Documentation is an essential element for any project as it helps to disseminate information to internal stakeholders and external users such as customers, partners and so on.
Complete, comprehensive and reliable documentation helps to reduce support costs and boosts user adoption. Therefore, selecting the right tool to help you generate and maintain documentation efficiently is important. In this blog, we will discuss what factors you should consider while choosing the right documentation tool.
6 Factors to Consider
There are multiple factors to consider when choosing a documentation tool. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a good starting point.
- Output formats
- Ease of use
- Integration with other tools
- Tool customisation support
Merriam-Webster defines documentation as the usually printed instructions, comments, and information for using a particular piece or system of computer software or hardware
However, as they say – change is constant. And documentation has evolved.
Users still want information about the software they are using or attempting to use. But they are not looking for them in just bulky, printed user manuals anymore. Today, documentation is shipped in various formats – PDFs, HTML 5 websites, videos and more.
Take stock of all the different formats in which you distribute content, and also keep an eye out for upcoming trends. Look at the tool’s product roadmap (if it is public) to know if your requirements would be met or at least considered shortly.
Note that one tool may not support all the formats and you may have to mix and match to achieve your content goals.
Ease of Use
The tech writer should find the tool simple to use and be able to write, format and publish content without jumping through multiple hoops. While many tools look very promising with new-age features, the learning curve becomes steep and could distract the writer from their primary goal. A steep curve can also hinder tool adoption within your writing team.
Look for tools that have good documentation, support and community forums. In case of any issues, the writer should be able to find answers without spending a lot of time on research. And of course, do sign up for the trial run and give the tool a spin before making a purchase decision.
Writing might seem like a one-person job. However, it is a collaborative process. Some of the aspects are:
- Feedback Cycles: Writing involves a lot of stages and a bunch of stakeholders. Once drafted, the content undergoes multiple review cycles with feedback provided by product managers, developers, support engineers and peer writers. Therefore, select a tool that makes it easy to share the content and enables users to provide and respond to feedback systematically.
- Approval Workflow: Tech writers should be able to publish content only after sign-off from all the required stakeholders. To support this, the tool should offer an approval workflow or allow integrations with third-party plugins/libraries that could help with the same.
- Multi-Version Support: Multiple writers could be working on the same page at the same time, to achieve various goals. The tool should allow multiple versions of the document to exist simultaneously and provide an effective conflict-resolution mechanism.
Budget is one of the most important factors when deciding on a documentation tool, as the top management will be interested in the ROI. You should not consider just the upfront cost but the other associated/recurring costs as well – license renewals, on-demand support and so on.
Some points to think about are:
- Does the organisation need a tool with all the bells and whistles with a higher price tag?
- Will a more affordable tool with a smaller but powerful set of features be the right choice?
- What will be the impact in case the team size grows in the coming years?
- How much time and effort would it take to train the writers on tool usage?
Perhaps the most essential question to answer would be whether the tool’s benefits will outweigh the costs in the long run.
Integration With Other Tools
Do check if your tool supports integrations with other tools to fulfill various business needs:
- Feedback Measurement and Analysis: Documentation does not end with publishing the content. Many organisations record user feedback on documentation for further analysis.
- Analytics: Businesses can track page views and other metrics of their online documentation by integrating with Analytics tools.
- Project Management Tool: You might want to integrate the documentation tool with your organisation’s preferred project management tool such as JIRA, Asana or Trello, to keep track of the progress status.
- Migration: In case you are moving content from an older system, the tool should allow content migration.
Tool Customisation Support
The tool should support additional customisation for the following use cases:
- Internationalisation: As your business grows and branches out into international markets, you may have to generate documentation in multiple languages.
- Brand Guidelines: For a consistent user experience for your customers, your documentation must follow your brand guidelines. It is to be noted that not many tools offer in-depth customisation in terms of look and feel.
- Private Pages: Some articles are created for a specific set of users as the information is confidential. In such scenarios, there should be a password mechanism to ensure secure access to documents.
There could be more use cases unique to your business needs. Remember to evaluate for these and check if the tool provider is open to customisation requests, right at the outset.
Ultimately, the key to selecting the best documentation tool lies in understanding your unique needs and priorities. To make the right choice, do consider inputs from your team and try out a few different tools to see which one fits your needs best. With the right documentation tool in place, you can streamline your documentation process and improve the efficiency of your team.