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2013 User Assistance Tools Survey

Posted in Articles, and Surveys

The use of software tools is an important part of user assistance development. They make it possible to author, edit, and design our content. Tools are also required to transform our content into digital deliverables. Some tools are extremely robust and do many things. Others are very specialized utilities. Today, with our very diversified documentation sets, the number of tools we regularly use has become quite sizeable. This survey supplies you with a peer review to assist you in planning your tool acquisitions.


The original survey was published Dec 26, 2012 – Jan 7, 2013, using SurveyMonkey. We presented respondents with a list of commonly used tools and asked them to rate the ones they used based on the value (5=Very Important, 1=Unimportant) to their development efforts. There were 887 respondents. Anyone could participate in the survey. We required respondents to identify themselves by first name, last name, and a valid email address. We sent a follow-up email to all the respondents to check for invalid email addresses. We removed the entries with invalid email addresses. Respondents were told their email addresses would be deleted unless they chose to opt-in for our contact list. We also removed a number of entries that came from the same ip address within several minutes of each other, all of which had a single vote for the same product.

This study comes with a couple of caveats. First, the majority of respondents are most likely customers of Welinske/WritersUA. Most of the survey submissions came in response to email broadcasts we made to our mailing list. However, the WritersUA constituency is large and probably is a fair representation of the overall user assistance community. We also announced the survey on LinkedIn and related discussion lists. Second, this survey is intended to represent the interests of technical writers involved in software user assistance and may not be representative of the technical communication or the software development communities at large. Additional survey notes are listed at the bottom of this page.

Below is a complete table of results. Since there are a variety of ways to interpret the data, we felt it would be most appropriate to display the full tabulation.

You can find links to many of these tools in the Resource Directory.

We hope the information is useful to you. Please send us any feedback you have on the survey or the analysis. To receive news and updates on future WritersUA surveys and events, join our mailing list.

Tool 1 2 3 4 5 Total
Acrobat – Adobe 13 36 67 155 380 651
Arbortext – PTC 7 12 9 7 28 63
Presenter – Articulate 10 4 12 6 12 44
Author-it – Author-it Software 15 14 7 12 58 106
Blaze – MadCap Software 9 6 5 1 2 23
Camtasia – TechSmith 21 38 72 52 53 236
Captivate – Adobe 23 48 75 69 71 286
Capture – MadCap Software 29 22 19 25 14 109
Confluence – Atlassian 15 18 26 36 46 141
CorelDRAW – Corel 22 14 22 13 9 80
DITA Open Toolkit 22 16 27 23 67 155
Doc-To-Help – ComponentOne 8 8 11 4 14 45
Document! X – Innovasys 3 2 2 4 13 24
Dr. Explain – Indigo Byte 5 1 3 1 0 10
Dreamweaver – Adobe 37 42 64 41 55 239
Expression – Microsoft 11 5 11 6 0 33
FAR HTML – The HelpWare Group 8 14 16 11 9 58
Fireworks – Adobe 17 19 30 13 14 93
Flare – MadCap Software 13 7 17 28 142 207
Flash Professional – Adobe 23 23 38 33 19 136
FrameMaker – Adobe 38 31 42 49 197 357
Flex – Adobe 8 5 10 9 3 35
FullShot – Inbit 7 8 8 8 16 47
Gimp – 24 26 34 13 14 111
Help & Manual – EC Software 9 9 7 4 9 38
HelpConsole – ExtremeEase 2 1 3 0 0 6
HelpServer – 4.ST 6 1 2 5 9 23
HelpStudio – Innovasys 2 4 2 1 4 13
HTML Help Workshop – Microsoft 31 38 38 35 42 184
HyperSnap – Hyperionics 1 4 5 12 7 29
Illustrator – Adobe 28 42 60 67 60 257
InDesign – Adobe 32 27 40 42 50 191
Mif2Go – Omni Systems 13 6 13 10 18 60
Mimic – MadCap Software 17 15 14 9 6 61
Morae – TechSmith 6 10 6 1 4 27
Notepad++ Author – Don Ho 16 27 44 46 46 179
oXygen – SyncroSoft 8 12 16 20 54 110
Paint Shop Pro – Corel 40 49 46 42 39 216
PhotoShop – Adobe 30 60 96 86 95 367
Presenter – Adobe 14 9 14 9 15 61
RoboHelp – Adobe 29 33 42 40 154 298
SnagIt – TechSmith 20 27 65 124 310 546
UltraEdit – IDM 10 12 10 12 12 56
Vasont CMS – Vasont 5 3 3 3 16 30
Visio – Microsoft 55 95 136 128 88 502
WebWorks ePublisher – Quadralay 9 17 19 19 39 103
XMetaL – JustSystems 10 10 11 14 53 98


