Voluminous, complex, time-consuming and costly…
Have you guessed what all this is about? This is what software documentation is typically associated with in the man’s mind. Such an obnoxious view of documentation today is caused by people’s ignorance of powerful software documentation tools that can really streamline document creation.
Technical writing is not an easy task. Knowing that software documentation is essential, everyone still avoids taking the responsibility of it. Indeed, automatic software documentation tools can take the hassle out of writing documentation and tackle a number of your challenges at work. What’s important is to choose the right documentation tool for a specific stage of the software development life cycle. Thus, we have undertaken a research-based approach and come up with a bunch of tools that may be of great use at each stage as a project progresses. We grouped them into categories according to different types of software documentation so that you won’t have to look any further than this comprehensive list.
Software Documentation Tools That Do the Hard Work for You
As alleged by Harvard Business Review, project life cycle embraces the following stages: planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout.
Using the same logic, types of software documentation involved in each stage can be respectively outlined as below:
To enable faster documentation process and consistency across all pieces of content you produce, it’s better to utilize software documentation tools. They will make you a better writer and an awesome documentation ninja. Let’s get started.
1. Software Documentation Tools to Create End-User Documentation
When you got a task to write a user guide, a training manual, or any other type of help files, chances are you would first turn to the aid of some free tools which are a complete waste of time or do the task manually with the help of a text editor + screen capturing tool + image editor.
Traditionally, you would capture every screenshot separately, use an image editing tool to annotate each one, then upload these visuals to Word, Google Docs or a text editor and manually complement them with text descriptions. Manual work, multiple contexts, plus the time-consuming aspects make the whole procedure ineffective.
StepShot Guides offers the best solution for large enterprises to generate user manuals and online guides just in a few clicks. With StepShot Guides, you may bid farewell to the traditional way of documenting things and get the work done in a timely manner without switching between multiple applications.
- Provides a feature to capture multiple screenshots on mouse clicks
- Offers to publish a guide into various formats (Word, PDF, HTML, PowerPoint, StepShot Cloud, Video, Images)
- Allows to edit screenshots with a built-in image editor
- Has integrations with WordPress, Confluence, ServiceNow, and SharePoint
- Allows to keep all guides saved in a library
- Offers to style your documentation through customizable templates
- Fewer text fonts than some users expect.
MadCap Flare is a cloud-based solution for technical writers and content developers that lets you create, publish and manage your content.
- Multi-language authoring, translation, and publishing
- A number of output formats (HTML5, WebHelp, PDF, Word, XHTML, Clean XHTML, EPUB, DITA and more)
- True responsive content with the responsive layout editor
- Project templates
- Advanced Stylesheet Editor with Multiple Medium Views
- Team Collaboration and Project Management
- No remote working opportunities
- No 401k match
SAP Enable Now helps improve user adoption and the efficiency of software programs across enterprises creating powerful e-learning content for employees.
- On-premise or cloud deployment
- Single-source recordings
- Customizable learning content
- In-application help and performance support
- Training simulation and test-script creation
- Complex pricing
- Very high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
- High-risk deployment
Oracle UPK is a unique platform to generate, deploy, control and maintain software training content to ensure better end-user adoption. Oracle UPK delivers context-sensitive help directly within the application to walk the user through a business process reducing help desk calls.
- Available in 22 Languages
- Has a number of integrations with core ERP systems
- Supports any application
- Automatically captures a process as you perform the procedure
- 4 Million users globally
- Oracle discontinues the development of User Productivity Kit – UPK premier support ends in April 2019
- Outdated and heavy interface
- Super complex
- Price per one user – 17k USD
2. Software Documentation Tools for Gathering and Managing Requirements
Gathering software requirements is the #1 task to do when you are just embarking on a new project. To decide what needs to be done is sometimes even more complicated than getting it done. It’s true, inaccurate requirements management accounts for half of project failures. Therefore, we gathered several tools that can help you elicit better requirements and provide clarity to translating brilliant ideas into viable solutions:
Jira is known as popular issue tracking software, but many teams have reported that it is also an awesome tool to manage your user stories and requirements in the hassle-free format.
- It’s possible to create a JIRA issue type specifically for requirements with its own workflow, custom fields, and reporting
- You can link related requirements together or with feature requests
- With the help of subtasks, you can easily add and manage your requirements
- Stunning official web page.
- Has profound online documentation
- Too complex to master for newbies
- Expensive for more than 10 users
- In order to export a complete requirements document, you will need a plug-in.
User Story-mapping is a good technique to generate a vivid, dynamic artifact that can be used by the entire team during the whole process of building and improving a product. Here are the tools that will let you write user stories and use cases in a breeze:
StoriesOnBoard is a browser-based cloud solution developed by the Hungarian company DevMads that tackles the problem of user story mapping. It is an online agile collaborative tool for release planning and managing your project’s scope.
