WritersUA - Training and Information for User Assistance Professionals

2011 WritersUA User Assistance Tools Survey

The use of software tools is an important part of user assistance development. They make it possible to author, edit, and design our content. Tools are also required to transform our content into digital deliverables. Some tools are extremely robust and do many things. Others are very specialized utilities. Today, with our very diversified documentation sets, the number of tools we regularly use has become quite sizeable. This survey supplies you with a peer review to assist you in planning your tool acquisitions.


The original survey was published in Nov '10 - Jan '11 using SurveyMonkey. We presented respondents with a list of commonly used tools and asked them to rate the ones they used based on value (5=Very Important, 1=Unimportant) to their development efforts. There were 707 respondents. Anyone could participate in the survey. We required respondents to identify themselves by first name, last name, and a valid email address. We sent a follow-up email to all the respondents to check for invalid email addresses. Twelve responses were deleted as invalid. Respondents were told their email addresses would be deleted unless they chose to opt-in for our contact list.

This study comes with a couple of caveats. First, the majority of respondents are most likely customers of WritersUA. Most of the survey submissions came in response to email broadcasts we made to our mailing list. However, the WritersUA constituency is large and probably is a fair representation of the overall user assistance community. We also announced the survey on related discussion lists. Second, this survey is intended to represent the interests of technical writers involved in software user assistance and may not be representative of the technical communication or the software development communities at large. Additional survey notes are listed at the bottom of this page.

Below is a complete table of results. Since there are a variety of ways to interpret the data, we felt it would be most appropriate to display the full tabulation.

For each of the following authoring tools and utilities that you currently use, rank its importance in your development efforts:

Tool · Company 5 4 3 2 1 Total

Acrobat · Adobe 370 128 71 37 13 619
Arbortext · PTC 19 4 2 5 13 43
Author-it · Author-it Software 82 9 6 8 9 114
Blaze · MadCap Software 13 4 9 5 14 45
Camtasia · TechSmith 39 33 51 37 23 183
Captivate · Adobe 90 48 60 35 14 247
CorelDRAW · Corel 7 13 18 12 21 71
DITA Open Toolkit 30 13 10 8 12 73
Doc-To-Help · ComponentOne 8 3 5 1 13 30
Document!X · Innovasys 11 0 1 2 10 24
Dr. Explain · Indigo Byte 0 0 2 2 10 14
Dreamweaver · Adobe 67 65 34 34 18 218
Expression · Microsoft 2 6 9 14 16 47
FAR HTML · The HelpWare Group 22 8 26 12 10 78
Fireworks · Adobe 24 22 17 15 15 93
Flare · MadCap Software 228 15 15 8 17 283
Flash Professional · Adobe 40 27 42 34 23 166
Flex · Adobe 22 13 12 8 3 58
FrameMaker · Adobe 178 50 36 39 22 325
FullShot · Inbit 21 24 8 5 12 70
Help & Manual · EC Software 10 8 5 3 11 37
HelpConsole · ExtremeEase 0 1 1 1 9 12
HelpServer · 4.ST 1 0 2 0 11 14
HelpStudio · Innovasys 8 4 1 1 11 25
HTML Help Workshop · Microsoft 52 29 41 33 29 184
HyperSnap · Hyperionics 9 12 3 9 10 43
InDesign · Adobe 35 29 41 22 25 152
Mif2Go · Omni Systems 4 8 11 14 13 50
Mimic · MadCap Software 24 11 19 12 22 88
Morae · TechSmith 0 8 9 4 9 30
oXygen · SyncroSoft 17 8 6 2 10 43
Paint Shop Pro · Corel 50 57 59 39 25 230
PhotoShop · Adobe 99 73 71 47 26 316
Presenter · Adobe 19 12 15 6 11 63
Presenter · Articulate 6 11 4 6 8 35
RoboHelp · Adobe 160 38 23 42 31 294
SnagIt · TechSmith 234 102 50 25 20 431
UltraEdit · IDM 8 12 22 6 10 58
Vasont CMS · Vasont 6 5 5 4 8 28
Visio · Microsoft 93 109 129 63 40 434
WebWorks ePublisher · Quadralay 30 13 12 13 28 96
XMetaL · JustSystems 22 11 7 7 13 60


We left Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint off the survey because they are so ubiquitous in the IT industry. In past surveys over 90% of respondents indicated using Word.

We chose to list generic titles of products rather than individual versions.

We chose to list component parts of suites rather than list suites by name.

One of the considerations for adding new tools to the survey is the amount of write-in votes received in the previous year's survey. There were double-digit write-in votes for Adobe Illustrator (26), Confluence (12), and MadCap Capture (12).

In the 2010 Tools survey only four respondents mentioned specific Wiki tools. This year there were 17 mentions.

