Help authoring tools and content management systems for technical documentation

Market overview of recommendable authoring tools for creating online help, online documentation, as well as printed or printable technical documentation (PDF).

For information on the indicated price levels , see Price levels.

Classical help authoring tools

MadCap Flare

Clearly not a tool for occasional users but for full-time technical writers. Excellent single source publishing features. Can create PDF without the need of an external text processor, but can produce full-featured Microsoft Word files as well. Other advanced features are its DITA import (including relation tables), the option to have different structures for online help and printed user manuals generated from the same source, and the professional translation workflow. Concept markers make it easy to add structured related-topic links. Within browser-based help files, sophisticated search features can be implemented. “MadCap Contributor” provides a simplified user interface for casual content contributors, such as subject matter experts and reviewers. The optional add-on product “MadCap Pulse” provides social collaboration features, such as comments, and can track reader activity. The optional add-on product “MadCap Central” adds a cloud-based platform for content and project management, hosting, publishing, task tracking, user permissions, and team collaboration. With “MadCap Capture”, a full-fledged screen capture tool is also included.

Price level: high

Flare plug-ins and tools

RoboHelp

For a long time, RoboHelp clearly was the market leader of help authoring tools. Today, some of its competitors have caught up or even outperformed it. However, RoboHelp’s Dynamic Filters are an interesting unique feature, which makes it possible to apply conditional text at runtime. On the downside are the lack of advanced linking features and the fact that the program by default not only analyzes your user behavior but even analyzes the files (the content) that you create and sends information on this to Adobe. You can turn this off, but you need to do so manually.

Price level: medium

Help & Manual sponsored entry

Very efficient and easy to use. The output is highly customizable, especially on the HTML side. In addition to various help formats and ebooks, Help & Manual can also create high-quality PDF manuals without the need of using an external text processor, such as Microsoft Word, and without the need of an external PDF generator, such as Adobe Acrobat. Help & Manual provides excellent support for single source publishing, including user-defined builds, snippets, conditional text with IF THEN ELSE statements, and variables. Other advanced features are the XML-based translation workflow, team authoring support, and the possibility to integrate with version control systems. You can run complex builds from the command line, or you can set up publish tasks that generate various documents in one go. For example, you can generate the online help for a Standard version of your product, the online help for a Professional version of your product, and printed user manuals (PDF) for both versions as well—all at a press of a button and from the same source file. A screenshot tool is also supplied.

Price level: medium

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
Help+Manual is a single-source help authoring and content management system for both single and multi-author editing. Working with Help+Manual is as easy as writing text with a word processor. Help+Manual scales from small to really large projects with thousands of pages and creates Windows help files, Webhelp, and manuals in print and PDF format. Try yourself and download a trial of Help+Manual! Writing help has never been easier.

Help & Manual plug-ins and tools

Doc-To-Help

Has the unique feature that you can use various editors for editing your content: Doc-To-Help’s build-in WYSIWYG editor, Microsoft Word, or any HTML editor. You can even use different editors within the same project. This is particularly interesting when combining texts from different sources and contributors. With comprehensive and consistent support for conditional text, variables and text snippets in all editors, the program offers good options for single-source publishing. Other special features are the partly automated documentation of source code and program libraries, Doc-To-Help’s component that allows developers to easily embed a dynamic help pane in the application’s interface, and the built-in team authoring support. Creating printed user manuals (or PDF) requires Microsoft Word. Unlike some other help authoring tools, Doc-To-Help cannot create PDF files internally.

Price level: medium

HelpStudio

One of the few tools that provide built-in support for translations. Projects can either be translated in HelpStudio right away, or be exported to XML, translated by an external translator with the help of a translation memory tool, and then imported back into HelpStudio. Another interesting feature is the possibility to create your own widgets, which simplifies creating and editing complex content such as drop down sections, thumbnail images, note boxes, includes etc. Good single source publishing capabilities; PDF output may have a different structure than the HTML output. The layout of the created PDF files, however, cannot be customized as flexibly as with some other help authoring tools. Excellent HTML-based editor with full code control.

HelpStudio is a product of Contiem.

Price level: medium

HelpNDoc sponsored entry

Straightforward help authoring tool, which creates CHM, WebHelp (HTML), Qt Help files, ePub and Kindle (MobiPocket) eBooks, customizable PDF and Word files, and Markdown files. Supports styles, variables, and conditional content. Styles are also included in the Word export, which makes it fully flexible. Templates can be edited. Also exports code snippets to call online help (C/C++, Fortran, Delphi/Pascal, Power Basic, Visual Basic; other languages can be added via the built-in template engine).

See also detailed review of HelpNDoc.

Price level: low

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
HelpNDoc is an easy to use yet powerful help authoring tool which can generate various documentation formats from a single source: HTML and CHM help files, PDF and Word manuals, ePub and Kindle eBooks, Markdown documents, cross-platform Qt Help files, as well as mobile web-sites for iPhone and Android.
Forget about bloated user interfaces and incomprehensible help authoring tools: HelpNDoc provides the most advanced functionalities in their simplest form. Creating HTML and CHM help files is usually a painful process but thanks to HelpNDoc you may surprise yourself enjoying it! Producing Word and PDF manuals, ePub and Kindle eBooks as well as Qt Help is as easy while the amazing template engine will let you generate iPhone or Android specific documentation websites in a snap.
You know how to use the Windows explorer and your favorite word processor? Then you already know how to use HelpNDoc: it's that easy! Add to that many powerful features such as live spell checking in a fully WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) environment, a state-of-the-art template engine, an integrated media library, a project analyzer, and you'll begin to imagine how fast and easy it will be for you to create your next help file and how professional it will look like.

