus on the concepts and issues rather than trying to take verbatim notes.
  • SmartEditWriter - has some great writing analysis functions that has caught issues missed by multiple reviewers.
  • ScreentoGif - short, simple animations can often work better for everything from quick email explanations to web content, and often helps communicate better than full screen video. ScreentoGif's editor and compression tools help keep file sizes from getting out of hand.
  • WinMerge - one of only a few editors that support synchronous scrolling, which is super helpful to compare two documents (even MS Word will bug out sometimes on a comparison effort between two documents). Also some amazing batch functions and other tools under the hood.
  • PDF XChange - This has such excellent search functionality that I actually save other files to PDF just so I can open the content in this program.

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