In our last article we introduced you to what software documentation actually is. The next step is the application: The first creation of software documentation using documentation tools.
At miraminds, we deal with companies from a wide range of industries and sizes on a daily basis. Many of those companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, have one challenge in common: the inevitable need to transfer information. For that purpose, the companies create documentations or step-by-step guides – however, this is usually done without any tools. Employees manually create instructions for colleagues or customers, for example to get new employees on board or to explain the functionality of software to customers.
Anyone who has ever manually created a documentation with screenshots knows: This is far from easy. Taking screenshots, putting them together in a Word or PowerPoint document, adding texts and descriptions – to summarize software use comprehensively and in a comprehensible way is extremely time-consuming without a suitable tool. The creation of those manuals costs a lot of time, it’s a pain for the creators – and often the result is disappointing: instead of being uniform and clear, often the created instructions are confusing and hardly helpful. Does this pain sound familiar to you?
Wir haben noch niemanden getroffen, der gerne per Hand dokumentiert – und trotzdem sind die Dokumentationen so wichtig und hilfreich im Alltag von Unternehmen!
We have never met anyone who likes to record software instructions by hand – and yet the documentation is so important and helpful in the everyday life of companies!
That’s why there are solutions. There are numerous documentation tools on the market that save a lot of time and effort when recording and produce a high-quality result. In the following we present some of them to you:
7 software documentation tools that simplify your life
1. The automated one: FlowShare
With FlowShare you can automatically create comprehensive step-by-step guides: Just execute the process you want to be captured as a guide on your computer. FlowShare automatically recognizes and captures every click. All steps are then summarized in a document with screenshot, arrow and a short text description and can be edited afterwards if required. You can export the finished guide in various formats (Word, PowerPoint, Html, Pdf, Png) and your desired corporate design. Due to the high degree of automation and the simple operation, the time saving with Flowshare is enormous: Instructions are created up to nine times faster than by hand. The software runs on Windows and is available from €21 per month. In order to find out whether Flowshare really fits your needs, you can try out the software free of charge. Start your 14-day free trial here: https://miraminds.com/download-trial/.
2. The basic tool: Greenshot
With Greenshot you can create simple screenshots of the whole screen or selected areas. These can be supplemented with graphic elements or labels in the editor and then be saved.
However, the last available version of Greenshot is from 2017, so the tool hasn’t been developed much further in the last two years.
Overall, Greenshot is a very basic tool to create and edit screenshots, free for Windows users and available for $1.99 for Mac users at http://getgreenshot.org/downloads/.
3. The professional: Snagit
Snagit is a screen recording software from Techsmith. It easily allows to take screenshots. including horizontal scrolls and scrolling webpages. Afterwards screenshots can be edited with a wide range of possibilities. In addition, Snagit offers a video recording feature and various layout templates for the manuals. The documentation can be shared with others via a short URL.
The software is available from €53.97 for a single license at https://www.techsmith.com/.
4. The Windows tool: Problem Step Recorder
Almost every Windows user has it installed on his computer, but hardly anyone knows it: The Problem Step Recorder. With the windows tool users can record processes using screenshots, add comments and save and share the finished documents as zip files.
As already declared in the name, the recorder is designed to record problems – and subsequently send to a person that helps with the troubleshooting. As a creative solution, you could also use the tool for creating a short tutorial. However, the design of the finished manual is not very user-friendly. The manuals don’t show the exact click positions and the written descriptions of each step can be found at the very end of the document instead of being placed under the appropriate screenshots.
Therefore, the Problem Step Recorder is rather an emergency option for manuals than a comprehensive documentation tool. It is pre-installed on most Windows computers. Where you can find the recorder and further information can be found on the Windows website.
5. The transformed one: Stepshot resp. from 2019: UiPath Explorer
Stepshot has been a tool to take screenshots at the click of a mouse and put them together into a step-by-step guide. These guides could have been edited and exported in various templates and formats. However, Stepshot is no longer available as a product and will only be supported until March 2020. Owners of an annual license still receive support until the end of the contract, but can, just like “Lifetime Users”, receive an offline version of the software in order to continue using it.
The change is because Stepshot has teamed up with UiPath: The tool Stepshot has become the “Explorer Expert”. UiPath focuses on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and is designed to help companies identify the processes that benefit most from automation. The Explorer Expert is designed to capture employee knowledge for RPA. More information can be found at https://www.uipath.com/.
6. The project manager: Screensteps
You can use Screensteps to create structured documents with screenshots, too: the tool includes simple screen capture and various subsequent editing options such as adding arrows, text, videos, GIFs, and collapsible chapters to the document. The created workflows can be collected in Knowledge Bases, assigned to colleagues and found via a search function. Screensteps can be purchased from €149 per month for 5 licenses. More information at http://www.screensteps.com/create-content.
7. The browser-based: iorad
Iorad can record clicks made in the browser and merge them into a finished step-by-step guide. Since recently they also have a desktop capture tool for download available. When documenting, the screenshots and texts are generated automatically, but users can edit them afterwards if desired. The finished tutorials can be shared via link, or published directly on your own website or on Zendesk.
With prices starting from $100 per month for one license, the software is rather a premium product. It is available at https://www.iorad.com/.
These are only some of the existing documentation tools on the market. You can also find other providers in current software tests.
In addition, the technology is constantly evolving: it is moving away from the classic manual in which a user has to look at each step in turn. Instead, interactive instructions emerge that take the user with them and give him hints adapted to his current work step. This minimizes errors and ensures better transfer performance. Interactive instructions make documentation an indispensable part of digital performance support in the long term. miraminds launched the follow-up application of FlowShare this year: the FlowGuide!
This opens up completely new possibilities for software documentation. If you are interested, just go here: https://miraminds.com/flowguide/.
In this article you only find a small selection of documentation tools and can read about our personal experience in the field of documentation. Now you come into play: We are interested in your opinion! Was this article helpful for you? How did you record your screen and created manuals so far and what experiences did you have? Do you know any other tricks or tools to create a successful software documentation? We are looking forward to your feedback, either here in the comments or by mail.