OfficeHelp sponsored entry

Uses Microsoft Word for editing the documents. Many useful functions add to or optimize the built-in functionality of Microsoft Word, such as marginalia, conditional text, problem-free handling of numbered lists, and a comfortable cross-reference function. The created online help files use a tab-based information design that makes it possible to provide a flat and simple table of contents even for extensive documents.

Price level: medium

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
OfficeHelp: A lean and smart content management system.
 
OfficeHelp complements Microsoft Word with functions of a content management system.
* Single source publishing – It's all in one Word document.
* Media-oriented writing – Simply using different colors and not XML code.
* Modern web design – On tablet, smartphone or PC – the display of the content always adapts perfectly.
* Context sensitive links – A must for many software documentations. An easy task for OfficeHelp.
* Multi media included – Videos and other media can be easily integrated.

HelpSmith sponsored entry

Provides all the basic features that you would expect from a professional, modern XML-based help authoring tool, such as full support of styles and templates, variables, conditions, an optional command line interface, and the ability to work with external version control systems and translation memory tools. Creates all of the general output formats, such as WebHelp, CHM, PDF, and Word. Can add screen captures with automatic reference labels.

Price level: low

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
HelpSmith is a feature-rich XML-based help authoring tool that you can use to create HTML Help (CHM) files, Web Help systems (with a fully responsive layout), Printed Manuals, PDF, and MS Word documents from a single source. The basic features of HelpSmith include a word processor with a live spell checker, dynamic styles, the TOC and Index editors, templates, variables, customizable themes for Web Help, a media repository to manage images and videos, and so on.
For experienced technical writers, HelpSmith provides the ability to use JavaScript and CSS styles, Build Tags to generate different versions of the same help file, and a Project Merge tool that can be used for translation or collaborative work.
In addition, the built-in Image Tool allows you to capture screenshots, annotate images, and also to generate topic drafts for user interfaces. It should be pointed out that HelpSmith allows you to import content from existing documents, such as CHM, MS Word, RTF, HTML, and plain text files. Finally, HelpSmith provides a modern user-interface with a slight learning curve, and includes sample help projects that will help you get started with the product quickly.

Doc-O-Matic Author

Despite the comparatively low price, all important features that you can expect from a professional help authoring tool are present: Conditional text, text snippets and variables, complete control over layout and formatting both in HTML and PDF, Unicode support, XML source files, and the creation of full-featured PDF manuals without the need for any additional tool or converter.

Price level: low

Help Crafter

Basic help authoring tool for the Mac.

Price level: low

DA-HelpCreator

Simple commercial static site generator that uses Markdown files. Other than most open source help generators that use Markdown, this tool comes with its own built-in editor and can easily be installed with the help of a Windows setup program. Creates static HTML pages or CHM files. No export to PDF or other printable formats. No advanced features.

Price level: low

CHM Editor

WYSIWYG editor for editing CHM files. Also supports machine translation of existing CHM files. In addition to CHM, the Professional version can export to PDF, DOC, and HTML.

Price level: low

Tools for partly automated help generation

The following tools can create some basic documentation semi-automatically. They do this by capturing screens from the software, by recording keystrokes or mouse movements, or by analyzing an application’s internal resource files. While this approach usually doesn’t achieve the same quality as manually written documentation, it can be an efficient way to obtain some preliminary documentation or to produce documents that supplement a training course, for example. Also, you can use the output as a starting point and add more information later.

Dr. Explain

Automatically captures all windows of a program, adds callouts to all controls visible in each window, automatically labels these callouts, and then builds a fully linked online help system. All you need to do is to revise the automatically added text and to add some more detailed descriptions where this is necessary. In addition to CHM and WebHelp, you can also create a printed user manual (PDF or RFT format) from the same text base. Along with its technical writing platform TiWri, Dr. Explain also supports collaboration (“Ultimate” version only).

Price level: medium

ClickLearn sponsored entry

Records a workflow in popular business software and turns the recording into multi-language learning materials, such as written instructions, video walk throughs, simulations, and on-screen assistants. For example, works with SAP, Oracle, IFS, Microsoft Dynamics, and Microsoft Office, but also with custom WIndows and web applications.

Price level: high

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
ClickLearn is the market leading solution for creating user instructions, e-learning and process videos for business software.
ClickLearn will automate writing your business-critical walk-throughs, saving you 80% of the time you now spend creating them manually for Dynamics 365|BC|F&O|CE and most of your other IT systems.
The ClickLearn solution produces your walk-throughs in eight different formats from a single source, including written documentation, hands-on-labs, videos with automated effects and voice over. On top of that ClickLearn has a Virtual Assistant that guides the users within the live system.
Simply record your work process in Dynamics. With one click, ClickLearn produces your walk-throughs in all formats and in more than 45 languages and 135 dialects. It creates a complete e-learning portal with full tracking and scoring and upgrades your work instructions as you upgrade your Dynamics platform with no manual effort on your part.

Help Generator

Includes a help capture tool that automatically generates topic pages of any part of a Windows user interface. Many general help authoring features are also available, so this software is actually a mixture of a rapid help development tool and a conventional help authoring tool.

Price level: low

Scribe

Records what you are doing on screen, automatically creates screen captures of the steps, and finally creates a simple printable guide of the process.

Price level: low

ScreenSteps

Enables you to take screen captures of a software and to easily create step-by-step instructions based on the images. When the documented software changes, screen captures can be updated with minimum effort. Especially useful for creating task-based documentation.

