WritersUA - Training and Information for User Assistance Professionals

2012 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 Oct 20 - Dec 7, 2011, using SurveyMonkey. We presented respondents with a list of commonly used tools and asked them to rate the ones they used based on the value (5=Very Important, 1=Unimportant) to their development efforts. There were 702 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. We removed the entries with invalid email addresses. Respondents were told their email addresses would be deleted unless they chose to opt-in for our contact list. We also removed a number of entries that came from the same ip address within several minutes of each other, all of which had a single vote for the same product.

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.

Tool · Company 5 4 3 2 1 Total

Acrobat · Adobe 304 100 66 33 14 517
Arbortext · PTC 21 4 8 5 8 46
Author-it · Author-it Software 39 7 7 7 13 73
Blaze · MadCap Software 18 1 6 7 14 46
Camtasia · TechSmith 35 34 56 35 21 181
Captivate · Adobe 57 38 63 37 26 221
Capture · MadCap 42 15 20 20 12 109
Confluence · Atlassian 38 13 18 15 14 98
CorelDRAW · Corel 6 10 17 15 23 71
DITA Open Toolkit · Oasis 43 12 14 16 13 98
Doc-To-Help · ComponentOne 10 3 8 5 13 39
Document!X · Innovasys 7 1 4 0 11 23
Dr. Explain · Indigo 1 1 2 0 8 12
Dreamweaver · Adobe 48 46 32 45 28 199
Expression · Microsoft 4 6 4 9 13 36
FAR HTML · The HelpWare Group 9 11 6 11 11 48
Fireworks · Adobe 16 16 18 16 28 94
Flare · MadCap Software 184 16 8 9 8 225
Flash Professional · Adobe 15 24 25 30 36 130
Flex · Adobe 5 5 7 9 13 39
FrameMaker · Adobe 145 34 29 26 41 275
FullShot · Inbit 8 6 6 10 10 40
Help & Manual · EC Software 7 1 4 2 13 27
HelpConsole · ExtremeEase 1 0 1 1 8 11
HelpServer · 4.ST 3 0 2 2 6 13
HelpStudio · Innovasys 3 0 3 2 9 17
HTML Help Workshop · Microsoft 29 24 31 33 41 158
HyperSnap · Hyperionics 8 3 8 5 9 33
Illustrator · Adobe 49 45 43 30 28 195
InDesign · Adobe 31 34 30 21 25 141
Mif2Go · Omni Systems 7 5 11 9 12 44
Mimic · MadCap Software 24 16 14 11 16 81
Morae · TechSmith 3 3 5 6 7 24
Oxygen · SyncroSoft 26 7 11 11 12 67
Paint Shop Pro · Corel 37 45 37 32 27 178
PhotoShop · Adobe 80 72 60 43 36 291
Presenter · Adobe 7 4 11 5 17 44
Presenter · Articulate 9 4 5 4 6 28
RoboHelp · Adobe 127 24 27 29 33 240
SnagIt · TechSmith 232 86 45 25 17 405
UltraEdit · IDM 9 8 11 9 12 49
Vasont CMS · Vasont 9 2 4 2 9 26
Visio · Microsoft 55 108 102 78 38 381
WebWorks ePublisher · Quadralay 32 5 12 10 22 81
XMetaL · JustSystems 29 3 15 4 16 67


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 NotePad ++ (17) and Gimp (12).

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: 7capture, AccuRev, Acorn, Agent Ransack, Analyzer, Aptana Studio, Araxis Merge, Arbortext Editor, Audacity, Authorware, AutoIt, Automap, AutoPlay, Axure, Balsamiq, BBFlashback, Beyond Compare, BlueFish XML Editor, Bugzilla, Calibre, Canvas, CaptureWiz, Catalyst, clipnsave, CMS by Kentico, Coda, CoffeeCup HTML, Composer, Contributor, Corel Designer, Corel Photo-Paint, Corel VideoStudio, Daisy CMS, Demo Builder, DemoWorks, DITA CMS, DITA-FMx, Ditaval, Documentum, DocZone, dotProject, Doxygen, Drupal, easyDITA, Eclipse, EditPad, EditPlus, EPIC, FastFileRenamer, Feedback Server, Firebug, Fox-it, FrameScript, FSCapture, Fundoc, Gadwin PrintScreen, GIF Movie Gear, GIT, Google Docs, Grab, Greenshot, GUI Design Studio, HelpNDoc, Homesite, HtmlAsText, HyperSnap-DX, iMovie, Inkscape, IrfanView, IsoDraw, iWork, IXgen, jEdit, Jing, JSDoc3, Keynote, Komodo Edit, Kompozer, Lingo, Mac Preview, Macro Express, MagicDraw, Mediawiki, MindJet MindManager, MindTouch, mobile phone emulators, MobiPocket, Moodle, MS OneNote, MS Paint, MS Publisher, MS SandCastle, MS SQL Server, MS Visual SourceSafe, MS Visual Studio, MS Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, MS Windows 7 Problem Step Recorder, MS Windows snipping tool, Multilizer, MWSnap, Notetab, Noxum PS4, OmniGraffle, Open Office, Paint .NET, Passolo, PB Wiki, PDF-XChange, Perforce, Pidgin, powershell, ProEngineer, PSPad, Rally, Remedy, RightNow, RoboScreenCapture, Saxon-XSLT, ScreenSteps WorkGroup, SearchWin, Serna, Sharepoint, Sibersafe, Sigil, Skitch, Smart Draw, SmartDocs, SolidWorks, Sphinx, ST4 DocuManager, Subversion, SurveyMonkey, SVN, Swiftview, Swish, SYN, TechWriter, TextCrawler, TextPad, TextWrangler, ThumbsPlus, Tiki Wiki, Trisoft, uPerform, UpTime, Vim, WikiMedia, Winmerge, WordPress, Xara Xtreme Pro, XDK, XML Author, XML Notepad, Xmlmind, XnView, Zoomsearch.

