10 Best Help Authoring Software and Tools [2020]

Which help authoring tool is best for you? Here's a comparison of the most popular tools for producing and reusing support documentation.

Written by: David Oragui

Published: June 16 2020

One consumer calling customer support while another uses help authoring software

You already know that customer support is crucial, but did you know that 55% of customers claim that easy access to information and support can make them fall in love with a brand?

But, stellar customer support can become expensive. So, offering a self-service portal for your customers sounds like a dream come true:

  • Your customers are satisfied as they get help immediately, around the clock
  • You can provide a standardized, ideal support experience
  • You save money on customer service as there are fewer support tickets, messages, and calls


A customer service barometer from American Express even shows that 63% of customers prefer to solve their issues using automated self-service, such as a website or mobile app.

So, what’s the problem? A Zendesk study shows that 40% of customers contacted a call center after they had already tried to solve the problem through self-service portals — with no luck.

One of the reasons is that self-service portals can be difficult to navigate, especially when customers have different experience levels. The less tech-savvy users get confused by the jargon, while the IT pros sigh at the sight of your step-by-step instructions with illustrations.

It’s no easy task to build, maintain, and improve a self-service portal that helps customers navigate to the right information level for their needs and solve their issues. Luckily, there is a convenient solution: help authoring software.

In this post, we'll discuss:

What Is Help Authoring Software?

A Help Authoring Software or Help Authoring Tool (HAT) is a content development tool that lets you create, manage, and distribute support documentation. You’ll often see it as a FAQ section or support document section on a company’s website.

Help authoring tools range from basic versions with simple features to advanced component content management systems (CCMS) that manage information on a granular level. Most businesses will do well with a solution somewhere in between.

Some of the basic features you can expect from any help authoring tool include:

  • Adding a source text that you can compile into different formats, called single-source authoring
  • Import and export help documentation
  • Editing text, code, or data
  • Managing indexes, tables of contents, or images
  • Adding multiple authors to collaborate on the same text
  • Customizing the interface, so it fits your brand


A few tools offer more advanced features, such as customization, increased security functions, and analytics tools. Many tools offer a “What You See Is What You Get”-view (WYSIWYG), which makes it easy to see the impact of any changes. Others are more powerful XML based authoring tools that require more tech experience from the user but can fit more demanding processes.

Why Use Help Authoring Software?

There are several advantages to using help authoring tools. You can:

  1. Save time with single-source and topic-based authoring. Write a text once, then compile it into different formats from the same source. Easy to write, easy to edit, easy to update.
  2. Collaborate on documents. Let the team write, comment, and edit together in one document to get the best customer support material possible. No more wasting time searching for the latest document version or trying to gather scattered comments into one document.
  3. Go multi-language. Serving customers in multiple languages can quickly turn into a headache. The right help authoring tool makes it easy to switch to the correct language — both for your team and for your customers.
  4. Skip excessive coding. No need to build and maintain a platform from scratch — instead, use a tool that already has all the features you need.
  5. Improve your SEO. Your customers might turn to Google before they go to your website. We all know how Google loves well-structured, interlinked, keyword-rich content, so your help documentation will rank highly. A help authoring software helps you establish a content hierarchy with indexes or tables of contents, link related content, and expand on popular topics.


Here’s a help authoring tools comparison to make it easier for you to find the right fit:

10 Best Help Authoring Software Solutions

By now, you’re probably wondering what the best help authoring tools are. So, let’s go through some of the top options including:

  1. Helpjuice
  2. Adobe RoboHelp
  3. Madcap Flare
  4. HelpNDoc
  5. Paligo
  6. HelpSmith
  7. Dr.Explain
  8. ClickHelp
  9. Help+Manual
  10. Confluence

Helpjuice

Best for: Okay, let’s be straight here — Helpjuice is different from many other tools on this list because it is so much more than just a help authoring tool.

Of course, you can set up a searchable, Google-friendly, fully customized customer support portal in no time. From FAQs and troubleshooting to training programs and product manuals — we’ve got you (and your customers) covered. But that’s only scratching the surface of the possibilities.

Helpjuice's knowledge base software can be used as a help authoring solution

Helpjuice is a robust knowledge base that you can use to create, store, and share any knowledge. Onboarding new employees? Sharing the latest sales figures to a select group of employees? Sending the latest policy changes to everybody? No problem — Helpjuice means you can control exactly who gets access to what information.

All this makes Helpjuice perfect for companies who want one strong Swiss army knife for all their knowledge management, instead of having to pay for, learn, and try to integrate several different software programs.