Price level: high

Flowshare

Creates step-by-step software guides by capturing the actions performed on screen.

Price level: medium

datango

From a series of screen captures builds screencasts, interactive tutorials, and also printed documentation.

Price level: not published

Epilogue Opus

Records the actions performed in a program, from this creates documentation in various output formats, and delivers the information to the users.

Price level: not published

iorad

Creates online tutorials based on screen captures. There is also a free version available for public tutorials.

Price level: high

DokuTool

Makes it easy to create simple, short instructions based on annotated screen captures, which can be an efficient solution particularly for support purposes. Can export to HTML and PDF.

Price level: low

Help converters for Word, FrameMaker, and Google Docs documents

The following help authoring tools use Microsoft Word or FrameMaker for editing the texts, or convert existing Word or FrameMaker user manuals into online help.

WebWorks ePublisher

Easy to use, unmatched in performance but also in its price. Available in versions for Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and DITA-XML. If you have the appropriate licenses, it’s even possible to generate common online help from different source formats. High flexibility coupled with low customization effort. Can even handle messily formatted documents fairly well.

Price level: medium

Adobe FrameMaker

FrameMaker itself has some good export options for creating online help.

Price level: medium

Mif2Go

Converts FrameMaker files into compiled online help (CHM), browser-based help (WebHelp), DITA, and Microsoft Word. Rather complex installation and customization required. Uses a proprietary “Document Coding Language” (DCL) for configuration. Mif2Go is interesting especially when you need custom conversions that aren’t provided by existing converters, or when you need to closely integrate a conversion into a specific production processes.

Price level: free (freeware)

DocxManager

Website generator and document manager for Word documents. Lets you manage and edit each part of a long text as a separate document, and then merges them into one.

Price level: low

Nocode

Generates a documentation or general website from documents on Google Docs.

Price level: medium

Help Producer

Merely adds a small toolbar to Microsoft Word. However, don’t be fooled: Help Producer is surprisingly powerful, and can be integrated seamlessly into Word-based workflows. Extensive customization possibilities (templates, style sheets, themes). COM scripting object model lets you control the output and automate complex tasks.

Price level: medium

WordToHelp

Converts Microsoft Word documents (Doc, Docx) to CHM and to WebHelp.

Price level: low

Doc Converter Pro

Converts Word-Files or PDF files to HTML-files (but does not build a help system from these HTLM files). Templates give you control over how the documents are converted.

Price level: low

chmProcessor

Generates compiled help (CHM), JavaHelp, or browser-based HTML help (WebHelp) from Microsoft Word files. Splits the source documents by title formats.

Price level: free (open source)

NüHelp

Basic converter for transforming Microsoft Word and HTML files to a CHM help file.

Price level: free (open source)

Mammoth .docx to HTML converter

Aims at producing simple and clean plain HTML files from *.docx files.

Price level: free (open source)

Mere HTML and CHM compilers and converters

HTML Help Workshop

Microsoft’s compiler and basic editing tool for the compiled Microsoft help format (CHM).

Price level: free (freeware)

XMLmind Web Help Compiler (whc)

Converts a set of static XHTML pages to web help.

Price level: free (open source)

chmProcessor

Generates compiled help (CHM), JavaHelp, or browser-based HTML help (WebHelp) from Microsoft Word files or from HTML files. Splits the source documents at places where heading formats have been used.

Price level: free (open source)

Precision Helper

Compiles a full-featured CHM file from a set of HTML files. Can also be used to create basic browser-based help from the same set of files, and to merge several HTML files into one singe HTML file. This single HTML file can then be imported into a text processor to create a printed user manual from the same source. Clear, modern user interface. Support for context-sensitive help and index keywords. Various helpful project management features.

Price level: free (freeware)

HTML Executable

Creates stand-alone desktop EXE applications from websites or from any group of HTML pages and linked media files. Can for example be used to convert browser-based help (WebHelp) into an executable. Makes it possible to require a license key to access information.

Price level: low

eWriter Creator

Compiles multiple HTML files into one single executable file that can be used as a replacement for a CHM file, for example.

Price level: free (freeware)

Nativefier

Creates a desktop application for any website (such as WebHelp). For Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Price level: free (open source)

Asciidoctor

Text processor and publishing toolchain for converting AsciiDoc content to HTML5, DocBook, and other formats.

Price level: free (open source)

PDFreactor

Automatically creates PDF files from HTML and XML input. Uses CSS for page layout and styles.

Price level: high

Softany CHM to PDF Converter

Converts CHM files into PDF files including cover, table of contents, header, footer, page number, etc.

Price level: low

Help tools with a focus on code and API documentation

Document! X

Automates the process of creating and maintaining documentation particularly for complex components or XSD schemas. High degree of automation and flexibility. Translations into foreign languages can be done either with the help of a built-in translation editor, or via XML export/import.

Document!X is a product of Contiem.

Price level: medium

Doc-O-Matic Professional

Professional documentation tool, particularly for source code documentation and for developer documentation. HTML output can be customized to a high degree. Good support for single source publishing. Can also create high-quality PDF manuals.

Price level: medium

GhostDoc

Generates properly formatted method and type documentation from source code comments. Allows you to edit documentation in WYSIWYG fashion, with the changes persisted back to the XML documentation in the code. The GhostDoc Pro Enterprise Edition also includes a feature that lets you add conceptual content pages in your help files. Outputs to various online formats. The built-in spelling checker can check both your comments and your code for misspellings.

Price level: low

West Wind HTML Help Builder

Although this tool shows its strengths especially when it comes to documentation of source code and program libraries, it also meets the requirements of persons who create end user documentation. Supports discrete information types and templates and gives you full control over the generated HTML code. Can also create clean Microsoft Word documents, including paragraph and character styles. Another advantage is the built-in multiple user support. A major disadvantage of the program is that it doesn’t support conditional text and text variables.

Price level: medium

VSdocman

Directly integrated into Visual Studio. Can automatically read namespaces, types and their members and documentation comments in your code and transform them into MSDN-style documentation. In addition you can also also add and edit your own topics. For advanced editing and further processing, you can optionally export to Help & Manual (another help authoring tool) and to XML.

Price level: low

Documentation Insight

Delphi source code documentation solution.

Price level: low

Stoplight

Automatically creates documentation from OpenAPI files. This documentation can include code samples in various programming languages, guides written in Markdown, embed try-it-out functionality, and both public and private documentation with granular roles and permissions.

Price level: diverse

DocFX

Creates a static website that contains both conceptual documentation from Markdown files and API documentation from .NET source code and source code comments. Other than many similar tools also runs on Windows.

Price level: free (open source)

Sphinx

Designed for the documentation of Python projects and C/C++ projects. Output formats include HTML (WebHelp), Windows HTML Help (CHM), and LaTeX for printable PDF versions.

Price level: free (open source)

Read the Docs

Transforms and hosts documentation written in reStructuredText or Markdown with the help of Sphinx. Adds various extra features for professional use.

Price level: high

Microsoft Sandcastle

Produces MSDN-style documentation by scanning source assemblies. Optionally also integrates XML documentation comments.

Price level: free (freeware)

Slate

Helps you create good-looking API documentation, based on Markdown. Features include an excellent navigation menu and syntax highlighting of code samples. Documentation and code samples can be shown side by side. If you provide code samples in different programming languages, you can add tabs for switching between these languages.

Price level: free (open source)

Swagger UI

Automatically generates documentation described in a Swagger specification. Swagger2Markup can be used to combine this documentation also with hand-written documentation.

Price level: free (open source)

Docbox

Creates REST API documentation in a a two-column layout from Markdown files.

Price level: free (open source)

DapperDox

Combines API documentation with documentation written in Markdown.

Price level: free (open source)

agilo

Creates API documentation from data written in the Blueprint Markdown-based document format. Comes with various themes.

Price level: free (open source)

Javadoc

Generates API documentation in HTML format from doc comments in source code.

Price level: free (freeware)

ReDoc

Generates documentation from OpenAPI (Swagger) definitions.

Price level: free (open source)

TypeDoc

Documentation generator for TypeScript projects.

Price level: free (open source)

Doxygen

Documentation system for C++, C, Java, Objective-C, Python, IDL, Fortran, VHDL, PHP, and C#.

Price level: free (open source)

VBDoxygen

Visual Basic add-in that converts VB code into java-like syntax for processing via Doxygen.

Price level: free (open source)

ROBODoc

Creates source code documentation by extracting comments from shell scripts and source code written in C, C++, Fortran, Perl, Assembler, DCL, DB/C, Tcl/Tk, Forth, Lisp, COBOL, Occam, Basic, HTML, Clarion, and any other language that supports comments.

Price level: free (open source)

apiDoc

Creates documentation from comments in the source code.

Price level: free (open source)

ApiGen

Specialized on documentation for PHP projects.

Price level: free (open source)

RDoc

Specialized on documentation for Ruby projects.

Price level: free (open source)

documentation.js

Generates documentation from comments in JavaScript source code (JSDoc syntax).

Price level: free (open source)

MireDot

REST API documentation generator for Java. Takes the Java code you already have and compiles it into documentation in HTML and Word format.

Price level: medium

Hologram

Automatically builds a styleguide from the comments in a CSS file. The comments and thus the result can be formatted in Markdown.

Price level: free (open source)

Aigis

Automatically builds a styleguide from the comments in a CSS file. Uses Markdown for formatting.

Price level: free (open source)

styledown

Creates a CSS styleguidse from comments in a CSS file.

Price level: free (open source)

docToolchain

AsciiDoc toolchain for software architecture documentation.

Price level: free (open source)

Static help site generators

GitBook

Documentation format and toolchain using Git and Markdown. Provides web or desktop editors (Markdown or AsciiDoc), team authoring support plus version control and multi language support. Can output HTML, PDF, ePub, or Mobi. Templates for API documentation, knowledge bases, and manual documentation.

Price level: diverse

Foliant

Produces HTML, pdf, and docx from Markdown source files. Integrates Pandoc for pdf and docx and MkDocs for HTML. Supports snippets and conditional content.

Price level: free (open source)

Jekyll

General static site generator that is quite often used for documentation sites as well.

Price level: free (open source)

Documentation theme for Jekyll

Price level: free (open source)

CloudCannon

Cloud CMS for Jekyll. Pulls the repository and rebuilds your site. Changes made directly on CloudCannon are committed back to the repository.

Price level: medium

Forestry

CMS for static sites with support for Jekyll, Hugo, and Git.

Price level: medium

HUGO

Another one of the most popular open-source static site generators. Sometimes also used for documentation websites.

Price level: free (open source)

DAUX.IO

Documentation generator that uses a simple folder structure and Markdown files to create WebHelp on the fly. Needs to be installed on a web server. Key features are: Mobile-friendly responsive design, auto syntax highlighting, themes, flat design style, shareable SEO-friendly URLs, as well as support for Google Analytics and Piwik Analytics.

Price level: free (open source)

Doctor

Documentation server that creates an HTML documentation website from markdown files stored in any place, such as on github, dropbox, google drive, etc.

Price level: free (open source)

Docusaurus

Tool for creating a static documentation website from Markdown files. Can also include (static) blog pages and custom pages.

Price level: free (open source)

Antora

Multi-repository documentation site generator. Can retrieve and aggregate the (ASCIIDoc) content from multiple repositories to assemble a documentation site.

Price level: free (open source)

Orchid

Documentation engine and static site generator aiming to have high compatibility with other static site generators. Various plugins available, such as for integrating with Javadoc.

Price level: free (open source)

MkDocs

Static site generator geared towards building project documentation. Documentation source files are written in Markdown. For creation, needs Python installed on your system.

Price level: free (open source)

Theme for MkDocs

Price level: free (open source)

docpress

Creates simple static documentation sites.

Price level: free (open source)

docsify

Creates simple static documentation sites.

Price level: free (open source)

Markdoc

Creates documentation sites from Markdown files. Extends Markdown with a custom syntax for tags and annotations.

Price level: free (open source)

VuePress

Vue-powered static site generator for content-rich websites, such as technical documentation sites.

Price level: free (open source)

docz

Entirely built using the static site generator GatsbyJS and can thus leverage GatsbyJS's huge ecosystem of plugins and tools.

Price level: free (open source)

Cloud-based authoring systems for technical documentation (SaaS)

Paligo

Powerful, yet rather easy to use CMS for building technical documentation, including translation management. Follows a structured, topic-based authoring approach based on a built-in DTD (DocBook).

See also detailed review of Paligo.

Price level: high

DocTech sponsored entry

Web-based content management system.

Price level: medium

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
Web solution for creating and publishing structured online documentation. It features:
– full content traceability
– advanced tags & keywords search for content recycling
– automated table of contents and revisions lists
– linked content with fully automated and semi-automated updates allowing to easily manage multiple variants of the same document
– user customizable document approbation chains for each project / corporate division
– time saving document approbation process
– multi-level versioning
– role based document versioning
– import from and export to multiple formats including HTML, DOC, and PDF
– user customizable automated updates reminders and email notifications
– DITA/XML compliance
– built-in WYSIWYG editor
– user implementable CSS style sheets
– multi language interface
– ability to provide content to corporate intranets, knowledge based boards, etc.
This makes DocTech a simple, intuitive, and complete end-to-end solution providing multi-channel content sharing and continuous audit compliance.

Manula

Easy-to-use manual authoring tool. Creates public and private online manuals for desktops, tablets and phones. Also generates downloadable PDF manuals.

Price level: medium

ClickHelp

Modern online help authoring tool in a web browser. Created manuals can be hosted in the vendor’s cloud. Content management and single-sourcing functionality to produce online and printed documentation from the same source (PDF, DOCX, EPUB, ODT, RTF, MHT, HTML). Can import existing help files from the CHM format, preserving styles and scripts. Supports both WYSIWYG and source code editing of topics.

Price level: medium

Docsie

Online documentation tool with a focus on simplicity and team support. Supports translation and comes with an authoring memory function.

Price level: diverse

Document360

Easily creates help centers and self-service knowledge bases (no printed documentation). Provides a markdown editor, support for team authoring, versioning, analytics, access restriction, and more.

Price level: high

MadCap Central

Cloud-based platform for content and project management of documentation projects authored with the desktop-based help authoring tool MadCap Flare. Also provides a simplified, web-based editor for subject matter experts and other contributors to review and edit content written in Flare (requires AMS license).

Price level: high

DeveloperHub

Hosted documentation portal for product and API documentation.

Price level: high

snazzyDocs

Out-of-the-box help site solution with a basic set of features.

Price level: medium

HelpServer

Web-based CMS for help and documentation. Supports structured authoring and team authoring. Creates various output formats, such as HTML, video, and PDF.

Price level: not published

ReadMe.io

Hosted online documentation solution with a special focus on API and developer documentation.

Price level: diverse

tomehost

Specialized content management system for creating and publishing online user manuals.

Price level: medium

Typemill

Self-hosted flat-file CMS for text-driven websites, such as documentation websites.

Price level: free (open source)

Grav + Documentation theme for Grav

Open source flat-file CMS that can also be used for creating documentation websites. Other than many similar site generators, Grav is particularly easy to set up. You only need to copy its files to a web server. There is no other installation required.

Price level: free (open source)

Tools with a focus on building knowledge bases and FAQ pages

The following systems are some knowledge base and FAQ solutions with a special focus on product knowledge for clients. (Note that this collection does not include general knowledge bases systems for business and business process knowledge to be used internally within a company. Also, this collection does not include general self-service portals and help desk software.)

You may also use a web content management system for creating an FAQ site or simple knowledge base. However, note that these sites have no intelligent search, such as have many of the advanced knowledge bases listed above. For example, here are some knowledge base and FAQ themes for Wordpress:

Wikis and similar systems

Among wikis, the following are particularly suitable for technical documentation and user support:

Confluence, Enlite, and other add-ins

Commercial wiki that, in particular in combination with the SCROLL add-ons of K15t Software meets the requirements of a professional help authoring tool. There are also some plugins available for code and API documentation. Enlite is essentially a preconfigured, bundled version of Confluence plus some of the plugins. Refined for Confluence can generate general websites from Confluence as well as documentation sites that are independent of Confluence.

Price level: diverse

BIT.AI

Collaboration platform that can be used to create dynamic notes, technical documentation, wikis, knowledge bases, training guides, and client portals.

Price level: medium

Archbee

Web-based documentation platform with built-in collaboration support for writing developer guides, API references, and also product documentation. Can integrate content from various other development and collaboration tools.

