Top 40: Best technical documentation software as of 2023
In the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide you can find hundreds of recommendable technical documentation tools – both for creating technical documentation directly and for many related activities, such as illustration, animation, translation, production and deployment. To help you get started and to draw your attention to particular highlights, the following is a compilation of my personal favorites.
The programs presented here are not necessarily the same that are the best solution in your individual case. But there is a good chance that you will find something useful among them. Alternatives as well as many other programs for technical documentation are listed on the respective linked pages of the Tool & Web Guide.
An authoring tool or content management system is typically the basic tool for creating any technical documentation. Today, the range of options is wide and diverse.
MadCap Flare is mainly known among technical writers. In the field of software documentation it is currently probably the market leader among this target group. Flare can do (almost) anything, but as a result it is not always easy to use and is more suitable for larger projects.
Help & Manual
Help & Manual also holds a very large market share, especially also among people who do not spend every day exclusively writing technical documentation - such as developers, trainers, support staff or marketing professionals. Likewise, Help & Manual also has an excellent range of functions, especially in the field of online help and online documentation. Hardly any other program produces good results so quickly, yet the projects can also be configured very flexibly in depth if needed.
See also detailed review of Help+Manual.
HelpStudio, Document! X
These two programs are essentially 2 versions of the same software:
HelpStudio is a classic content management system for software documentation (help authoring tool). Similar to competitors such as Flare or Help & Manual, you can find all the functions you need to create and manage editorial content.
Document! X is an enhanced version, supplemented by the ability to automatically generate documentation (for example, API documentation) based on the source code and on comments stored in the source code of a program. Although various open source solutions can do similar things, what is special with Document! X, however, is the ability to combine the automatically compiled content with manually edited editorial content. When a new release of the software is made, the editorially maintained content and the automatically generated content are automatically recombined correctly. This is unique on the market of help authoring tools so far.
HelpNDoc is one of the few cheaper help authoring tools that can be recommended. It has all the essential functions for professional use at a comparatively low price. For smaller projects, HelpNDoc is absolutely sufficient and can be used quickly and efficiently with little effort.
See also detailed review of HelpNDoc.
Scribe is not a traditional authoring tool, but is designed to quickly generate a short step-by-step software tutorial with minimal effort – for example to be sent to a customer by email for support purposes. Scribe records your actions on the screen, automatically creates screenshots of the steps, and from this generates a simple, printable step-by-step guide.
Paligo is one of the few mature cloud-based solutions for creating technical documentation (SaaS) that even a technical writer can be happy with. Unlike comparable systems, Paligo is not exclusively designed for creating software documentation, but can be used universally. Unlike almost all other comparable systems, Paligo follows a structured approach to creating documents (DocBook DTD).
See also detailed review of Paligo.
Also ClickHelp is a SaaS solution with a range of functions that meets the requirements of a full-time technical writer. Unlike many other cloud-based offerings, it can also be used to efficiently handle larger documentation projects.
Among wikis, Confluence is the most frequently used one for creating online documentation. For good reason, because the large number of available plug-ins (“apps”) means that all the functions required by a powerful editorial system for technical documentation can at least be added. At the same time, authors benefit from the outstanding collaboration possibilities of the wiki.
SCROLL Apps for Confluence
The apps of the SCROLL series complement Confluence with exactly those functions that Confluence lacks to become a full-fledged authoring solution for technical documentation: Export to static WebHelp and PDF, single-source publishing, version and variant management, translation, etc.
Oxygen XML Editor
Oxygen is one of the few XML editors providing dedicated and excellent support for creating technical documentation according to the DITA standard. The the DITA Open Toolkit is fully integrated, so documents can be published at the click of a button. Compared to the standard features of the DITA Open Toolkit, Oxygen XML additionally can generate greatly improved output for web help (WebHelp).
DITAToo is one of the few component content management systems (CCMS) in the low to medium price range and is specifically designed to handle DITA data.
SCHEMA ST4 is one of the well-known high-end content management systems for technical documentation, which usually only pays for itself in very large documentation projects with many product variants, but then it can pay for itself quickly. Compared to many competitors, SCHEMA ST4 is particularly noteworthy for the fact that the program is also suitable for creating modern software documentation and online documentation, and that simple layout adjustments can also be made by the user.
You can find many more authoring tools and content management systems for technical documentation in the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
If you are specifically interested in creating online documentation and want to go beyond what the classic authoring systems offer you in terms of functions in this field, you should also take a look at these pages:
If you do not want to generate online documentation, you do not need a specialized authoring system to create documentation of a manageable size. A classic word processor or a good DTP program often does the job just fine in this case.
