Are you looking for a new authoring tool? Or maybe you’re looking to enhance the one you already use? STC Carolina’s latest webinar, presented by Christina Mayr, will help answer many questions on how to find the right authoring tool for you. Christina is a Senior Technical Writer at Epic Games.

Christina began the webinar by saying, there is no perfect authoring tool, but that with some research you can find the tool that’s right for you. Christina’s webinar started with how to begin the search needed to narrow down your options for finding a new tool or to enhance an existing tool.

Christina’s 7 tips to get you started:

  1. Gather requirements
  2. Research options
  3. Make a shortlist
  4. Attend demos
  5. Do a pilot test
  6. Roll out
  7. Document

There’s no perfect authoring tool, but with some research, you can find a tool that’s right for you.

Step 1: Gather requirements

The biggest question to ask yourself is, “Why are you looking for a new tool?” To get started, establish your goals for wanting a new tool. Most important, make sure that you test the tool’s usability and look at how this tool will affect your end users. Remember to keep it simple. Everyone can contribute to gathering information on a tool’s requirements, and this process doesn’t have to be overly formal. Research your vendors, list out your priorities, and be prepared for business changes that may alter your requirements. Look at how the tool works now and how you would like it to work or how it should work.

Step 2: Research options

Determine if you want to build or buy an existing tool and determine what tools are available. Visit Christina’s previous blog post, The 5 Types of Authoring Tools Technical Writers Use, to get more information on what tools are available. Ask your network for recommendations on tools they use: talk to coworkers; go to STC events; follow tech comm blogs, newsletters and Twitter feeds; and if necessary, you can always do your own survey. Remember you might not need to get an entirely new tool; with plug-in and add-ons such as Webworks for Frame Maker, you might find that you only need an adjustment to your existing tool or workflow.

The 5 Types of Authoring Tools Technical Writers Use

Step 3: Make a shortlist

A short list of around 3 solid tool candidates will help you focus your investigation. Christina suggests to compare the tools against your list of requirements, including cost, number of seats/licenses included with the base product cost, external CMS/CCMS requirements, whether free trials are available, and if the system cloud-hosted or on-premise software options.

Step 4: Attend demos

Schedule demos with the sales and technical/implementation staff for each tool on your shortlist. Bring a member of your own IT team for implementation-specific details. Ask to see specific workflow and features you care about. Christina suggests to ask lots of questions during this phase; for example, can you customize the tool to your specifications? Also, it’s a good idea to attend at least two different demos.

Step 5: Do a pilot test

Consider doing a two-phased pilot that entails installing the tool and using it with your real content and writing team, over an extended period of time, such as 90 days.

  • Phase 1: Start the first half of the pilot with at least 5%-10% of your content. Within your organization, find out pilot testers who will be your “change management champions” — these are people who are excited for the change and like learning new technology.
  • Phase 2: Expand the pilot to a wider writing audience. These people should include those you know will probably be “resistors” to the change. Not only will a pilot help them if you do choose this tool, but these resistors will also help you identify issues and improve the onboarding experience in preparation for rollout.

Step 6: Roll out the tool

To have a successful roll out plan you’ll need to be able to answer the “why” of this new tool. Implement the rollout in phases around your writer’s release schedules as much as possible. People have a difficult time with change, so have some empathy. Establish a communication plan with regular updates, and recognize and reward the teams/writers that adopt the new tool first.

Step 7: Document

Since we’re all documentarians, this entire process needs to be documented from start to finish along with any updates beginning with your system architecture, workflows, changes, questions, user training material, and recordings. Also document future deployment phases, vendor/IT support information, policies and procedures, admin tasks, tips and stories from early adopters, and issues and requests. As a bonus, this document becomes a great onboarding tool for new writers that are hired later: for their first task, you can have them update this doc!

Remember there is no perfect tool, but with Christina’s helpful tips, you’ll be on your way to finding the best tool to fit your needs in no time.

Recap contributed by Judy Allen Dodson. Judy is a current student in the Duke Continuing Studies Technical Writing program. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


Check out the presentation slides for this event.


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