Technical communication tools

Technical communicators use a variety of tools to create usable information. Often referred to as a "tool set", there is no defined list of tools that are used by all technical writers. However, broad categories of tools are used by most technical writers and communicators.Many tools have independent forums that provide varying levels of support or assistance.

Word processors

There are a variety of word processors available, each with advantages and disadvantages. The most common are Framemaker by Adobe Systems, and Word by Microsoft. OpenOffice.org is a relatively recent tool that is growing in popularity.

E-Learning programs

The latest trend in online education is to connect tutors and students from across the world with interactive software. [http://www.authorlive.com authorLIVE] has gained good ground in the field, offering an excellent tutoring environment, and is fast becoming the preferred connectivity solution for distance learning. Other options include [http://www.saplingsystems.com IBIS] , [http://www.blackboard.com Blackboard] , and [http://www.webct.com WebCT] .

Graphics programs

There is an old cliché: "A picture is worth a thousand words". This holds true for technical communication. Many document sets contain large numbers of screen captures, black-box diagrams, and other explanatory pictures to assist the reader in understanding a concept or action. The most commonly used programs are industry leader Corel Photo XI, Photoshop by Adobe Systems, and GIMP.

Desktop publishing software

Not all projects require a high level of presentation quality, especially projects designed for a company's internal use only. When a project is to be presented to external audiences, presentation becomes more important. Desktop publishing software can give a document set a better presentation than a word processor.

* For documents requiring a complex or flexible layout, or with strict typography demands, the two most common packages are QuarkXpress and InDesign.
* For unstructured long document publishing, such a technical manuals, Framemaker and Interleaf are the most common choices.

Text editors

Lightweight text editors are very useful tools. While many word processors can be used to edit text, specialised text editors generally have features for handling text that word processors don't have. The most common text editors are Notepad by Microsoft, BBEdit, vim, and TextPad.

HTML editors

Any text editor can be used as an HTML editor, but specialised HTML editors generally include features for manipulating HTML that text editors don't include. Many word processors can save information as HTML, but the quality of HTML output is often not to W3C standards. The most common HTML editors are HTML-Kit, Homesite/Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive, and Namo.

Specialized Tools for Generating Help files

Although various outputs have been historically popular, the overall trend in help documentation output format is towards online help. There are many software packages designed for producing help files:

* [http://www.authorit.com/ Author.IT]
* [http://www.doctohelp.com/ DoctoHelp]
* [http://www.ec-software.com/index.html Help & Manual]
* [http://www.extremeease.com/helpconsole%20overview.htm HelpConsole]
* [http://www.helpserver.eu HelpServer]
* [http://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/flare/home.aspx MadCap Flare]
* [http://www.adobe.com/products/robohelp/ RoboHelp]

Online forums

Technical communicators often seek the advice and recommendations of their peers through online forums. These can include, but are not limited to, email lists, wiki pages, and internet forums or discussion boards. The forums provide information on technical communication standards and job prospects, as well as several other topics.

Other useful tools

There are many other tools that technical communicators find useful. Dictionaries are one of the most useful tools any writer can have. A list of online dictionaries is available.For more information on available tools refer to the category.

External links

* [http://www.infopros.com/services/documentation.html InfoPros (Professional Technical Communications Development)]
* [http://www.stcforum.org STC Forum] (Society for Technical Communication discussion board)
* [http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Technical_writing Wikiversity Technical Writing course]


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