Price level: diverse

Dokit

Based on MediaWiki. Can use templates, forms, and metadata to structure and organize content. Comes with built-in translation features, version management, rights management, semantic search, social functions, PDF export.

Price level: not published

Outline

Team knowledge base for internal documentation. The self-hosted version is free (open source).

Price level: medium

Dozuki Guidebook

Price level: not published

BlueSpice

Price level: high

MediaWiki, Semantic MediaWiki

Price level: free (open source)

dokuwiki

Price level: free (open source)

Tiki Wiki

Price level: free (open source)

TWiki

Price level: free (open source)

XML editors for creating technical documentation

Oxygen XML Author

XML editor with excellent support for DITA. Also comes with its own converter to WebHelp and the option to style PDF with CSS. Another interesting feature is that Oxygen also has in integrated Markdown editor and can integrate Markdown documents into DITA projects. Contributors and reviewers can use a simplified web editor.

Price level: medium

XMetaL

Price level: not published

Arbortext

Price level: not published

Adobe FrameMaker

Price level: medium

Xeditor

Web-based WYSIWYG XML editor.

Price level: not published

UltraXML

Price level: not published

XMLmind XML Editor

There’s also a free personal edition available with a limited set of features and for noncommercial use only.

Price level: medium

FontoXML

Web based XML editor especially designed for subject matter experts and occasional content contributors to create structured content. DITA compatible. DITA editor for small teams is free.

Price level: not published

Simply XML Content Mapper

Lets you generate reusable XML content right from Microsoft Word.

Price level: not published

Codex

Easy to use DITA editor specifically designed for engineers, who don’t want to spend much time on writing and editing.

Price level: free (freeware)

Vex

Visual XML editor based on Eclipse. Comes with DITA and DocBook integrations.

Price level: free (open source)

Content management systems for technical documentation

Various  DITA and non-DITA content management systems are available from the following vendors (listed in alphabetical order). The prices are typically in the upper range. In most cases, price details are only available on request.

DITA and XML tools

Transformation, rendering and presentation tools

DITA Open Toolkit

Transforms XML DITA content into deliverable formats such as HTML and PDF.

Price level: free (open source)

DocBook

DocBook XSL stylesheets and other tools.

Price level: free (open source)

XMLmind DITA Converter (ditac)

Alternative to the DITA Open Toolkit. Enables you to convert DITA to XHTML, HTML, browser-based help (WebHelp), CHM, EPUB, PDF, and others.

Price level: free (open source)

WebWorks ePublisher

Can be used to convert DITA to WebHelp and other formats.

Price level: not published

DITA2Go

Converts DITA files to HTML/XML, various compiles help formats, and Word.

Price level: free (freeware)

TopLeaf

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
TopLeaf is an XML publishing system that creates highly styled outputs from a rendering engine and a stylesheet development toolkit in a fraction of the time of traditional publishing processes. Features of TopLeaf include a visual PDF layout formatter, various publishing output types, and DITA plugins for Oxygen XML Editor, XMetaL Author, and the DITA Open Toolkit. The XML solution works well in automated environments, including server-based integrated applications based around content management systems. TopLeaf can be integrated within any CMS, including CCMS solutions RSuite Standard and RSuite Enterprise, as TopLeaf is part of the Contiem product stack.

Price level: not published

RSuite

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
RSuite allows companies to automate, manage, and publish all their digital content from a single system. RSuite can be scaled to a company’s content needs from an out-of-the-box solution for managing content and data (RSuite Standard) to a highly configurable, commercial cloud and on-premises hosted solution for valuable multi-channel content (RSuite Enterprise). The full software suite also includes products such as an XML publishing system, cloud text analytics services, and analysis and intelligence production. With patented semantic search capabilities, dynamic reflowable outputs, and Department of Defense-level security, Contiem offers all-in-one content solutions that drive efficiencies across a company’s entire content ecosystem.

Price level: not published

MiramoPDF

Supports document re-designs via a GUI without the need for XSLT or other programming. Can be integrated with Oxygen XML Editor or the DITA Open Toolkit.

Price level: not published

Antenna House Formatter

Powerful automated PDF publishing software for XML, DITA, and S1000D data. Can use XSL-FO or CSS.

Price level: medium

Publican

DocBook tools for creating PDF, WebHelp, and other output formats.

Price level: free (open source)

DITA2wiki

Publishes DITA content to Confluence.

Price level: free (open source)

Prince

Converts HTML and XML based documents (such as DITA) into PDF. Documents can be styled with CSS.

Price level: medium

Vivliostyle

CSS typesetting engine.

Price level: free (open source)

RenderX XEP Engine

Converts XML documents into printable documents, such as PDF, PostScript, AFP, XPS, PPML, SVG and HTML. Uses XSL Formatting Objects to do so.

Price level: medium

XMLmind XSL-FO Converter

XSL-FO processor. Converts XSL-FO to RTF, WordprocessingML (can be opened in Word 2003+), Office Open XML and OpenOffice.

Price level: medium

Saxonica

XSLT and XQuery processing tools.

Price level: diverse

HICO X-Publisher

Extracts XML and SGML content from the file system or from a content management system, aggregates the content for different audiences, and automatically publishes printed and electronic documents.

Price level: not published

Apache FOP

Print formatter driven by XSL-FO. Primary output target is PDF.

Price level: free (open source)

Migration, conversion, and other DITA tools

Stilo Migrate

Enables users to upload documents in proprietary formats, including Word and FrameMaker, and converts them to DITA XML.