We left Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint off the survey because they are so ubiquitous in the IT industry. In past surveys, over 90% of respondents indicated using Word. Including them would also mean including Google Docs and other emerging general business communication tools. We are trying to keep this survey focus on tools that are uniquely of interest to user assistance professionals.

We chose to list generic titles of products rather than individual versions.

We chose to list component parts of suites rather than list suites by name.

One of the considerations for adding new tools to the survey is the amount of write-in votes received in the previous year’s survey. There were double-digit write-in votes for Live Content Architext (21) and Sharepoint (1o).

You can get a sense of how big this survey would be if we didn’t do some filtering. Here is a list of other tools referenced by respondents. If a tool received more than one vote, the number is included. Most of them were listed by just one or two respondents:

7zip,  Access,  ACDsee,  Acrolinx ,  After Effects – Adobe 3,  Alfresco 2,  Analyzer – MadCap,  ANT,  Aptana,  AraxisMerge 2,  ARIS Express,  Astoria 4,  Audacity 2,  Audition – Adobe 5,  Author Assistant – SDL,  AutoIt,  Avid,  Balsamiq 2,  Beyond Compare 4,  BI Documenter,  Bridge – Adobe,  Broadvision Quicksilver,  Cacoo 2,  Calibre 3,  Catalyst,  Chm2Web 2,  ClipNSave,  Componize,  Connect – Adobe 2,  Constant Contact,  Contenta Explorer,  Contributor – MadCap,  Corel Photo – Paint,  CorelDesigner 2,  Cosima CMS,  Couchdb,  CutePDF,  Daisy CMS,  delatXML,  Diff Dog – Altova,  DITA Exchange,  DITAC,  DITA-FMx 4,  DocZone 4,  Doxygen 3,  Dragon,  Dreamweaver,  Drupal,  DxStudio 2,  easyDITA,  Eclipse 4,  EditPad Pro 5,  EditPlus,  Engage – Articulate,  ePublisherPro – Quadralay,  Evernote,  Fast Stone Capture 3,  Fast-Help,  Foxit,  FrameScript,  Front Page,  Gadwin Printscreen,  Gdocs,  GIF Movie Gear,  Git 3,  Gliffy,  Google Analytics,  Google Docs 4,  Google Search Appliance,  Google Sites,  Greenshot ,  grepWin,  gVim/Vim,  Handbrake,  Heroku,  Homesite 3,  Illustrator,  Image Solutions Compose,  iMovie 2,  IndexRef,  InfoPath,  Inkscape 4,  InQuira,  IrFanView 2,  iSpring,  IXgen 2,  Ixiasoft 8,  Javadoc 2,  jEdit 2,  Jing 3,,  Kentico CMS,  Keynote,  Kiln repository,  Komodo Edit,  Komposer,  lector a,  Levelator,  Lingo – MadCap 4,  LiveContent Architect  (Trisoft) – SDL 21,  LiveCycle Designer – Adobe 2,  Lync 2,  Mac Textedit,  Macro Express,  Magnolia CMS,  Media Encoder – Adobe,  MediaWiki 4,  MindJet,  MindTouch 2,  Moodle,  Movie Maker,  mshcMigrate,  MultiTerm (SDL),  MWSnap 2,  NitroPDF,  Notepad 2,  Notepad ++,  Nuance PDF 3,  Office CMS,  Omnifocus,  Omnigraffle 3,  OmniUpdate,  OpenOffice,  Oracle Master Data Management,  PageLabeler,  Pages – Apple,  Paint – Microsoft 5,  Paint Shop Pro – Jasc,  PAINT.Net 4,  Passolo 2,  PDF Enhancer from Apago, Inc.,  pdf FLY – Visual Integrity,  PDF-XChange,  Perforce,  PowerGREP 2,  Premiere – Adobe 4,  ProtoShare,  PSPad 3,  PureText,  qGo,  Quark Express,  RapidManual – Cortona,  RenderX 2,  Resource Space,  RightNow CX,  Sandcastle 5,  Saxon,  Schema ST4 DocuManager,  Screenshot Captor,  Scrivener,  Scroll Versions for Confluence 2,  SDL Trisoft,  Serna,  SetPrint,  SharePoint – Microsoft 10,  Shutterstock,  SiberLogic SiberSafe CMS,  Silicon Prarie toolset,  Sisulizer,  SmartDocs – ThirtySix Software,  SmartDraw 3,  SolidWorks 3D Via Composer,  Soundbooth – Adobe,  Spap Z pro,  Sparx Enterprise Architect 2,  Sphinx,  Storyline 2,  Storyline – Articulate 4,  Stylizer,  Subversion,  SuiteHelp   2,  Survey Monkey,  SVN 3,  Symphony – Lotus,  Tagtool – Arbortext,  Team Foundation Server,  TeamForge by Collabnet,  Tetra,  TextCrawler,  TextPad,  TextWrangler,  Tiki Wiki,  TimeSavers – 2,  TNT Screen Capture,  TopStyle,  TortoiseHg Workbench,  Trados – SDL,  Tutor – Oracle,  twiki,  uPerform,  UPK – Oracle,  VC Audio Pro,  Vi editor,  ViewletBuilder,  Visual SourceSafe – Microsoft,  Visual Studio 3,  WebWorks ePublisher,  WisdomSoft ScreenHunter,  WordPress 3,  Xalan,  Xara Designer Pro ( 2,  XCode,  XDocs Component CMS 3,  Xemacs,  Xenu Link Sleuth,  XMetal,  XMind,  XML Author – Quark,  XML Notepad,  XML Spy – Altova,  XML Spy – Altova 3,  XMLmind 5,  Xopus,  Xpoint,  Xsplit,  Zoom Search.

