My Favorite Tools

People are always asking me “what tools do you use”? I’ve filled out multiple surveys on the subject, such as the 2012 Writers UA Tools Survey. So here is a list I put together of the hardware, software, and apps that a Tech Writer / Business Analyst / User Experience Architect cannot live without.

In such a modern and digital age, it’s weird to think of how tool-dependent we are. People have always used tools in their daily lives and always will. It’s just part of life. But it seems like the tools you use can define you. For example, “are you a mac or a PC”? Answer carefully because you could be judged based on your answer. The tools we use are important, but what’s more important is what we do with them; what we create and contribute to the world with them.

So here are the tools I use on a daily basis. Usually when I have the choice of tools, I choose the one that produces the best output, while being easy to use, and affordable.

For anyone who is trying to break into the industry, I would recommend downloading free trials or purchasing these tools and becoming familiar with them. It can help immensely to have a leg up before you sit down and try to use a new tool for the first time and produce real work on it immediately.

Software

  • Word processing: MS Word – obviously… you can’t live without this tool 🙂 By now, I can make Word sing and dance.
  • Spreadsheets: Excel (aside from the usual spreadsheets, I use this a lot for project management to make timelines and schedules – I know I should probably use MS Project, but it’s a pain in the butt, so I use this instead)
  • Presentations: Power Point (the old staple), Prezi (the new flashy kid), and Keynote (for apple products – I use this one to do presentations on my iPad)
  • Quick Reference Guides: Adobe InDesign (somewhat of a high learning curve, but produces really beautiful documents) or MS Word (less beautiful documents, but easier to use – I usually start in word and then make it pretty in InDesign)
  • Help Authoring Tools (HATs): Madcap Flare, RoboHelp, Framemaker, DocToHelp – I like DocToHelp the best because it integrates with MS Word and is very easy to learn and use. Flare is becoming the new industry standard and RoboHelp is the old industry standard so you still see that on a lot of job descriptions.
  • Tutorial Videos: Camtasia Studio, Adobe Captivate (I prefer Camtasia, it has less of a learning curve, easier to use)
  • Photo Editing: Photoshop
  • Screenshots: Snagit – this tool is AMAZING and its really cheap. It allows you to take screenshots of any portion of your screen, then you can edit those images. You can also create videos with it. It has a lot of useful functionality and will become a tech writer’s bread and butter. Used daily. It’s very easy to learn and use.
  • Illustrations: Adobe Illustrator
  • Blogging: WordPress
  • Wikis: Mediawiki, Confluence
  • Audio Editing: Audacity
  • File compression: WinRar, 7-zip
  • FTP: Filezilla, WinFTP
  • Internet Browsing: Chrome
  • CSS Editing: Firefox web developer extension and Firebug
  • Web design and HTML Editor: Dreamweaver (not free) and Notepad++ (free)
  • Flowcharts: Visio – creating flowcharts, process flows, organizational charts, swimlanes, and diagrams.
  • Requirements Management: I use Case Complete to write, manage, and produce reports on software (or product) requirements specifications, use cases, test cases, dictionary/glossary, actors, and more. It’s fabulous. This particular tool can be somewhat expensive if more than 1 license is needed, but it does it all and I use it every day.
  • Wireframing: I use Balsamiq for creating wireframes (also known as mockups / prototypes) of User Interfaces for web and mobile applications. This is by far my favorite tool. It’s very inexpensive, fun, easy, and fabulous. It creates beautiful wireframes that really translate information architecture and concepts of the application to the clients. It helps them visualize things really well and is easy to manipulate and change as they provide feedback. (Another top industry tool is Azure. I haven’t used it but I’ve heard it is clunky and requires it’s own Azure administrator to run it.)
  • SEO: Google Analytics – Google pretty much owns the internet now, so the only way to do SEO is the way they want you to.
  • Music: Spotify – this free tool is IMO the best online streaming source of music. You can create playlists, use a radio feature, send songs to friends, etc. I have it installed on my PC, mobile phone, and tablet. I listen to music all day, so it’s a must.
  • Notes: Evernote (free) – this tool syncs on your PC and tablet so you can take notes wherever you go and it’s there when you need it. I use it all the time.

Hardware

  • Monitors: 2 monitors is the ONLY way to work. It’s a must for me in any workstation.
  • iPhone and Android mobile phone – I have both because I design mobile applications and I use both platforms to see how the app would work on both, to get ideas, learn new things, and better understand usability.  (But I use the iPhone 5 as my phone and I MUCH prefer it to android. I keep my old Samsung Galaxy SII around for testing.)
  • iPad and Android tablet – same reasons as above. I love my iPad and I’m on it constantly.
  • Bose noise cancelling headphones – another must. When I’m in the zone, I put these babies on and the noisy office around me fades away so I can concentrate.

Apps

These are some of my favorite apps on my phone and tablet:

  • Productivity: Evernote, Flight Tracker, Prezi, Keynote
  • News & Entertainment: Flipboard (this app takes all the articles, videos, tweets, pics, and posts on your interests from all over the internet and brings them all to once place for you – It’s magical), Buzzfeed (I feel like this site was created specifically for me because every day I read a post that is hilarious and so relatable)
  • Social: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin
  • Music: Shazam (recognizes music playing around it and tells you what song and artist is it), Spotify
  • Blogging: WordPress
  • Food: Yelp (food reviews, tips, pics, and info – I almost never pick a restaurant without this app), Starbucks (I love this app because you can pay with your phone and earn points for free things)

I love using new tools so if you have any suggestions for me, please let me know.

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