Price level: not published

ConverToo

Converts Word files to DITA. Works even with poorly formatted documents by looking at the visual appearance of the content rather than on paragraph and character styles. The price depends on the size of the documents to convert.

Price level: diverse

DITA to WordPress Import Tool

Import module that takes the two-pane browser-based help output from the DITA Open Toolkit and imports the hierarchy of XHTML pages into WordPress.

Price level: free (open source)

upCast

Converts Word to XML and vice versa.

Price level: not published

WinANT

Windows interface to the Ant build utility, for the purpose of processing DITA documents.

Price level: free (open source)

DITA-OT Markdown plug-in

Enables you to use Markdown DITA as source files for the DITA Open Toolkit.

Price level: free (open source)

DITA-FMx

Set of plug-ins and structure applications that let you create and edit DITA XML files in FrameMaker. Provides a complete DITA authoring and publishing solution.

Price level: low

DITA Compare

Compares DITA documents and adds revision flags or status attributes showing the changes between the different versions. You can use this for review purposes, or you can process the attributes in your publishing pipeline and add styling or change bars to your published documents.

Price level: not published

DITA Merge

Takes two or more DITA files and merges changes. Conflicts can be managed interactively or automatically by XPath-based rules.

Price level: not published

dita-ot-pdf-css

DITA Open Toolkit plugin to generate PDF output using CSS Paged Media (requires one of the commercial PDF formatters PDFReactor or Vivliostyle).

Price level: free (open source)

Word processors and add-ons specialized on creating technical documentation

Adobe FrameMaker

Price level: medium

FrameScript/ElmScript

FrameMaker scripting and customization tool.

Price level: low

FrameMaker plug-ins

QuickSilver

Creation and management tool for long documents.

Price level: not published

OfficeForms sponsored entry

Add-on for Microsoft Word that gives you the power of single source publishing, including a database and conditional output.

Price level: medium

sponsored entry  Description supplied by vendor:
OfficeForms: The most simple editorial system.
 
OfficeForms supplements Microsoft Word with functions of an editorial system.
* Module management – Centrally stored modules are the better alternative to Copy & Paste.
* Variant management – Variable content avoids redundancies.
* Multilinguality – Translations can be managed intelligently.
 
And all this using Word and WYSIWYG.

SmartDocs

Adds functions to manage and reuse content from within Microsoft Word documents.

Price level: medium

FS Pro

Add-ons for Microsoft Word and Confluence that assists you in applying the Information Mapping method to your writing.

Price level: medium

SingleFeeder

Text module library and translation memory for efficient publishing. Comes with interfaces to Word, FrameMaker, InDesign, PowerPoint, and XLIFF.

Price level: medium

data2check

Checks Word documents and InDesign files for unwanted styles and manual formatting to enforce consistency.

Price level: free (web application)

Macros for Writers and Editors

Collection of Microsoft Word macros.

Price level: free (freeware)

GeWoVa

Add-on for Microsoft Word, which adds the functionality to work with document variables. You can create, insert and update variables, mass-export variables to Excel, and mass-import variables from Excel.

Price level: low

PowerTOC

Creates a table of contents for a set of PowerPoint slides.

Price level: low

Indexing tools

With most help authoring tools and other technical writing tools, you can add index entries easily. If, however, you create HTML pages manually, or if you want to use some advanced indexing features, the following indexing tools may be helpful.

Annotate.co

Itself is not an editor, but enables you to upload a PDF or Word document and share this document with colleagues. Each person can add notes and tags to the text and images and reply to each other's notes. You can mark notes resolved or reopened. There is also a free version for up to 3 users available.

Price level: not published

PleaseReview

Provides review and co-authoring features for Microsoft Word documents.

Price level: not published

indoition Starter Template

Professional Microsoft Word template and OpenOffice / LibreOffice template for creating technical documentation. Aims to produce clear documents that are appealing to the user and efficient to create and update for the author.

Price level: low

Classical DTP programs

Adobe InDesign

Price level: medium

QuarkXPress

Price level: medium

VivaDesigner

There is also a free version available.

Price level: medium

Affinity Publisher

Price level: low

Microsoft Publisher

Price level: low

Scribus

Price level: free (open source)

Classical word processors

Microsoft Word

Price level: medium

OpenOffice, LibreOffice

Price level: free (open source)

Google Docs

Price level: free (web application)

SoftMaker Office

Price level: low

WordPerfect Office

Price level: medium

ONLYOFFICE

Price level: free (open source)

SMASHDOCs

Specialized on collaborative editing.

Price level: not published

Papyrus

Designed for handling long documents in particular. Includes DUDEN Korrektor (for German text).

Price level: low

RagTime

Price level: medium

LyX

Price level: free (open source)

Scrivener

Takes a step further than a plain word processor and also supports research and structuring of a document.

Price level: low

Decision aids: Choosing a help authoring tool

Help authoring tools (HATs) or user assistance development tools are specialized editors and converters you can use to create online technical documentation. Today, many help authoring tools also provide features for single source publishing, which means that you can generate several output formats and versions from one shared text base. While most help authoring tools manage to produce different online formats such as browser-based help and compiled help very well, only a few tools can also produce printed user manuals (PDF) of professional quality. Big differences also exist among HATs when it comes to translating projects into foreign languages.

The following checklist can help you decide which help authoring tool best suits your specific needs.

Basic groups of tools

The primary differentiating characteristic is the question of where and how writers put together their texts and format them.

Tools with a built-in editor
The majority of help authoring tools have their own fully integrated WYSIWYG editor.

Advantages: Texts and meta-information can be created and managed together. There are no additional license costs for an external editor. Only one software package has to be installed and updated.