You can get a sense of how big this survey would be if we didn't do some filtering. Here is a list of other tools referenced by respondents. Most of them were listed by just one or two respondents:

Acorn, Altova XML Suite, Analyzer, AntennaHouse, Apache FOP, Apple xCode, AppWalker, Archer, Articulate Engage, Audacity, Axialis Icon Workshop, Balsamiq Mockups, Beyond Compare, Bridge Adobe, Burton Systems TLIB, Calenco, Camtasia, Capture, Capture Pro, Contribute, CutePDF, Daisy CMS, DITA2Go, Documentum, DocZone, Drupal, Edit Plus 3, EditPad Pro, Epic Editor, ExpressionEngine, Fast-Help, FastStone Capture, FileZilla, Frontpage, GadwinPrintScreen, GIF Movie Gear, GIMP, Global Help On Demand, GoldWave, Helpinator, HelpNDoc, Homesite, Illustrator, iMovie, InCopy, Inkscape, Instant Screen Capture, iShowU HD, iTunes, Ixiasoft, JDK, Joomla!, KBPublisher, LaTex, Lectora, Lightroom, Lingo, Lotus Notes, MediaInfo, MS Paint, MS Publisher, MS Snipping Tool, MoinMoin, MS Team Foundation Server, NetBeans, NoteTab Pro, OmniGraffle, OnDemand, Open Office Draw, Oracle Tutor, Oracle UPK, Paint, Paint.NET, PDF Arts Aerialist, Photoshop Elements, Premiere Pro, PrintKey, Quark, Rad Video Tools, ReStructured Text, RoboScreenCapture, RWD Info Pak, Saba Publisher, Sandcastle, Saxon, SBAppLocale, Schema ST4, Scribus, Scrivener, SDL Trisoft, SharePoint, SiberSafe, Siebel iHelp, SKY indexing, SmartDraw, Subversion, TaskArchitect, TeamSite, Text Wrangler, TextPad, TopStyle, Tortoise SVN, uPerform, Ventura Publisher, Visual SourceSafe, Visual Studio, WebWorks ePublisher, WinCVS, Wordpress, Xara, Xenu, XML Marker, XMLMind, XMLSpy, Zoom Search Engine.

You can find links to many of these tools in the Tools section of the WritersUA User Assistance Resource Directory.


Here are some of the comments about the survey provided by respondents:

Great to see a 1 pager at last! Very often I start really long surveys and end up abandoning them by page 2 or 3.

I could not live without Illustrator for creating content for my learning products.

I didn't see a wiki platform here. Wikis are functioning as help authoring platforms.

I interpreted "important" as "critical to pipeline" rather than "frequently used". For example I use SnagIt almost every day but could just as easily use any other screen capture utility. On the other hand, I rarely use FAR but when I need it I *really* need it.

I write primarily API documentation, and more and more customers are asking for content using Wiki-based tools.

It seems like the web content management systems are missing. I use SharePoint a lot to deliver user assistance to my company on their intranet. I think tools like that are becoming more ubiquitous, over time.

Maybe I'm unique but there are other underlying technologies used in my environment, such as perl, Mason, cvs (version control). Not sure exactly what you're trying to measure, but I would bet there's another axis in terms of the actual publishing environment that might be interesting to note.

Please avoid taking email id's as it may not provide you with accurate, fair and open feedback on the listed products.

The above list doesn't seem to have many knowledge base publishing tools, which is the direction we (and a lot of other software companies) are going in.

The list seems quite random. There is a mix of enterprise content-management, desktop user assistance, and traditional DTP. In some cases, there are big gaps: e.g., with CMS, you have multiple options for authoring and output, far more than are presented here. For single-source tools, you have to combine some of these to get the best results.

The best tools according to my opinion are ranked highest, but unfortunately we may not use the best tools due to political decisions.

There are tools that I use because my company has made them standard, but I do not feel those tools are ideal. I personally think a survey about how well we think the tools work would be much more valuable.

These are the tools my team currently uses, but I would like to try using different tools. Unfortunately, I'm encountering some resistance to change due to the learning curve and overhead associated with transitioning to using new tools.

We author our developer docs in Mediawiki and output to MSHelp2, HTML, and PDF.

We have two sets of tools and storage systems because we are moving from HTML/SGML to XML.

We're using the same tools we used five years ago. The economy in the last 2-3 years has limited the upgrades we can purchase. There is no way we can consider changing tools in terms of budget.

What about content management? With XML we use a content management system to manage documents and publishing.

You don't list very many CBT-type software packages such as ToolBook. Also, there are other online help packages that people program besides RoboHelp.

We hope the information is useful to you. Please send us any feedback you have on the survey or the analysis. To receive news and updates on future WritersUA surveys and events, join our mailing list.

Copyright © 2011 WritersUA. All Rights Reserved.
shannonm *at* writersua *dot* com


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WritersUA offers cutting-edge training and information to Technical Writers, Information Analysts and Architects, Documentation Designers, Help Authors, Publication Managers, Documentation Leads, Senior Writers and Documentation Contractors, and User Education Specialists. The focus is on software user assistance, which encompasses writing, editing, planning, coding, indexing, testing, programming, localization, and standards development.

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