We asked for additional feedback. The following notes were provided by respondents:

All the above tools have their own specialties, but appropriate tutorials are not available to learn in developing countries especially in India

Any good text editor like Notepad ++ that you can customize is extremely important

AutoIt is a great scripting tool for automating many different types of tasks. GIF Movie Gear does a great job of reducing size of gifs without making them unreadable and for making simple show-me tutorials as animated gifs to run automatically in Help.

Collabnet Source control Collaboration spaces to enable reviews and feedback

Consider marking "not used" option by default considering most folks probably only use 10% of the listed tools.

DITA OT is important/used by WebWorks ePublisher, so that's why I checked it. I do not use it directly.

Flare is our primary tool and we couldn't do without its flexibility. It has issues but its capabilities are far beyond any of the other help authoring tools we are aware of. The support we've received is excellent.

DocX is indispensible for API documentation. Their support is probably the best I've seen in that they will respond quickly and also fix the bugs you find soon in one of their frequent software updates (although, of course, it would be nice if they had fewer bugs in general).

Snagit is an amazing tool that I use all the time. They simply thought of everything.

Camtasia is also a great software tool. Their most recent version (7.1) is very easy to use and I can whip out videos much faster than in Captivate. They still have some workflow things to address, but I've been able to submit these through their customer feedback portal (feedback.techsmith.com).

Acrobat, of course, is necessary since it is so widespread. Can't really say there's any problems with the software (v8), but the more recent versions of Reader have shown that Adobe is not making wise decisions in software development.

FrameMaker is on it's way out, Confluence is on the way in!

HyperSnap-DX is a great way to create help documents, online tutorials, manuals, training handouts, presentations, marketing materials, web pages, emails and more. You can capture text and edit it from just about any part of your screen plus capture, edit and annotate screenshots and pictures.

I believe that a lot of content teams are using Team Foundation Server for planning & tracking. It would be good to include that type of tool in this survey.

I have been very happy with MadCap's Flare for pubishing.

I have had positive reports on FrameMaker when talking to other technical writers; however, I have never worked for a company willing to shell out for that software.

I specialize in single sourcing, where I use a Help Authoring Tool MadCap Flare to produce multiple outputs from the same content. RoboHelp is acceptable for this, but MadCap Flare does a better job.

I think it would be nice to know what type of Content Management System that are used. Also the type of translation tool, terminology tool and review tool is interesting. We use Trados, XMetal Reviewer and Acrolinks.

I would prefer to use Flare over Frame, but I have to use Frame at work. I use Flare at home for consulting work.

I would say "currently use" may not be the optimal label. I'd go with used within the past year or "typically use." Sometimes what we're currently using can by temporarily limiting.

I'd love to have access to cooler tools.

If you allow to list additional software, then the user should also be able to specify its importance. The user should also be able to list more than one additional software.

In my previous work environment, I used to use Framemaker and RoboHelp. I never used Word. We had a whole team programing the CSS style sheets for Framemaker though.

In previous jobs, I used FrameMaker, and it was very important. We wouldn't use MS Word. We also used WebWorks.

In the future, include tools survey for: * translation/localization (e.g. MadCap Lingo) incl. termbase handling and * project analysis (e.g. MadCap Analyzer).

Investigating content management systems.

It may be helpful to see tool usage rankings within the context of deliverables. What do people use most when they need to deliver printed books, for instance.

It would be nice to have something marked all the tools we did not use as "Not Used". Otherwise, thanks for doing this!!

MadCap products have worked well for our company, as well as Adobe.

Maybe you could survey "workflows" instead of just individual tools who is creating only PDFs, only online, both, mobile, structured, unstructured, lover dita, hate dita, etc.

