More than a decade ago, I worked somewhere that would ship CDs containing commercial software. ?Along with others, I’d program applications that ran commercial mail sorting machines and provided a user interface for the operators. ?To update or patch the software, we’d cut official CDs and send them out in the mail.
These CDs would, obviously, contain the software. ?But they’d also contain a rather elaborate PDF of the user’s manual. ?In some cases, we might mail them a physical user’s manual. ?And that manual was a formidable, polished document.
You’re probably expecting me to complain about writing that document. ?But I won’t do that because I never had a hand in writing it at all. ?Back then, we had a professional tech writer on staff that handled all manuals and end user documentation. ?At most, I would interact with this person when he’d shoot me the occasional email, asking how something worked.
If you were to ask me about documentation tools back then, I’d have looked at you strangely. ?I dunno. ?Ask the tech writer.
Documentation Tools Today Run the Gamut
Today we have a much different landscape. ?Between the rise of agile methodologies, ease of software delivery, cost savings, and automation, I suspect very few organizations hire tech writers to draw up user manuals for their products. ?That’s probably gone the way of the installation CD.
And today you probably have to help out when it comes to documentation. ?That means you need to leverage some documentation tools — at least if you want to avoid serious boredom.
Also complicating matters is the fact that modern documentation takes many forms and has many audiences. ?Gone are the days of only CD user manuals and man pages. ?So I’ll talk today about documentation tools, but I’ll divide the discussion up by audience and purpose.