We asked for additional feedback. The following notes were provided by respondents:

A general comment about our tool use – there’s been an increased drive from our IT team to push us towards lower cost/free alternatives to the classic tools like Adobe and Paintshop that we used to use. Thankfully as yet this has not affected our productivity/quality in any adverse way.
As a traditional shop, we author most documents in Word and Excel (& publish as PDFs).
Audacity – sound recording and editing software – I use for minimal podcasts but record voiceover separately with Camtasia videos. Also VC Audio is an app on my iPad that makes it a portable microphone – your tools survey might need to look at how many small apps are used now. “Tools” is also starting to include cameras, video recorders, and microphones.  Calibre – for generating eBooks (have dabbled in some others, and use Kindle for PC)  I use PowerPoint for storyboards  Are plug-ins tools? Firebug for working with javascript. Is Dropbox a tool?  Also starting to dabble in UI mockup tools – Balsamiq, JustInMind  iTunes (or has that become ubiquitous like the Office tools)
Confluence Atlassian for our internal wiki.  PTC Arbortext for all mature product docs.  FrameMaker for acquired product line docs, will move to DITA.
Converted all Frame documents to Word and testing Flare
Easy survey!
For ease of use, please display the table heading in the survey to eliminae scrolling back to the top to verify the meaning of each selection.
For some reason, it seems Vasont CMS has made its way into this list as only representative of CMS.
FrameMaker is great for DITA with latest release of V11
FrameMaker is slowly being phased out as MS Word evolves and has the features that FrameMaker had for years.  I would rather work in FrameMaker but most people running Technical Writing groups don’t seem to understand the subject and choose Word because they don’t know or worse yet think they know.  Generally, no Tech. Writer could know all the software that’s being used out there to create content.
Good survey. Quick and efficient    – John
I am changing over from RoboHelp to Flare, and I work on three separate networks, hence the multiple selections of similar tools.
I am not sure I agree with omission of Office apps. Many of my clients (big ones) require the deliverables in Word, so it is a deal breaker if I didn’t use it, and use it well. Also, Excel is indispensable for management of large projects (tracking and reporting, etc.) They may not be the sexiest apps for publishing, but they are out there and I suspect most of the community uses them at an expert level.
I appreciate that you’re trying to keep the survey to 1 page, but I found it difficult to scroll both the survey box and the browser window. I wouldn’t mind completing a survey of several pages. Thanks!
I build user help portals via RightNow CX and MediaWiki. The resulting sites are far and away more effective as user help than most of the traditional “user guide” deliverables.
I didn’t know most of these apps existed!    Nearly all my work is online, and for the exceptions most clients much prefer that I author in Word. Word is more than adequate, except in writing department bureaucracies where content management and other make-work projects are in fashion.
I didn’t know there was so many other tools out there!
I do use Word to create PDFs. Not clear why it’s not included.
I have been experimenting with different “mind-mapping” tools, for IA & task analysis work. Haven’t settled on one to use yet, but that need is much greater for me recently.
I have recently started using SmartDraw as a replacement for Visio when needing to create flowcharts; the SmartDraw tools is MUCH faster to learn and it exports to a variety of image filetypes.
I like how the survey is displayed, in other words, one page.
I marked the tools that have been instrumental during the past 10 years.
I think it’s a bad idea to leave Microsoft Word off a survey like this–because love it or hate it, a lot of people use it for exactly what other people use FrameMaker for. That fact makes it relevant to this kind of survey.
I use Notepad++ for CSS and raw HTML file editing and love its robust feature set.
I used MS Word for most authoring tasks.
I wasnt clear on the purpose of the survey
I wish I had seen this list when I was researching solutions for my technical documentation a few months ago… this covers my software favs…
I would be curious the difference between how important a tool is and how often it is used.