Highlights:

  • Google-like search help customers find the right answer, quickly
  • Interactive questions guide customers to a tailored solution — for example, based on the product model or software version.
  • Advanced analytics help you identify your customers’ favorite topics
  • Customize the tool to fit your needs exactly (Helpjuice’s support team is happy to do it for you)
  • Integration with tools such as ZenDesk lets you pull answers from your knowledge base straight into your support tickets


Adobe RoboHelp

Best for: RoboHelp’s template features makes it especially useful for teams who are looking to create responsive websites for their help documentation. For example, the auto-generated code lets you easily publish a responsive mobile app to help guide your customers to the right solution. You can expect a large number of customization options and features, which gives this tool a bit of a learning curve.

Screenshot of Adobe RoboHelp's help authoring software

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The interface is minimalistic and allows you to switch views between author, code, and preview. Handy features include autocompleting search suggestions, which makes it easier for your users to find the right answer.

Highlights:

  • Live CSS view so you can see your changes as you’re doing them
  • Import and use scalable vectors in your graphics
  • Global style management control for a coherent look
  • Single-click mobile app generation
  • Project management tool for a convenient help content overview


Madcap Flare

Best for: MadCap offers a suite of tools for document and content creation, with dedicated tools for interactive video, language translation, and screen capture. This makes Madcaps authoring tool Flare great for enterprises who prefer working with one provider tool instead of several.

Screenshot of MadCap Flare's help authoring solution

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Flare’s responsive layout editor makes it easy to control your content’s layout across devices without needing to code. You can also expect rich formatting options for customizing the look and feel of your material to fit your brand. While the tool does help you look stylish, it also features topic-based authoring and a project analysis tool to help you identify issues such as broken links, duplicate styles in stylesheets, and broken image links.

Highlights:

  • Content importing with a drag-and-drop workflow
  • Content explorer tool for organizing a project’s content-related items
  • Both XML and text editor in real-time with a split view
  • Microcontent authoring for feeding chatbots
  • Password-protected user access with privatized output


HelpNDoc

Best for: HelpNDocs may not be as advanced as tools such as Adobe RoboHelp or Madcap Flare, but its simple, Windows-like interface makes it approachable even for less tech-savvy users. It features a WYSIWYG-editor, which immediately lets you see your changes.

Screenshot of HelpNDoc which is another popular help authoring tool

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A library of templates speeds up content creation. Once you’re done, HelpNDoc includes an easy feature for exporting content into various formats, such as PDF, EPUB, CHM, or HTML.

Highlights:

  • Project-wide media libraries
  • Advanced table of contents editor
  • Automation of repetitive tasks with the script editor
  • HTML5-based websites or online help documents
  • Automatic check for broken or misspelled links in the documentation


Paligo

Best for: The cloud-based Paligo brands itself as a heavy RoboHelp and Madcap competitor. It is a full Component Content Management System (CCMS) that uses XML. Paligo is especially useful for technical writers who need a way to manage complex technical documentation. Despite the advanced features, you can still count on a clear, appealing overview with the clean interface:

Screenshot of Paligo's help authoring tool

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Paligo doesn’t just generate content in channels such as HTML and PDF but also integrates with widespread support and sales tools such as Zendesk, Freshdesk, and Salesforce.

Highlights:

  • XML- and topic-based authoring
  • Authoring, versioning, and content management functions
  • Topic-based reuse of content
  • Workflow tools for reviewing drafts, translations, and comments
  • Single-sourcing of content into Salesforce


HelpSmith

Best for: HelpSmith is excellent for those who want an easy-to-use tool that produces simple help web pages and documents. Customizable web layouts and document templates ensure that you don’t need to be overly tech-savvy to produce help documentation. If you are looking for an advanced technical writing tool, this probably isn’t the right fit for you.

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The single media repository for media, such as images and videos, makes it easy to use files in several different projects. You can also merge projects for working on translations or bringing in technical writers.

Highlights:

  • Single-source authoring to CHM, PDF, EPUB, and DOC
  • Built-in processor with spell-checker and multi-language support
  • Import content from file types such as RTF, HTML, and CHM help files
  • Screenshot tool for easy tutorial images
  • Build tag feature for conditional document compilation


Dr.Explain

Best for: Dr.Explain is useful for software development companies that need an affordable solution, whether freelancers, studios, or larger companies. For those who need to explain and create help documentation for their software, Dr.Explain could be a good fit.

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Do you have a multinational team or customer base? Then this help authoring software might be of interest. Dr.Explain’s multilingual interface comes in nine different languages. It also supports various font faces, including Unicode, which makes it possible to create help documentation in, for example, Arabic or Chinese languages.

