What Tools do Technical Writers Use to Collaborate?

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woman_computerTechnical writing is often a boundary-less occupation. Rarely do technical writers collaborate with people “in the next cubicle.” More often, we work with team members—SMEs or other contributors—who are in geographically dispersed locations. So, we rely on tools to support the projects we complete.

The key to a successful technical writing project is communication. No matter how complex the assignment, regular communication is critical. Of course, you can use instant messaging, email, and the telephone. But, the more complex the project, the more frequent the updates on the project should be.

So, in addition to traditional communication methods, what do technical writers use to ensure the success of their projects? We have myriad options: Content Management applications, Wikis, chat rooms, etc. This article will discuss some free or almost free web-based options for collaboration, as well as provide some ideas you might use to evaluate the options for your own circumstances.

What are my collaborative needs?

Before you dive into any of the options discussed below, consider what you actually need. The collaboration tools you choose should allow you

  • Access to the project from anywhere (real-time co-authoring)
  • Access to your work from any platform
  • Simultaneous document editing (version control)

In addition to these must-haves, you may also require markdown support, a customizable interface, or a notification option.

What you need is access to the cloud. Cloud computing is ideal for this purpose and is gaining momentum in the world of collaboration, and it provides the tools that meet the requirements of any collaboration project—calendars, word processing, spreadsheets, mind maps, graphics, and various other tools.

What are my options?

In the world of cloud computing, we have many free or nearly free options. Consider investigating any of these, which are recommended by various technical writing experts:

Google is still the leader in free collaboration. Anyone with a gmail email account can take advantage of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are productivity apps that let you create different kinds of online documents, work on them in real time with other people, and store them in your Google Drive online—all for free. You can access the documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you create from any computer, anywhere in the world.

Vyew is a new collaborative tool that allows for always-on interaction between people and content. It compares to GoToMeeting and Microsoft Live—in addition to writing tools, it offers meeting spaces. View this comparison chart to see how it compares to other tools in its class.

Penflip allows you to write, collaborate, and publish within a markdown editor (online) or a text editor (offline). It also offers version control and various publishing options, such as PDF, ePub, and HTML. Penflip focuses on offering a minimalist tool that allows writers to focus on writing with minimal distractions.

Wikispaces was originally designed to improve communication between teachers and students. However, now, it allows all collaborators to have a space on the Web where they can share work and ideas, pictures and links, videos and media—and anything else they can think of. Wikispaces is special because it gives you a visual editor and several other tools to make sharing all kinds of content easy.

And if none of these is what you need, check out Mashable.com’s list of online collaboration tools (although not all are free or inexpensive).