I’m surprised at the number of tools that I’ve never used.
In 2013, we’re re-evaluating our tools and evaluating content management systems.  Our primary goals are to create content that is more reusable and to have a way to manage localized content.      Although our applications don’t run on tablets yet, we’re still investigating the best tools to use to create content for mobile devices.
It would be helpful to see the kinds of deliverables being developed (e.g. job aids, web-based training modules, virtual training materials, etc.). Would also be helpful to see what tools are used to create storyboards (for example — Adobe & many other co’s use Acrobat for review-ready storyboard content, while others use PPT or DOC files). And on an entirely different line: I’m also interested in LMS info and CMS for source files storage and sharing. Thanks!
It would have been nice to have a little more structure, explaining what the values represent for 1-5.  Even though I don’t necessarily use the apps on a daily basis, I fiind some of them to be critical to the business.
It’s unclear to me how you define ‘authoring tools and utilities’. The list contains a CMS, for example, which is hardly an authoring tool.
I’ve never heard of a number of these tools. Having an option to indicate that might be interesting.
I’ve used RoboHelp in the past, but its price is prohibitive for our small software company where I’m the lone TC. Using inexpensive software (including shareware and open-source) is working well for me, although it took considerable time and effort to develop semi-automated procedures to produce the output types (HTML, CHM, PDF, and eBook) that we wanted.
Joe,  Happy New Year.  Annette R.
Let’s add a way to rank how much we like the tools, instead of how important they are. There is a big difference! 🙂
Mainly negative replies as I’m currently not actually developing Online Help. More involved with Documentation Quality Assurance, Technical Editing and Usability Evaluations.
Make scalable to mobile
Microsoft Word is my primary tool for creating printable documents.
Might be useful in the future to break tools down by functional category, with “other” option for each category
Moving from FrameMaker to Flare 8. Love product but work on enhancing numbered list to be more intuitive like FrameMaker would be beneficial.
Much easier and quicker to fill out than last year.
My choice in any software is based on function, useability, and price…they have to strike a harmonious balance.
Never heard of much of this software.
Notepad++ Author? The tool is simply called Notepad++.
Now in its 18th year, IXgen is a very popular indexing plug-in for FrameMaker. There are probably far more users of IXgen than there are for Mif2Go (another FM helper application), which you do list in the survey. Please consider adding IXgen to your list. (Yes, we are the creators of IXgen; but the above comments are truly unbiased.)
Only experience with authoring software so far has been Doc To Help. We used Robohelp many years ago. No experience with it other than style sheet conversion issues that are a bear to clean up. Really Like DTH and have several projects going in it right now.
Only part of my business is Technical Writing and Processing of Documents (editing and publishing), but these are the tools I use in this regard.
Open Toolkit works only because we have dedicated (and extensive) tools support. We use perforce for source control.
Others in my group use a couple of other applications listed here, but these are the ones I personally use.     I am already on your email list, and would like to continue to be, but I did not check Opt In here.
Perhaps the products were listed randomly on purpose, but it would be interesting to see them grouped by function. Could be enlightening for survey takers to see how many products in a single category they are using…identify redundancy. Our team brainstormed along the same lines one day as an exercise and we were stunned at how much tool redundancy we had!
Please understand that I am on a limited budget ($0), so I look for free or extremely low-cost tools (SnagIt was a big purchase for me).
Powerpoint a  base for many advanced tools (Articulate, Storyline, Captivate)…it’s ~~ in itself that much, at least we don’t but it has some impressive features for e-learning.
Rather an odd list of a cCMS products. Why only Vasont and AuthorIT and not Trisoft, Astoria, Ixiasoft, Xdocs, Componize, EasyDITA, and others in the CMS space?