My employer selects tools for the organization. We primarily use Arbortext and Vasont, but I maintain some legacy documents in unstructured Framemaker.

Not Used is a little confusing as a choice. Seems like some people might think it means Never Used and some might think Not Used Anymore, which could skew the results. For example, for a product I used to use, would I mark that Unimportant, or Not Used?

One of my groups uses MS Word for some writing tasks, I use MS Excel for tracking & planning, I use PSPad in place of UltraEdit.

Our primary online help tool is a CMS that includes knowledge base articles, faqs and a moderated forum. http://www.kentico.com. If I had to choose just one tool though it would be TechSmith's Camtasia Studio. Video rules!

Our toolset is very much in flux, as we are transitioning from the "printed manual and online help" model of the last couple decades to a "knowledge base/website and WebHelp" model. Also, video tools are becoming much more important, they just aren't my job at present.

Remedy is not an authoring tool but absolutely critical in my writing. We use scrum and all the development teams have all their stories and tasks etc in Remedy. Also we have all bug reports and all support calls in there.

Should make this an opt in (IOW- Not Used unless otherwise specfied). Way too many clicks to complete, and 90% were Not Used.

Some tools are mission-critical but rarely used, like Mif2Go. It might be better to break the usage into daily use and per-project use.

Swiftview is used to view graphics such as .CGM by reviewers that don't need application ability. Notepad, oddly, comes in very handy because of all the annoying code attached to msWord text. It actually saves time, copying msWord to Notepad to strip formatting and then to desired location for inclusion. Otherwise, its a guarantee that the msWord format crap will mess up what is getting created using another authoring application.

Thanks for doing this. I'm very interested in the results.

Thanks for the opportunity!

The purpose for the tools might be important too.

There are also several project management tools that are invaluable to my writing, but I suppose that would be a different survey altogether.

This is an odd mix of applications. It seems weird to be rating image editing programs and CMS systems in the same list.

This list seems a bit thin, and limited to commercial/off the shelf solutions. Where are tools like Open Office, Kompozer, Gimp or Audacity, which I use all the time?

Use CAD software to generate 3D product illustrations which I then convert over to Illistrator to create final vector illustrations that are then linked into InDesign for page layout

Very comprehensive!

We also use sharepoint wiki, and mediawiki for some documentation.

We are using Adobe Tech. Comm. Suite 2 and are evaluating whether to upgrade that or move to MadCap Flare. RoboHelp is not my favorite tool and I would not use it except that it was already in use when I joined the company. Though I like Frame for authoring, I think we need to move to a single tool for authoring and generating output.

We make PDF outputs for our technical datasheets, quick starts, handbooks and supplements. Service information is published on a Sharepoint-based Intranet.

We recently migrated to Flare from HelpStudio.

We recently stopped using an offshore team for development assistance, help authoring, and QA. I am now the technical writer and am also heavily involved in our QA efforts. If I can ever get ahead of the fireline, I want to move us to more of a single source solution. There simply must be an easier way than what I've inherited - RoboHelp 7 and MS Office 2010, with very little reuse of content.

We still use Word, and now use Excel pivot tables for presentation, and have used both these tools to save information in XML format for input into other systems. Also use SharePoint and its version of a wiki.

We use Confluence as our internal wiki. I use the wiki to gather and iterate over information with my dev teams. It's not where we document our software products.

We use Corel Designer to convert CGM files exported from the Mech Eng 3D modeling program into JPGs for the docs.

We use in-house proofing and production tools because none of the commercial tools meet our needs.

We use SmartDocs and its conditional text features to produce multiple variations of our user guides from a single MS Word document. Great tool!

We use two major tools workflows: 1. FrameMaker -> WebWorks -> HTMLHelp + Apple Help 2. Dreamweaver + Photoshop -> HTML I'm surprised you don't have WordPress and more web based CMS suites on here.

We used DITA Open Toolkit to publish WebHelp and PDFs from Flare DITA XML. However, we are testing publishing the FM files with RoboHelp and Flare. DITA OT is not easy to use for the typical tech writer (have to use scripts to customize, etc.). We can't maintain the published output without a developer. So hopefully RoboHelp or Flare will work (so far they do). We are looking into purchasing SDL Trisoft CMS to manage the files, which will help save money on translations. We like Confluence wiki for user docs. But there is no way to send the xml files for translation to our LSP without the page history, which we don't want to translate. We would have to manually convert the xml files to txt, have them translated, and then copy back into the wiki. But this would strip out the formatting and plugins.

Were there any controlled language apps in this list? It would be useful to see how well and which of these are adopted. Tedopress HyperSTE SDL...

You choose to list vendor tools only. And there are no modelling tools .

You could add a column - Consider for future use.

You should definitely add DITA CMS by Ixiasoft to your list. That's our CMS and we couldn't live without it.

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

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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