Highlights:

  • Keyboard shortcuts for exporting to formats such as HTML, CHM, RTF, and PDF
  • Advanced screen capture for capturing and annotating web pages
  • Edit and publish to the cloud platform Tiwri.com with two clicks
  • Gather help files from any programming language, including C, C++, Visual Basic, and more
  • Automatic topic drafts based on your software interface


ClickHelp

Best for: ClickHelp is for teams who need a robust help authoring software but want to skip the complexities. This cloud-hosted solution boasts support for rich topic content, such as quizzes, videos, and survey forms. Apart from single-source authoring, you can also reuse content across different projects.

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One handy feature is the conditional content ability to tag content for different users, meaning that you can save the more advanced help content for developers. ClickHelp customers can expect to export their help documents as a web portal or into a wealth of file types, such as CHM, PDF, RTF, or EPUB.

Highlights:

  • WYSIWYG-view that shows you the impact of the changes you make
  • Helpful navigation elements such as breadcrumbs, “See also”-links and mini-table of contents
  • Minimalistic workflow system for reviewing content
  • Automatic document locking prevents you from losing changes when collaborating as a team
  • SEO-functionality that helps your support content rank in search engines


Help+Manual

Best for: Help+Manual is not the most powerful tool in this list, but it is convenient for light or occasional users. It even offers a “floating license”, which means that you can share a license among occasional contributors. The tool also features convenient tools for external content creation and content review.

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The version control system makes it possible to work offline or edit remotely. The system checks out the topics as they are added and then adds them back in and compares them with the previous version when you finish editing. 

Highlights:

  • WYSIWYG-editor and interface similar to Microsoft Office
  • Translation tools connected to ICanLocalize translation services
  • Version control system makes it possible to work offline
  • Templates and skins create a coherent look
  • Tools for screen-capturing, QR-code generation, and graphics editing


Confluence

Best for: Confluence is built for sharing your public and internal technical documentation. It is part of Atlassian’s suite and integrates well with Atlassian’s tools, such as Jira and Trello. You also have the option of purchasing third-party apps and custom themes for extra features. Confluence is particularly attractive for teams who want a solution that integrates well with other tools.

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Depending on your needs, you can choose to host the software yourself or go for a cloud-based solution. While Confluence is a reliable option, it may be too advanced for smaller teams looking for a simple help authoring tool.

Highlights:

  • Real-time collaboration with @-mentions and in-line comments
  • Customizable, clean-looking templates
  • Import and export into formats such as Word, PDF, and HTML
  • Advanced security features, data encryption, and privacy compliance features
  • Users get a personal workspace that they can organize as they wish


How to Create a Software Help Document

Once you’ve chosen the right help authoring software, how do you then create useful, attractive help documentation? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Identify the purpose. Which is the number one outcome your customers want when reading the document? Should it solve a common customer problem step-by-step, explain a feature, or train customers in using the product?
  • Give it structure. In what order will your customer need the information? A short introduction followed by step-by-step instructions can serve as a useful template. To what other pages would a link be useful?
  • Skip walls of text. Break up long paragraphs and add subheadings to make it easier to scan the help document easier. Maybe you need to add a table of contents for a long support document?
  • Offer an experience. Add images, infographics, videos, or other media to create a rich customer experience. A well-chosen screenshot can be the difference between getting another support call or helping customers solve the issue themselves.
  • Stay on brand. First of all, customize the help files to fit your overall style guidelines. Then, you can pay attention to how you communicate your brand’s personality. A help manual doesn’t have to be boring. Did you find the perfect gif that illustrates (and sympathizes with) your customers’ frustrations? If that’s your style, include it!
  • Keep selling yourself. Be mindful of Mark Baker’s concept of “every page is page one.” Yes, you might solve a technical problem… but the page could still be the first page a prospect sees and function as a landing page. How do you present your business and communicate the benefits of being your customer?


Now when you’ve got an idea of what it takes to produce a useful support document, let’s help you choose the right authoring solution.

Which Help Authoring Solution is Right for Your Business?

It is essential to consider not just what you need from your help authoring tool, but also your business’ overall needs. You don’t want to risk choosing a tool that turns out to be too basic and won’t scale with your future plans. At the same time, you don’t want a system bogged down by features that you don’t need.

Many of the dedicated help authoring solutions focus on one thing: customer support. However, Helpjuice offers a powerful knowledge base that can do much more — it is a complete knowledge management solution.

Yes, it’s great for customer service, but you can also use it for employee onboarding, collaborating on a presentation, or sharing the latest sales figures — all in one tool.

To make sure that it hits just the right spot, Helpjuice’s team will even customize it for you without any extra cost. Try us out for free for 14 days.

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