What is an authoring tool?
Authoring Tools, sometimes also called Help Authoring Tool (HAT), is a very general umbrella term for software that helps you to create (technical) documentation. Since the term author is already included in the name, it is easy to imagine that such a tool is used to compile content, usually texts, descriptions including images, and to publish them in a suitable format. The author is often not an individual but, as is common in many companies, a big team. The result is a documentation, description, instruction to a product or procedure. This content must be made available in a practical way in different formats, e.g. as HTML online version, CHM file or as PDF file.
With regard to the target groups, a distinction must be made between the user of the authoring tool, i.e. the person who writes the documentation (author) and the person who has to work with the result of the documentation (reader/user).
For the latter, it is important that the documentation is clear, comprehensible and structured. The author is still essentially responsible for the content, but a Help Authoring Tool, for example, takes a lot of the work out of structuring it.
On the authors’ side, there are typical groups of people:
- Software and hardware developers
- machine builders
- e-learning producers
On the page of the reader/user are typically people who:
- have to work with a certain software,
- must read the technical documentation of a system for repair and maintenance purposes
- must read an instruction manual/instructions manual for a product,
- need information on specific topics (knowledge database/glossary)
- Participants of training courses
Below is an incomplete list of possible target applications where a HAT can support:
- Provision of Online Help for Software
- Creation and maintenance of a knowledge database, e.g. in-house in the Intranet
- Technical documentation for a product
- Preparation of accompanying material for a seminar or further training course
- Provision of internal implementation instructions
Functions and Tasks
First and foremost, it is a matter of producing digital content. Here one expects from such a Help Authoring Tool is maximum support and/or a large work facilitation, which a normal word processing program, like Microsoft Word or LibreOffice, cannot supply. You should be able to write and format quickly in HAT using an editor. For example Markdown and HTML can be used as syntax. It should also be possible to insert images quickly. Because every picture says more than a thousand words. Furthermore, the software supports the adaptation of individual designs via templates as well as the hierarchical structuring of content. The automatic generation of content, such as tables of contents, navigation elements or sitemaps, also facilitate the workflow.
Another important element of authoring tools are various export options. For example, technical documentation is often required in many formats, depending on the user. One requires it as a handout in paper form, another requires the documentation to download in PDF format and yet another user wants to access it online. And the software developer wants to provide a CHM file in his program.
Depending on the field of application, there are different authoring tools. Product and software developers are more likely to use a help authoring tool that meets the requirements of technical documentation. To create video documentation, it is more likely to use an image and video capturing program. Anyone offering an e-learning or online course will opt for an e-learning platform that also offers the creation of a knowledge test with examination and evaluation, if possible with issuance of a testimonial/certificate.