Do you ever struggle as a Technical Writer, and wonder how things could get easier?
Though Technical Writing isn’t a well known profession, outside of Tech, to those of us working in the tech industry, it is no secret that Technical Writing is an entirely different species of skill. It can be one of the most difficult types of writing you can do, as it often requires understanding of some softwares and programming languages & frameworks.
As a result, writers in this field face many challenges that can make the process of producing clear and concise content even harder. This can cause problems such as poor user experience for writers, inconsistencies in documentation, and poor Search Engine Optimization(SEO).
Thankfully, technical writing has become such a widely popular profession and necessity among software solutions companies, that several different resources and tools were created to overcome those challenges and allow the production of content much easier, faster, and maintainable.
Tools To Overcome Technical Writing Challenges
While there are several different tools to aid Technical Writers in producing better content, in this article we will focus on three of the most popular tools used today. Many of these are even used by popular software companies.
Static Site Generators
The first of these tools are Static Site Generators, or SSGs. These are a great way to create HTML pages from templates or components with almost any given content source. Basically, what SSGs do is to automate the task of coding individual HTML pages, which pre-builds the pages and gets them ready to load quickly and to serve users.
Some awesome SSGs are:
Gatsby is one of the more popular SSGs because it’s a React-based, free, and open-source framework. One of the very popular and cool things about Gatsby is that it can be used to write in a defined plain text syntax for HTML elements called Markdown. You can also use Gatsby to write in MDX, which is an extension to markdown that allows you to write JSX, making it possible to use React components. Pretty awesome, right?
Another great feature of Gatsby is that it has an instantaneous search engine built-in. This is a feature that predicts what you’re searching and shows results as you type. In addition to this amazing magic trick, Gatsby also offers an easy CD pipeline, and great SEO efficiency, with accessible web pages. With Gatsby, technical writers can easily cross contribute with their Engineering teams and have a much easier onboarding experience. This makes the Gatsby framework very popular among notable companies, such as MongoDB’s Developer Hub, SendGrid’s Knowledge Center, and freeCodeCamp’s tutorial guides.
If you love using Go, you’d really enjoy using Hugo. It is fast, modern, and written in Go programming language, with lightning fast build times (less than 1 ms per page), and native markdown support.
Hugo is also free and open-source and is compatible with the docs-as-code workflow. Additionally, Hugo offers very easy SEO, as it supports TOML, YAML, and JSON metadata formats.
But that’s not all! Hugo is also very versatile. You don’t need advanced programming skills to create with Hugo. However, Hugo also offers you direct access to code, which allows you to customize your pages however you want.
If coding is just not for you, Hugo provides you with lots of different ready-made themes you can choose from to give your project a unique look with little effort.
Finally, Hugo offers special features, such as “Minutes to Read” or “Word Count” functionalities. You can also integrate Hugo with third-party tools, like Google Analytics, Disqus Comment system, and many more.
Docusaurus is another free, open source, and popular SSG. Similarly to the previous ones, Docusaurus is also built using React, allowing you to extend and customize your project’s layout by writing React components. Docusaurus also allows the docs-as-code workflow, and you can use markdown and MDX to write your documentation.
Unlike the previous ones, Docusaurus is self hosted. One of the great functionalities of Docusaurus is that you can search for documentation using the Algolia search engine.
One of Docusaurus’ great functionalities is that you can search for documentation using the Algolia search engine, giving this SSG an added bonus.
Docusaurus also supports documentation versioning. This makes it easy to keep all your documentation in sync with your code, and it also allows easy localization using git or other translation managers like Crowd-in.
With so many amazing features, how can you possibly choose which SSG is best for you? That’s no easy task. One easy and simply way to decide is to look at the programming languages and frameworks that each SSG uses and compare them to the technologies that your team uses. Choosing a technology that is closest to what your team already uses will allow your team to adapt to the new technologies faster. This will have the added benefit of minimal changes, and lessening the time spent on learning and training.
Linters are a great tool when it comes to documentation. These tools are solely responsible for catching errors and stylistic issues in documentation, and to ensure consistency in large teams. A tool that basically yells at you every time you deviate from your company’s documentation format and style. Linters in documentation help reduce those discrepancies, ultimately allowing you to produce better documentation easier and faster.
One of the more popular documentation linters is Vale. A popular, open-source, command-line tool that enforces your editorial style guide. It becomes an even better tool when combined with a good technical writing style guide. More so, Vale supports extensions that allow you to use it with any third-party style guides.
Not to be confused with tools like Grammarly, Vale focuses on writing style rather than grammatical correctness. It won’t tell you that you misspelled a word, but rather that the format you used to write a paragraph or sentence isn’t in line with your company’s standards.
CI/CD tools are a great way to automate parts of the application build and create a document trail of the process. These tools are the built-in continuous integration and continuous delivery tools for GitHub and GitLab.
CI/CD tools allow technical writers to adopt a continuous delivery pipeline for creating, editing, and deploying documentation.
Now that you know the best tools to make technical writing easier and more effective, you can analyze and weigh your options to see which one will have a bigger and better impact on your documentation. Think of the advantages they offer and how they can ultimately improve your team’s efficiency and readability when creating quality content. This will ultimately lead you to the best option for your team’s needs.