- Integration with JIRA, Trello, GitHub Issues, and Pivotal Tracker
- Team collaboration
- Export to XLS, PDF or PNG is available
- There is virtually no learning curve to use this product
- No way to generate a link to share a given storymap; you need to invite users one by one via email
- No free plan (except a 30-day free trial)
On the flip side, there are numerous drawing tools that enable the drawing of Use Case Diagrams.
Smartdraw is a diagram application used to make flowcharts, organization charts, mind maps, project charts, and other business visuals. It is a visual communication tool that provides the smartest way to create any diagram using built-in templates and powerful automation.
- SmartDraw Cloud is available in 100 languages
- Has a number of integrations (Jira, Confluence, Trello, G Suite, and more)
- Effortless Collaboration
- SmartDraw includes over 4,500 templates for more than 70 different diagram types
- The software runs on a Windows desktop, on a Mac, and online.
- Some of the exported files are heavy in size
- There are no 3D tools
- The timelines are a bit difficult to work with
Trello is a task management application based on the Kanban system that can help you organize your requirements in a simple-to-use format. It a visual collaboration tool that helps you manage current tasks with the help of interactive boards.
- Provides a free plan
- Available on about any size of a screen
- Creating issues and assigning people to those issues are simple
3. Software Documentation Tools for Writing Software Architecture Documentation
Software architecture design documents lay down the key concepts and principles on which the architecture is designed and describe the logic used to build the software. Without proper architecture documentation, a project may run into a dead end. We’ve compiled a list of tools that are typically used to design software architecture documents.
Read the Docs is a free platform for software documentation hosting with freely available source code. It facilitates writing technical documentation by automating building, versioning, and hosting for you.
- Documentation can be automatically built for the web, print, and offline use
- Multiple versions
- Support for webhooks, so your docs get built when you commit code
- GitHub integration
- Since it’s a completely free and developer-oriented tool, it has an outdated user interface
When designing software architecture, it’s essential to visualise architecture models using a collection of diagrams The Unified Modeling Language (UML) is known as a standard visual modeling language primarily designed to document business processes and software architecture using several types of diagrams.
GenMyModel can be utilized to create Unified Language Modeling (UML) diagrams and flowcharts for their further use in software architecture design and team collaboration environments.
- Fast and intuitive interface
- Centralized model repository
- Easy collaboration
- Code generation oriented
- Project-based drawing
- Complicated pricing system, but there are free packages
4. Software Documentation Tools for Writing APIs
Developers hate technical writing and software documentation unless it is written in a proper and consistent way. To ensure a seamless developer’s experience, one should refer to special software that can automate the whole process. Here is our brief round-up of the top best tools for writing API documentation.
Doxygen is the best documentation generator for writing software reference documentation. It is mainly used for auto-generating API documentation, though you can also use it to generate documentation separate from an API.
- Can build various graphs and diagrams from the source code
- Can generate a browsable and syntax highlighted version of your code, and cross-reference that with the documentation
- Runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac
- Very customizable
- There is also support for generating output in RTF (MS-Word), PostScript, hyperlinked PDF, compressed HTML, and Unix man pages
- Once your documentation was built in Doxygen, moving to something else might not be so easy, because Doxygen has its own formatting
Swagger is the best open source API framework to design, build, and document APIs. Swagger is used both to generate API server code, client code, and the documentation for those services.
- Has the largest language support of any open source framework
- A large community and support base
- Free to use
- Automatically generates standard documentation
- Hard to customize
- No hypermedia support
Slate helps one to write API documentation by using Markdown and lets publish it to Github pages for free hosting. It can create beautiful, intelligent, responsive API documentation.
- Profound documentation wiki page
- Intuitive UX/UI design
- Isn’t tightly connected with source code
- Customizable because it is written in Markdown
- Writing documentation with Slate is a slower process compared with Swagger because you have to write everything by yourself
- No Markdown editor
5. Software Documentation Tools to Document Databases
Those companies that have already realized the benefit of documenting databases know all too well how vital it is to have profound database documentation since it helps find out the most troublesome parts of the system and facilitates making a right decision because the risk is easier to evaluate. It is challenging, however, to find the right software that will automate the process of creating database documentation. If you are looking for the appropriate tool, the list of tools enumerated below may be of great use for you:
Dataedo is an excellent tool to document your SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL databases. It can describe each table and column (data dictionary), procedure and function, build ER diagrams from the existing schema and generate HTML, PDF or Excel documents.
- Enables to document cross-database dependencies
- Allows to document stored procedures and functions
- Provides the possibility to generate Data Dictionary for existing databases
- Lets you build meaningful ER Diagrams
- Supports multiple databases
- Allows offline work
- Exports files to PDF, Excel and interactive HTML
- Steep learning curve
- No option to export files to Word or CHM
dbdesc produces detailed documents describing your software. dbdesc uses XSLT templates to transform an XML file that holds your database description to get the final documentation. Sample XSLT templates are included to get HTML, RTF and Word 2003 files.
