The documentation business is really changing with so many tools available now for showing how instead of telling/describing how to do things in the IT world. So software like Macromedias Captivate (nee eHelps RoboDemo), Qarbons Viewlet Builder, or Techsmiths Camtasia Studio and others are changing how documentation is done – its becoming electronic if not online with animation, video, audio, and quizzes being incorporated into the documentation, training and learning experience. Of course some software vendors are taking the straight line path and just making time (and otherwise limited)versions of their real software available.
But that strategy misses the point – good documentation helps the user to get up to speed and then stay up and productive. And this party believes that well illustrated and well written documentation does the best job of explaining how to get started and as a reminder of how to use software effectively. Simply put – I dont want to be tethered to a computer in order to be able to learn how to use it. And even in the process of creating “show how” demo software – there remains a lot of written (or spoken from written) documentation. In sum, I have been on the look out for more than the Word dictionary and thesaurus and here are some of the doc tools which get used a lot around theOpenSourcery.com.
Free Doc Tools
Everest Tools – is a collection of robust dictionary, translator(for 12 languages), word resource manager on the Web (link to other word info sites), pronunciation of English words and glossary (user defined dictionary). Does not have thesaurus, word etymology, phonetic lookup but is very easy to use with system tray and hotkey startup options. A freeware gem.
WordWeb is another freeware, standalone program and word gem. Also WordWeb uses the system tray for TSR-Terminate and Stay Resident assistance activated by a user defined keyboard combo. WordWeb is even nicer in use because all you have to do is highlight any word in any program and then click your activation keys – and WordWeb pops up with definition, synonym, antonym, type of word, nearest words alphabetically in the dictionary. Another button click replaces the selected word with the users choice for new word. Or if still not satisfied then just look up the word at other popular dictionary/thesaurus websites with a button click.
Allword.com is one of the more tolerable online dictionary sites on the web because its advertising is not so brutally solicitous as on other sites. As well Allword provides definition, translation, and synonyms for many words. Finally, they are not afraid to provide links to 2 dozen other wordsmithing sites.
There are a huge number of free dictionary programs and websites on the web – Google has a good translation engine as does AltaVista. And thus dictionary websites are very plentiful. Look for websites that have ease of use as well as robust functionality.
Pay-for Doc Tools
But the commercial documentation tools are no slouches either and there are some real bargians to be found. For example, I do a lot of technical writing and documentation and so a “new” capture utility from TechSmith is quite a revelation for all the screen capture options it delivers and therefore time-savings it affords. And Visual Thesaurus and then Rhymeasaurus are such delights they have added juice to creative work. Check out these bargain tools:
Babylon Pro – is a very polished dictionary, thesaurus, pronunciation guide and multi-language translator to and from English plus at least a dozen other languages. A very useful, broad and largely free set of glossaries are also available. And again – Babylon points to other resources and links on the web. Good and fast operations are the icing on the cake.
Visual Thesaurus – is a wordcrafters delight. It shows its word and related synonyms (but a lot fewer antonyms) on a “seaweed waving like” tree of meanings. Go to their website to see the online version in action. Word lovers be prepared to be seduced by this Word Sirens.
Rhymeasaurus – is a rhyming dictionary without equal. It provides over a dozen rhyming schemes for every word. Multiple syllables, assonance, consonance — Rhymeasaurus has inspiration aplenty for the poet in all of us.
– okay so a picture is worth a thousand words. Techsmith has a tool that takes the usual Windows screen captures to new levels of convenience and elegance. Capture anything and everything including video screen shots.
Paint Shop Pro 9– and if you are going to get screenshots you are going to want to add labels, pointers and captions. And maybe rotate the text or merge two images or add some nice frame to the screenshot. All of these tasks are trivial to do in PaintShop Pro and at a bargain price(hint 1/5th at least of Adobe Photoshop) – yet it not only stands up to Photoshop but now clearly leads the parade in several screenshot finishing categories.
So yes, do take a look at some of the “show me” documentation tools noted at the top of this article; but also realize that there are a wealth of tools available to help make writing, presenting and word crafting in general a lot more eloquent and just playn fun.