For decades now, FrameMaker has been the clear number one DTP program for technical documentation. It is stable, powerful and optimally designed for creating printed user manuals. However its large set of features also makes the program complex. FrameMaker is ideal for technical writers who use the program for a large part of their working time. However, FrameMaker is less suitable for people who only occasionally write a small documentation.
In terms of quantity, most technical documentation is still created using the classic word processor Microsoft Word. The main reason for that is actually just that Word is already available in many cases and that its handling is familiar. In addition, there are many useful add-ons for Word as well as existing templates. However, for large documents of a technical documentation with many images and hundreds of pages, Word often becomes cumbersome. It was simply never made for that purpose. Rather, as an “office” program it is primarily designed for the classic office routine. As long as the documentation doesn’t exceed this size range and as long as the layout remains simple, Word can still be the best choice.
OfficeForms extends Word with single-source publishing capabilities, including conditional texts. This enables you to create and maintain multiple variants of a technical documentation within just one single source document. For subsequent updates, you then only need to make changes once in one place but not in each document variant individually.
SmartDocs also provides features to better manage and smartly reuse content created with Word - including variables, snippets, and conditional text.
SingleFeeder adds a text module library and a translation memory to Word.
At first glance, the most impressive thing about LibreOffice may be the fact that it is free of charge. But that is not the only advantage. For long (technical) documents, LibreOffice offers many excellent features and has an approach somewhere between those of FrameMaker and Word. Moreover, it is platform-independent.
For many more word processors, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
On the web, there are tons of tools for taking screenshots (screen capture tools). However, most of them hardly go beyond what the functions for creating screenshots provided by your operating system can do. However, when using a screenshot in technical documentation, it is important not only to be able to capture a window, but also to be able to present the image in such a way that it is limited to the essential content and highlights what is important. Ease of future updating and translatability are other important factors.
For many years SnagIt has been the market leader, and not without reason. The software is easy to use, powerful and not too expensive in relation to its set of features. A unique selling point of SnagIt is the ability to automatically create a stylized image from a screenshot (“Simplified User Interface Image”, SUI for short). Only when it comes to updating existing images, there is still room for improvement.
MadCap Capture is the only screen capture program that specializes specifically in images for technical documentation. Unfortunately, MadCap Capture is currently not available separately, but only together with the authoring system MadCap Flare. Nevertheless, MadCap Capture is a real hidden gem in my opinion. What makes the program incredibly efficient is the fact that the cropping of cropped images can be revised at any time. Once cropped away, parts of the image are not lost, but are preserved internally. This means, for example, that a cropped image can be enlarged again at any time if the author realizes that it should show a bit more after all. In addition, the underlying screenshot in an image can later be replaced, while all image processing steps and added elements remain intact. This makes later updates and translations much easier.
HelpXplain isn't really a screen capture tool in the first place, it's an animation program, but it can also take static screenshots, and it does so really well. Similar to MadCap Capture, images remain fully recoverable at any time after cropping, and similar to MadCap Capture, images can be swapped out at any time afterwards, while all added elements, such as texts and highlights, remain intact. In addition, images created with HelpXplain have the advantage that they can also be animated using HelpXPlain's animation tools (animated screen captures instead of static ones).
Among open source and freeware programs, Greenshot is a good and well-known solution. In terms of features, it is much more basic than its commercial alternatives, but all the essential functions are available.
For many more tools for creating and editing screenshots, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
While the big players such as Photoshop, Illustrator or Visio are extremely powerful, they are expensive for just being used occasionally. Also they are difficult to learn. The following graphic editors may be good alternatives:
GIMP has been “the” open source alternative to Photoshop for many years.
InkScape is an excellent vector-based drawing program (open source) with SVG output. Very versatile and free of charge to use.
Diagrams.net (formerly draw.io) can be used either as a web application or as a desktop application that can be downloaded for free and then be used offline permanently. Unlike the name suggests, diagrams.net is not only usable for drawing diagrams, even though this is its main focus and many templates are available for this purpose. In contrast to many other graphics programs, Diagrams.net is very easy to use even for non-graphic artists and can largely be used intuitively.
Lunacy is also a nice, comprehensive and free-to-use graphics editor (free as long as the offered graphics libraries are not used).
For many other graphic editors useful for creating technical documentation, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
Text is not always the best means of explaining technical concepts and of showing how a product works. A picture often says more than many words, and a moving picture (= video) often says even more. Using software specialized on creating screencasts and explainer videos, the effort needed to create such a video can be quite reasonable. This is especially true if the product is software. Here you only need to record the running program on the screen, without needing a suitable shooting location, professional lighting, and some special camera equipment.
