There are so many options when you want to pick a writing tool.
Which is the best one for you and your team?
How should you go about sifting through all of the many (often conflicting) features, claims, and price tags?
The options are practically endless. You’ve got Flare, Jekyll, Word, Git, Oxygen, Author-it, RoboHelp, docuglobe, PTC, easyDITA, InDesign, FrameMaker, Confluence, … and the list goes on and on, and that’s just the writing tools!
The choice is not easy.
And before you go searching for any of the names on the list I just gave you, it might be helpful for us to recognize that this is a huge decision.
When you’re responsible for the output of a team of writers, the onus is on you to make sure that the content process runs smoothly. You want short publication cycles, high-quality content, and a happy team. If you choose the wrong tool, you could set up your whole team for a very difficult life.
You don’t want your company to join the many businesses who have invested a lot of their budget on a tool only to find out that it didn’t suit their needs.
The search for a tool that does everything
Our instinct when facing a big decision like this is to say “I just need to find the right tool.” Whether it’s a writing tool specifically or any other communication tool, we feel that everything else will be easy… as soon as we find the right tool.
We read reviews, ask people for opinions, and browse the many lists of popular technical writing tools. We gather more and more information and our decision becomes more and more complex. Before long, we start to feel like we are wasting our time. Looking for a tool is distracting us from the rest of our job.
Eventually, you’re usually going to find yourself in one of two situations:
- With a specific tool in mind — You have done your homework and you think that you’ve found the best technical communication tool for your needs. You know that there are other options available that you haven’t explored. But, this tool meets most of your criteria and you don’t have more time to keep searching. It’s common here to find yourself thinking “This is the right tool. It will do.”
- Indecision paralysis (aka analysis paralysis) — You have found information about so many tools with so many different features that you can’t tell which one is best. You’re no longer even sure what you need from a tool. It’s common here to find yourself thinking “Let’s just forget about buying a tool and stick with the process we use already.”
How to avoid a narrow focus
Neither of these situations is perfect when you’re looking to invest in a technical writing tool. They both suggest a narrow focus, which can be detrimental when choosing a tool that will have such a significant impact on your operations.
We have encountered both of these situations when we are called in to work with clients. Sometimes our client is convinced that one tool will solve all of their problems and they want us to help them build a business case for it. Other times they are paralyzed with indecision and they want us to tell them which tool to choose.
In both cases, they are stuck with an overly narrow focus.
As the Heath Brothers explain in their book Decisive, narrow focus is one of the “four villains of decision making.” It’s extremely common for us to fixate on a single option and find it very difficult to gain a wider perspective.
When we work with clients who want to invest in a writing tool, our job often involves helping them to gain that wider perspective.
We help them gain this perspective by using a framework.
The 5 key areas when choosing a tool
At Rubric, we specialize in helping companies to get more from their global content. As a result, our clients most commonly ask us for guidance on how localization-friendly a tool is. For example, they might be looking for a CMS that is compatible with localization.
The framework we use is based on the Localization Maturity Model developed by CSA Research. It allows us to assess how localization-friendly a particular tool is – and thus if it will suit the client’s needs – by looking at five key areas of their business. If it turns out the tool doesn’t suit their needs, we can use the information we have gathered to pick a better tool for their unique situation.
You can also use this framework to assess any technical communication tool that you are considering.
The five key areas of the framework are:
1. Governance — Track the tool’s performance
What are the right metrics to track the performance of the tool?
How will you know that the tool has solved the problem that you’re trying to fix? Which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will tell you? Are these KPIs also important to your business as a whole?
2. Strategy — Align with the company goals
How does the tool align with your corporate goals and strategies? What benefits will the tool bring to the company as a whole?
Ultimately, the tool needs to align with the relevant company strategies. Only then can you be sure that the benefits of the tool are important to the company, as well as being important to you. The better you can align it with those strategies, the more likely it is that the tool will have a positive impact and the easier it will be to get approval for the purchase.
3. Process — Make improvements first
Which processes will be affected by the tool? What changes need to be made to those processes to accommodate it? Are there other ways we can make the same changes?
This step in the framework is when we often see great improvements. By making changes to the process, we sometimes find that the original tool is no longer necessary, and another tool would be much more effective for our client’s needs.
4. People — Get the team on board
How do you get the team on board with the tool? What do they want the tool to be able to do?
A lot of people will likely interact with the tool, its inputs, and/or its outputs. As a result, all these people will be instrumental in the success of the tool. Everyone may have a slightly different idea of what success looks like. By getting them on board now and enlisting their help in clarifying your needs, you increase the chances that the tool will work as you intend it to, and everyone will be happy.
5. Automation — Select the tool
Which tools are right for the job?
It is only when you have looked at the other areas of the business that you can properly assess which technical writing tool will be suitable for your needs. Often, by this stage in the framework, we have found a lot of valuable information.
Sometimes we realize that our requirements for a tool have completely changed since we started. This is a great insight to have as it means that you have saved yourself a costly mistake. Using all of the information you’ve gathered throughout the process, you can make an informed decision about which tool to buy much more easily than you could at the start.
Are you considering a technical communication tool?
If you’re considering any technical communication tool and would like some more details on this framework, you can find out more in our book Global Content Quest.
Got a specific question about localization tools? Just contact us and we’ll help you out.