Disadvantage: The integrated editors don’t often provide the same comfort and efficiency as the major text processors. If you want to use macros or auto text, for example, you’ll often have to use a third-party utility.

Tools that use an external editor

Other tools follow the contrary approach and use an external editor to create the texts—mostly Microsoft Word, but also, to an increasing extent, FrameMaker, HTML editors, and XML editors.

Advantage: You can use all the functions of your favorite editor.

Disadvantages: Often, operation is inefficient. Because the source data is mostly loaded with additional meta-information (for example, in the form of hidden texts or with the help of field functions), the translation process becomes particularly error-prone. Add to this the typical, well-known problems of the various editors, which means that those who are always reluctant to work with one of these editors, such as Microsoft Word, will never be happy with a tool that integrates this editor.

Mere converters

In this group, text creation and help generation are largely decoupled. Complete user manuals (mostly written with Microsoft Word or FrameMaker) are converted into online help only in the second step. The basis for formatting is usually a specific template, which must be strictly adhered to while writing the texts. Moreover, similar to the tools that use an external editor, some additional meta-information often has to be incorporated in the text.

Advantage: This procedure promotes efficient single source publishing, especially if the material already exists in the form of printable user manuals.

Disadvantages: The book metaphor can mislead the author easily into writing contents that are not as modular as required for online help. The results are often mere books on screen instead of media-adapted online help. Another disadvantage is the fact that the documentation for different product versions can’t really be generated from the same source.

Other converters are based on XML-DITA. Using these converters avoids the disadvantages listed above, as it forces the author to develop a modular, online-ready structure right from the beginning.

Support for translations?

If online help needs to be Unicode-compatible for certain languages, this restricts the choice of tools. Not all programs support Unicode. There are also significant differences in the translation workflow. Many tools completely ignore translation requirements. Others provide sophisticated export and import options for texts that are to be sent out to external translators, or enable the author to edit several languages in parallel.

Team support?

Only a few of the classical help authoring tools explicitly support simultaneous editing by several authors. In some cases, this can also be achieved manually to a certain extent at the file level, but this only works for the tools that save each topic into an individual file. If your team is working at different locations, remote access might be required.

Other considerations are:

Does the tool have a built-in version control system or can it be connected to an external VCS?

Does the tool provide any support for the review process?

Does the tool provide a possibility for subject matter experts to contribute information in an efficient and easy way?

Genuine single source publishing?

The majority of tools claim to support single source publishing, which means creating texts once and then publishing them in different formats and media. As long as these texts are just different help formats, such as compiled help or browser-based help, this usually works smoothly. However, when it comes to generating printable user manuals or PDFs, in addition, the following aspects are what separates the wheat from the chaff:

Is it possible to fine-tune the formatting of the exported documents? Many tools, for instance, don’t export the names of paragraph and character styles. Thus, it becomes barely feasible to achieve a professional print layout efficiently.

Is it possible to automatically eliminate or insert media-typical text fragments, such as “on page” or “in chapter”?

Can the export be restricted to specific contents?

If documentation, both for different media and for different product versions, has to be generated from the same source (such as for a standard version and a pro version) single source publishing acquires one more dimension. Some tools enable you to define so-called conditional texts or build flags to hide specific sections of the text, as required. Other important features are variables and text snippets (sometimes also called embedded topics), which enable you to use individual text sections many times over, such as product names or a warning.

Automation of the build process?

Can the production of documentation for multiple product versions be automated? Is it possible to invoke the tool from the command line or from scripts? Can the tool be invoked along with all the settings and parameters that are required?

Can the tool be integrated into an overall build process?

Documentation of source code?

Some tools are specialized for code, assembly, and component documentation. They scan the source code and automatically generate a completely linked basic framework for the documentation. Citations from the source code are also formatted automatically (the syntax highlighting feature).

Manual formatting?

Using a low-cost tool can prove to be a costly exercise when a project grows larger than initially expected, or when it has to be revised later on. Most low-cost tools don’t support definable paragraph and character styles and format each word manually. When a global change to the layout becomes necessary, then comes the rude awakening.

A low-cost solution might be an economical alternative only for those who just need to create a small online help file occasionally and don’t have to maintain and update it regularly.

Control over the HTML code?

Although all current help formats are backed by the source format HTML, only a few tools give you full control over the generated HTML, JavaScript, and CSS code. Here you’ll have to make a fundamental decision: Do you want to be able to tweak the code manually, or are you looking for a tool that spares you from dealing with most of the technical details?

Other authoring aspects

Finally, there are some questions regarding performance, efficiency, and the scope of functions:

Is there support for advanced navigation features such as expandable sections, a breadcrumb trail, related-topic links, and mini TOCs?

Is it possible to call browser-based help in a context-sensitive way? Or will only the home page (index.html) appear?

How easy is it to import legacy data from other tools?

What other useful functions does the software provide? For instance, some tools come with useful utilities, such as a screen capture tool or tools for image processing.

Strategic questions

Apart from the help authoring tool’s set of features, and its performance and usability, you should also take into account the following worst-case scenarios:

What happens if the manufacturer of the tool discontinues the product or ceases operations? Does your tool require a server run by the manufacturer? Does your tool require activation when installed on a new computer? If any of these scenarios occur, could you continue to use the tool for at least a limited amount of time?

How easily can you migrate your source files when you have to (or want to) switch to another tool in the future? Does the tool use open formats such as XML / DITA to store its data? Can you only migrate some output of one specific document variant, or can you migrate your project’s source files along with all the metadata?

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This page was last updated 06/2023
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