Captivate probably is the most popular program in the field and can do almost anything, especially when it comes to screencasts (software videos) and e-learning. However, Captivate is also comparatively expensive and complex.
Camtasia is also a well-known classic and relatively inexpensive in relation to its scope of features. Camtasia focuses more on the integration of “real” videos filmed with a camera than does Captivate.
DemoBuilder is not so well known, but in my opinion it is one of the best tools especially for basic screencasts. The functions focus on the essentials. The created screencasts can be easily changed afterwards, which is very important especially for software documentation due to its often short release cycles.
HelpXplain is quite unique in its concept and very versatile: from simple animated screenshots to demos and interactive product presentations, it can be used to implement many things. HelpXplain does not create a video file as output, but an HTML-based animated presentation.
CreateStudio is an interesting software with focus on marketing videos and explainer videos.
For many other programs for creating screencasts and explainer videos, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
With regard to automated language checking and machine translation, much has developed for the better in recent years.
Congree is a professional language checker with integrations for various widely used authoring systems. Congree especially checks the writing style and thus ensures more quality and consistency. The program can also check according to individual rules or, for example, according to the rules of Simplified Technical English (STE).
LanguageTool is a grammar, style, and spelling checker for more than 20 languages. Basic functions are free to use (Open Source).
Grammarly is one of the better general language checkers for the English language. Also, unlike with many competitors, the basic features are free to use.
DUDEN Mentor, DUDEN Korrektor for Word
DUDEN's spell checkers are still not always perfect, but still pretty much unrivaled for the German language so far.
DeepL Desktop App
DeepL provides excellent machine translation. With the free apps for Windows and iOS, this can even be done at the touch of a button directly from any program. Unlike with a dictionary, not only individual words can be translated, but also entire sentences und paragraphs and even entire documents. Just highlight the text, press a keyboard shortcut, and the translation pops up. In most cases, the translation is remarkably good!
WordWeb is an excellent monolingual electronic dictionary (English) with the possibility of having a word read aloud to learn its correct pronunciation, as well as with synonyms and numerous example sentences that use the word in various contexts.
For even more useful software in the fields of language, terminology and translation, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
Even if you are not a programmer, you can automate many steps when creating technical documentation and thus save a lot of time.
AutoHotkey is an incredibly versatile time saver. What's more, it's open source and free of charge. As soon as a freely definable events occurs (such as a particular keystrok, the input of certain characters, the appearance of a certain window) AutoHotkey becomes active and executes a number of predefined commands. Nice thing: All this works not only within just one particular program (such as Word macros only work in Word), but always and everywhere with the same keyboard shortcut.
A few examples of use from daily work: * Entering special characters via keyboard shortcuts * Entering predefined phrases by automatically replacing certain strings (example: "mfg " automatically becomes "Kind regards ") * Automatically correcting frequently made typos * Automatically searching for a highlighted word in any search engine or translation program by pressing a key * Pasting the contents of the clipboard as unformatted text * Disabling the Caps Lock key and thus avoiding any accidental cAPITALIzation, ...
But you can also create more complex scripts and use them to execute a function in a program via shortcut key for which there is no shortcut key in the program at all. Or you can automate an entire process.
At first sight, it may seem a bit daunting that you have to write scripts yourself with AutoHotkey. However, many of these "scripts" consist of only one command, which you can find easily in the comprehensive documentation. You do not need any programming knowledge to do this.
If you are afraid of creating simple scripts yourself with AutoHotkey, or if you prefer to manage your autotexts under a convenient user interface and also want to store larger text blocks as macros, PhraseExpress is worth considering. A feature where PhraseExpress goes beyond AutoHotkey is its optional "AutoComplete" function, which is almost something like a simple authoring memory.
With a program like TextCrawler, you can have elements automatically searched and replaced within specified directories or within specified files. This can be useful, for example, when importing legacy data, or if you want to automatically edit items in XML-based data that your respective authoring system cannot automatically edit.
Another use case is post-processing online documentation generated by an authoring system. With a program like TextCrawler, you can have the output of the authoring system post-processed at will at the push of a button. By doing so, you can remove things that you don't like or you can add things that the authoring system doesn't support.
For many more useful tools to speed up your work, see the Technical Documentation Tool & Web Guide under:
Want more? See additional tools and websites for technical documentation.
This page was last updated 12/2023
All information without guarantee.