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We are planning to create a user guide for internal use only. It's 150-page document in Word for a self-developed SW tool. The user guide will require constant update. No translation is needed. We would like to have - an easy-to-use interface for the tool - easy to update - good functionality on change history control, better to have change history detailed to each functionality of the software.

Do you have a recommendation on the tool?

  • I'm a little unclear on what you're looking for here. DO you need recommendations for the interface for the software tool, or recommendations for software to update the software tool's user guide? If the latter, what's wrong with just using Word to create PDFs? Or do you want a user guide inside the software? (If the former, you're on the wrong site, I'm afraid.) – Neil Fein Jun 4 '14 at 21:37
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    Hi Neil, I am looking for a tool to create a user guide for the tool. Since it's a self-developed tool, it has constant update. We need to reflect these changes into the user guide. Word will be difficult in terms of having a record on all the changes. E.g. engineer issues a ticket for a SW change, we need to have this update into the user guide, and take down who did the change, when and what's the reason for this change (i.e. linked to which ticket). I'm thinking about some tool which support modular writing, and function to capture the change history by modules. Do I make it clearer? Thanks – xifeng Jun 4 '14 at 23:31
  • Hi @xifeng, do you have SharePoint? – CLockeWork Jun 5 '14 at 8:05
  • Yes. We do have SharePoint. – xifeng Jun 5 '14 at 16:07
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For internal documentation I've found wikis to be quite useful. A wiki has several useful features for this task:

  • built-in change-tracking
  • doc can be structured as several pages (e.g. one per major section) for easier management; individual pages can then be edited without any need to merge changes into a master document
  • some (most?) wiki platforms detect impending edit conflicts; if someone else has the page open for edit you'll find out (so no messy merges later)
  • can be accessed by anybody with a browser, on any device (try reading a Word doc or PDF on your phone...)
  • if your wiki keeps a "recent changes" page, work is visible and thus more likely to receive additional helpful edits or comments (more collaboration)

It does have some disadvantages -- you have to run a server, and printing isn't very practical. If you ever decided to publish the documentation to a wider audience you'd need to port it to something. But, that said, you could probably script most of that.

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    Absolutely - this sprang to my mind immediately. Just make sure to keep a friendly, up-to-date table of contents/index, as these aren't automatically created (or what is created automatically is far from friendly) and the wiki will be an awesome tool. Especially, if the wiki is for internal use, do allow user edits. They frequently contribute good tips on usage patterns the developers didn't even think about, and the discussion pages save the internal helpdesk a lot of headaches, as the users can guide each other. – SF. Jun 5 '14 at 10:05
  • Oh yes, you definitely need a table of contents or it just turns into a digital junk drawer. :-) – Monica Cellio Jun 5 '14 at 12:51
  • Regarding printing: some wiki platforms have an "Export to PDF" option, which is good for this. – Martin McCallion Jun 17 '14 at 14:49
  • @MartinMcCallion sounds handy! Do you happen to know which ones? Is this per-page only or do some take a page hierarchy and bundle it up into one PDF? – Monica Cellio Jun 17 '14 at 15:04
  • The one we use at work is Confluence from Atlassian. It's not free, though, except maybe for a limited version. And I think you can get it to do something like make a PDF of "this page and all the ones under it". But I'm not totally sure on that. – Martin McCallion Jun 17 '14 at 15:07
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In the past, I've used a wiki for this type of work. However, a tool doesn't organize itself. The best wiki sites are heavily edited from every level from copy to development.

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Would GoogleDocs work? We used them extensively at my prior workplace (a university), as everyone had a google account that was the campus email account, and it has good version tracking.

Like any shared document, usually you need someone somewhat in charge who will care if parts aren't updated and they should be, and to make sure the ToC/index is current.

Alas, at my current workplace, Gmail and GDocs aren't allowed. Nor is much innovation in general, so we don't have always-updating multi-user documents (at least in the departments I've interacted with.)

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