Help Authoring Tools Overview
What are Help Authoring Tools (HATs)
Help Authoring Tools (HAT) provide a means to edit and create help documents. These tools may be used to generate manuals for software, online help, or other technical documents and guides. Also known as Technical Documentation Tools, Help Authoring Tools will share some features with word processors and document editors, and general publishing tools.
Another approach to help content authoring is found in Component Content Management Systems (CCMS). Rather than organize content on the document level, CCMS maintain a content model that is granular and topic-based, and preserves relationships of topics across documents and versions. Whether described as a CCMS or a HAT, technical documentation generation tools must support topic-based authoring to provide a useful guide to end-users.
Features of Help Authoring Tools (HATs)
Help authoring tools generally provide the following capabilities:
Import HTML, Word docs, HHP, and other formats
Can publish multi-format output, i.e. HTML (or any web help site), Word documents, PDF, eBook, or printed manuals
Can integrate into web applications to create in-app help system, guides
Automated help pop up for apps, guide workflow
Screenshot tool, screenshot hotspots
In-built word processor comparable to popular word processors
Support for multiple views & preview output
Image library and image management, vector graphics
Customizable content library, reuse content across documents
Collaboration tools and multi-user editing, project management (via integration)
Topic template library, layouts & themes to suit variety of needs
Drag-and-drop, XML, or WYSIWYG editor, suite of editing tools
Content or topic search engine or search tool with customizable filter, autocorrect content or topic tagging, search relevance ranking
Mobile display aids (e.g. rollup, thumbnail, etc)
Version control, remote or offline editing
Translation tools and support
Some Help Authoring Tools or Technical Document tools are available at low cost for a one time cost on a perpetual license. Free versions are available with relatively limited feature sets, or for one user. Licensing may cover a named user, or be issued as a floating license (i.e. one seat, tied to device rather than a person). Higher priced plans may include sophisticated tools for building help systems into apps, or for reusing content from a library. Some vendor offer cloud-based HATs via subscription service. These may also include dedicated support from the vendor.