Seems to me it would make more sense to have one set of tools for people who work primarily in Structured/XML environments, and one set for people who don’t. Though honestly, I’m not sure what the interest is in knowing who uses what tool, unless it’s for commercial reasons. I note that Mac specific tools are absent, in general.
Shouldn’t you include WIKI in the list?    Listing tools is one thing, but where’s the context?  For example, is the product desktop, distributed, cloud, etc.?  And what is the main reason for using a given tool?  Interesting nonetheless
Since you have Vasont CMS, it would be good if you also had SDL Trisoft CCMS.
Surprised LaTeX isn’t here. We don’t use it, but excellent publishing tools.
Thank you for conducting surveys like this one. It is valuable to benchmark my department’s tool use against other professionals for usability and tech communication validation.
Thanks for doing the survey!
Thanks for letting me complete this quickly. I didn’t rate any of the tools that I don’t use.
Thanks for providing value.
The survey included Notepad++ which I do use.  But my favorite plain text editors are GVim (FAST!) and jEdit (plugins!).  jEdit in particular includes several plugins that enable one to work efficiently with large directories of project files, and with formatted text such as HTML, XML, scripting languages, etc.  GVIm has a steep learning curve, but for basic text manipulation it loads and runs FAST!
The tools list was not organized at all.  It would have been much easier to go through the list if the tools were listed by type (authoring tools, graphics tools, capture tools, help authoring tools, conversion tools, etc.
Think I previously submitted this survey….
This is a confusing list. There are many things on the list that I don’t consider end user tools, other things on here that are more enterprise solutions for authoring foisted upon authors. I assume you had some reason for not categorizing things… Or maybe it was just the content analyst in me that felt driven to categorize things as I went down the list… Either way, since most of my regular writing is usually intended as a blog post or a rant, I use a lot of unconventional tools to get my content out, since I know I’m going to have to upload it through some other tool to get it to the final destination. I try to stay away from anything imposes hierarchy by formatting, or anything that uses such things as Markdown (HTML is perfectly human readable to me, anyway).
This survey alerted me to check out many tools I have never heard of.  Thanks!
This survey represents the tools I personally use, not the tools used by other authors in the company.
To improve the usability of this survey, could you repeat the answer key every 20 answers or so? Also, I had two vertical scrollbars working on my laptop–in my opinion, it would be a functional improvement to remove one.
To write/deliver good documentation you only need the basic tools. You can manage documentation quite well with simple applications, servers, HTML, and Javascript. Why spend all that money on tools that you do not really need. Providing you have a good style guide and agreed processes/procedures/work instructions/training, you can do really well with the basic tools.    It is the experience and skill set of your authors that you should spend your money on, and not bits of software that need to be managed and cost a fortune to upgrade.
Training team uses the demo tools. Writing team uses AuthorIT and Frame. We are moving to SDL (CMS), XMetal, and DITA OT to consolidate tools.
Trying to convert from Frame to Flare…too much to do, so little time.
Unfortunately my tool use is currently limited because all work this year has been on the wiki. I am assuming that this survey covers the 2012 year only.
Various tools like Joomla, Drupal are widely used for their easy interfaces.
Video is becoming more crucial to our documentation. Our online help now includes both written descriptions and video links.
We are in the process of moving to XML-based publication and are not sure of the full tool sets and workflows we will eventually use. These may include Word templates for SME authoring, and a CCMS other than SharePoint, which is already in house.
We are looking at Flare for 2013 to support help for portable devices.
We are transitioning from Frame/RoboHelp to DITA. We haven’t finalized the tools decisions but have 90-day licenses for oXygen to do a pilot project (after excellent training from ComTech!). I hope to be able to purchase MIF2Go to make it easier. to get our high volume of Frame 9.x doc into DITA XML. Upgrading either Frame or RoboHelp is NOT an option, so MIF2Go will be helpful. I tried out and now have Flare at home for my own learning purposes, but we do not have it at work.
We changed from Doc-to-Help to 4.ST Helpserver because of the multi-language functionality.
We designed a Daisy help system (Daisy is an open source CMS) to create and publish our numerous help projects.
We have exclusively used only a wiki for 3 years.  We are now changing to a different wiki.
We have yet to find a help authoring tool that meets our requirements and we have looked at a lot.
We moved to a wiki-based help system to support collaboration with our customers and a community-based help system.
We need just a little bit more out of Mimic for our Instructional Designers to use it for their purposes. It wasn’t missing much but what it was missing was important to them.
We recently chose a new authoring and CMS tool, which means we’ll be moving away from Flare and FrameMaker. The writers like Flare, but through the CMS evaluation process, decided that Flare does not integrate well with any CMS system. Wish MadCap would address this.
We use a combination of Oracle Master Data Management, Oracle UCM, and QAD-PIM (a Product Inf. Management system) to manage product data presented on the corporate website.
We use Atlassian Confluence only as a content collaboration tool, but not as an authoring or publishing tool.
What is the purpose of this survey?
When any of my clients deign to add Help to their web applications and I do the work, I draft everything in Word in order to send for online reviews. None of my clients expect to create Help and they often have no content management systems that support contextual help. (Mostly do corporate extranets, e-commerce sites,  or admin consoles of late.) This means I have to work with development to determine how Help will be delivered. For on-screen help (in-field tip, text below field) I create a spreadsheet indicating URLs, field, type of help, and the text to be shown and they do alll of the work. When Sharepoint is involved, as in the current project, a widget is developed to create a Help window that opens from a Help button at the top of the page. For on page pop-up help, a widget was used to create a small popup text window that is displayed in response to clicking a help icon. I will not allow them to use a second browser instance for Help. Problem with the Help window widget is the developer is refusing to make the window dynamic or to position it any where other then the middle of the screen. He has also used a window that then shadows the underlying window so nobody can see what they are doing that cause them to ask for help. As usual, they decided to do Help so late in the process the project manager refuses to make him fix it. I think this year I may finally really retire and just quit having clients so they cannot make me nuts.
When the results of the survey are completed, it would be so awesome to have a competitive review done on the top few tools to know if I should be looking at replacing any of my current toolset (or adding on!)
While I don’t use a lot of these tools right now, it’s always possible that clients will request them. It might be useful to add a check box that says “Not currently using but anticipated”. Or, adding a question that asks about anticipated use….
Why did you leave Word of the list? Some people have the misfortune of using it
Why did you omit other CCMSs (XDocs, Ixyasoft…), MediaWiki, Inkscape, TM (SDL Trados…)?
Why should I have to scroll up every now and then to remember your rating system?  Please put the 1-5, etc, at the top of the screen, fixed, so that I don’t have to scroll up.  Also, why do you need the “~~” option?  If I don’t rate a particular item, you could infer that I don’t use it.
Would like to see SmartDocs included in this list.
Would love it if the table headings were frozen as we scrolled down the list. 🙂
You could include software like Windows Movie Maker for creating and editing short video clips.    HTH,  Arun
You didn’t include any CMS products and a CMS is for us. We happen to use XDocs.
You omit Word and Excel but include Visio.  Why?  Are you taking MS Office for granted as an essential set of tools for everyone?
You only have one CMS listed. I think the survey would be more accurate to separate these out or not include.


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