- Includes a built-in SQL Server extended properties editor
- Has a built-in report engine and report viewer with PDF support
- Provides Multi-database support (SQL Server, Ms Access, Oracle and Firebird)
- Has a table dependency matrix
- Available only on Windows
- Support for additional databases is in development
SchemaSpy is an open source Java-based tool (requires Java 8 or higher) that analyzes the metadata of a schema in a database and generates HTML and PNG-based entity relationship diagrams.
- Free to use
- Works with just about any JDBC-compliant database (Oracle/MySQL/DB2/SQL Server/PostgreSQL/etc.)
- Can identify Ruby on Rails relationships
6. Software Documentation Tools for QA Testing and Test Management
There are dozens of tools to support testing efforts within organizations. Large or small, integrated or standalone, desktop or web, free or paid. Here are the most widely used ones.
Xray for Jira is an example of a web integrated test solution. It is embedded directly inside Jira, allowing single project teams to make faster, informed decisions. It is a real-time test management solution aimed to transform how development and QA teams within enterprises collaborate to release higher quality software on time.
- 135 positive reviews with more than 2000 installations on Atlassian marketplace. This kind of evaluation is not that easy to get on a marketplace.
- Support for automation and enterprise reports
- Multilingual interface
- Support for Jira Cloud
- Pricing point. As for every product within the Atlassian ecosystem, there is a possibility to buy an unlimited product functionality for a fraction of a price compared to alternative solutions running outside of the ecosystem.
- integrated with Jira and cannot be used outside the Jira ecosystem.
TestRail is a test case management tool you can use to form better test cases and test suites. Additionally, it integrates with many issue tracking tools. It comes with the HTTP-based API to integrate with the automated test results.
- It is really easy to generate test cases and organize them effortlessly
- Powerful visual data representation
- TestRail is easier to set up for manual testing but is ok for automation as well
- There are not many cons you could find about this tool, but again, some reviewers find it not intuitive
- Every stakeholder has to be a registered (and often paid) user to see the test results
TestLink is a free open source web-based tool with typical features like requirement management, test case creation, and maintenance, test runs, tracking bugs, reports, integration with common issue trackers, etc.
- It’s free
- Set of features is pretty extensive
- Has integration with bug tracking systems – JIRA, TFS
7. Software Documentation Tools for Marketers
When it comes to marketing documentation, it’s usually associated with boring formal reporting of all your actions, which takes a lot of time for a marketing department. However, nowadays, the idea of marketing documentation has been transformed into a cross-functional collaborative space, where team members visualize their ideas, track each other’s activity, set up strategic goals and analyze achieved results to improve marketing activity of their company. This innovative approach helps make your documentation a powerful marketing asset and put your team productivity at the whole new level. Here is the list of 7 impressive marketing documentation tools for your team:
Lucidchart is the best marketing documentation tool to build different types of flowcharts for your marketing processes. Starting with visualizing simple sketches of your future content campaign and ending with comprehensive user journey flow, Lucidchart will help you organize all stages and ideas in one beautiful diagram.
- Has a number of beautifully made templates for different categories
- Is fully integrated with popular platforms (including Confluence, Slack, G Suite, etc.)
- Is connected with Visio, allowing you to export and import Visio files
- Provides an opportunity to collaborate and share your work within a team
- Basic paid plan has a considerably limited data storage
- Data linking diagrams are only available in pro packaging
- Doesn’t have an opportunity to work offline
Visio is useful software to help you visualize and simplify any processes at your company. It allows designing amazing diagrams, process modelling and data visualization by using templates that conform to industry standards. This visual documentation tool is a good choice for creating simple and understandable data-linked diagrams for your marketing operations and activities.
- Has a special integration with other Microsoft products like Skype for Business or Excel
- Offers a package with online and offline service, providing it with Microsoft data protection technologies
- Gives an opportunity to customize existing templates and get unique visuals from the content store
- Pro plan has an option of multiple product installation on up to five PCs
- Many important features like co-authoring, offline access and live data connection are not included in the basic plan
- Is rather expensive for personal use in comparison to similar products in the industry
- Can be too complicated in use if you’re searching for simple visual documentation tool to generate basic workflows
Podio is a multifunctional cloud-based tool that can empower your work management and team collaboration. It successfully combines data and content, conversations, business processes, and advanced workflows structured in one powerful tool.
- Provides easy file sharing, data visualization and connected CRM
- In addition to established integration with popular platforms, this tool offers the opportunity to have custom integrations or build new apps
- Has special extensions platform, where you can find numerous useful extras for improving your experience with Podio
- A completely free plan for up to 5 employees
- A Chrome browser extension
- Has a lack of default features and requires full customization, which makes it complicated to use without massive training
- Such important features as creating reports, synchronising contacts from other tools and real-time notifications are only available in the premium account
- Building advanced workflows requires upgrading to a professional plan
And there we have it: 21 software documentation tools at your disposal. Automatic software documentation tools can be used at each stage of the software development life cycle depending on the type of content you want to create. In fact, they can help you gain control of your daily routine tasks and save a great deal of time. Having good documentation is a key asset nowadays. Tap into these tools and make your documentation stand out!