You’ve probably read a number of lists of technical documentation tools before. I know I have. So why another one? Well, the ones I’ve read rarely offer anything new. And there’s a lot of focus on the authoring tool itself. You already know about those.

So this is an attempt to provide a list of useful productivity tools for technical writing, the peripheral tools that can help you become more efficient as a technical writer in different ways. And hopefully provide something you weren’t already aware of. So let’s get started!

Technical Documentation Tools

1. Zoom

You may not think of Zoom as a technical documentation tool, exactly. But actually writing and constructing the final content for the documentation is of course only part of the process for a technical writer. And in times like these, when many companies need to work remotely, being able to easily connect to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), engineers, and reviewers is absolutely essential.

Zoom for technical writing projects

Like us, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of getting meeting software to work, with frequent connection issues, garbled audio, and so on. So when we found Zoom, we never looked back. Finally we have a simple way to connect with our remote technical writers for product demos and technical interviews, without the frustration.

2. Snagit

Ok, this may not come as a big surprise, Snagit is a favorite of many technical authors. It may seem so simple, just a screenshot grabber tool. But it’s so much more convenient and powerful than any other screenshot software we’ve used, and with cool features like the Panoramic Scrolling Capture to let you take a screenshot of more than what’s on the screen. So it’s the tool of choice at Paligo. And I know many technical writers agree, not only the ones I happen to know, because you’ll see the shapes, arrows and stamps from the Snagit library in help documentation everywhere in user documentation.

Snagit for documentation screenshots

It’s easy to make nice-looking callouts for graphics, and you can even make quick videos for animated gifs to illustrate a feature or concept in your documentation. The same company also makes Camtasia, which is another great tool if you need a bit more power for making videos.

3. Chrome Developer Tools

This tool may be less known to many technical writers, but it is enormously useful if you’re publishing your documentation as HTML/HTML5. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, you should look into it. It’s built into the Chrome browser, and you open it by right-clicking any content on a web page that you’ve published, and selecting “Inspect”. That’ll show you the HTML code for that element in a panel at the bottom.

Chrome developer tools for HTML document styling

And if you look to the right, you’ll see the exact CSS used to style that element (you scroll down to see all the CSS styles applied). You can test changes right there in the browser, and when you like what you see, you can transfer it easily to your CSS file. You can also switch between desktop and mobile view to see your site in responsive mode.

Responsive HTML5 output view

But there’s so much more: you can check performance, debug javascript, and even run test javascript snippets in the Console. Note that most browsers have a similar feature, but in my opinion Chrome’s tool is the best. Here’s a really great tutorial to get started!

4. Asana

Need to organize your tasks? Who doesn’t? And Asana is great at it. What I really like about it is how you can switch between list view, KanBan (card) view, and a Gantt-like timeline.

Planning help documentation

Our developers at Paligo use JIRA for similar purposes, like so many other development teams. But we use Asana for collecting and prioritizing technical documentation tasks, and then we use Paligo’s assignment workflow when it’s actually time to do the work.

As a technical writer, you have tons of stuff to think about and to take care of, and Asana allows you to collect all your tasks in a list with sections to categorize them. And when it’s time to take care of them you can put them on the card board or time line. This is where we collect all the feedback we get from our customers for improvements to our documentation.

5. Oxygen XML Editor

This may be a bit for you techies out there:, We do all XSLT programming exclusively in Oxygen for Paligo. So if you’re into customizing your own XSLT templates for output, this is the tool. But it doesn’t have to be that hard core. It’s really useful for tweaking HTML (for example before importing it into XML), and it’s also great for editing CSS and JavaScript for your styling and other customizations.

Oxygen for XSLT, HTML, and CSS customization

Of course, it comes at a price. So if you don’t need the more advanced stuff, but want something to edit CSS, JavaScript, etc, MS Visual Code is another great tip (regardless if you’re on Mac or Windows).

6. Memsource for translation

Do you need to translate your documentation? Memsource is a great SaaS-based translation memory tool. A translation memory system “remembers” all the translations that have been done before, and can match any new content with that memory, showing you full matches to reuse, or “fuzzy” matches that you can quickly edit.

Memsource for translating documentation

Even if you only need to make small quick translations, or need to check the word count, do an analysis of the content for translation, or similar, there’s also a free version. If you have serious translation needs, there are different plans for that.

7. PageLayers

This is another graphic editing tool, but a really cool and different one. If you need to take screenshots of a web page, but need granular control over editing the different parts of the page, PageLayers is very useful. You visit the web page through a built-in browser, and then save it to PhotoShop format. The different parts of the page are turned into PhotoShop layers, so you can edit them separately (or hide them if needed).

Page Layers - extract web page components for screenshots

8. Handbrake

Videos have been getting more and more important for online help documentation. Some users prefer to read the help, others prefer to see it in a video. And often, a combination is best. But you know this. However, documentation is also a very important aspect of your company’s marketing. Your documentation provides the company web site with valuable content, and can increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). But good SEO (and Google!) also requires light and fast web pages. So if you pack your pages with really large videos, you’ll lose the SEO value. This is where Handbrake comes in. A very nifty little tool that does a terrific job of making your videos much smaller, so your content will load super fast.

Handbrake for small help videos

9. Algolia

If you need lightning fast high-end search with all kinds of options for configuration, faceted search (providing the user the ability to filter the search results), granular control over synonyms, customized weighting, analytics, and more, then Algolia is a great option. Paligo supports Algolia as well as a number of other great search engines, but we choose Algolia for our own help because of its speed and versatility.

Algolia faceted search for HTML help docs

10. Zendesk (Or any other good support software)

How is a helpdesk support platform a tool for technical writers, isn’t it for support engineers? Sure, but they go hand in hand. And your support software is one of the best tools to use for input and content for the documentation. After all, one of the goals of documentation is to reduce support. So what better source of content than the support issues that your users are submitting? At Paligo, our technical writers are also users in our Zendesk account, so they get first hand access to all this content, and can see the real world problems users face right away. As soon as there’s an issue that could have been solved by improving the content in the user documentation, a writer is copied on the ticket to make sure it’s taken care of.

Zendesk for help docs input

Hopefully this list gave you some tips for tools you will find useful in your own technical documentation projects. Do you have other tools that help make you more productive? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn.