If an authoring tool has limitations, technical writers, knowledge managers—even our friends in customer service and support—will find them. That’s because these technical shortcomings and feature deficits create friction that makes it difficult for knowledge workers to do their jobs. And when tech writers are gummed up, it’s ultimately the end-user experience that suffers.
What is an authoring tool?
An authoring tool is any software that enables the creation and publication of content to the web. In our context, this means knowledge content, which is typically maintained in some kind of knowledge base. Authoring tools are usually part of a larger knowledge management platform and strategy, of which authoring tools are just one part.
Common elements of an authoring tool
- Authoring functionality (WYSIWYG, XML, etc.)
- Templates for documents and document components
- Attachments and multimedia support
- Reusable variables
- Related content linking
- Author roles
- Approval and publishing workflows
- Article-level feedback and ratings
11 things to look for in a knowledge authoring tool
When evaluating authoring tools, you’ll likely be evaluating not only the tools themselves but the systems that help ultimately deliver the authoring experience. Priority one should be making life easier for the internal and external consumers of knowledge content.
The tool itself is a mean to this end.
Too often, the limitations of an authoring tool or system only surface after the sale during implementation, training, and day-to-day work. This might be due to technical limitations, or the need for customization. To avoid this pitfall, we’ve put together some areas to consider when shopping for authoring tools or, as it were, knowledge management solutions.
Guide to Evaluating KM Platforms
9 areas to look at closely when you're deciding on a knowledge management platform
1. Document or page editor
Some out-of-the-box page editors are clunky and limited in functionality. This can diminish the quality of content your authors publish or cost them time and frustration. Look for more than just a basic WYSIWYG, including options for embedding multimedia and user-friendly authoring layouts.
2. Approval and publishing workflows
Workflow needs will differ from company to company, or even department to department. Whereas one knowledge team might require an SME approval step, others might require supervisor review or compliance sign-off. Flexible workflow capabilities are a must.
3. Flexible document permissioning
It can be useful to only show certain sections of a document, or certain pieces of information, to certain user types. Authenticated users versus anonymous users, for example. Tier 1 customer support agents vs. Tier 3. Ideally, an authoring tool will allow you to not only permission certain documents, but to permission certain sections within a single document.
4. Content reuse and variables
Content reuse allows you to use existing content—either an entire article or just sections of an article—in another location. This could be particular sentences, whole sections of text, even images—any information you know you’ll reuse in other documents. It’s convenient, faster, and more efficient than our old friends Copy and Paste.
5. Bulk document operations
Sometimes, it’s necessary to move, archive, delete, or update multiple content records all at once. The ability to do so en masse can save a considerable amount of time and effort.
6. Browsing and searching existing content
Knowledge authors—especially technical writers—are constantly cross-referencing existing content, auditing what’s out there, and pulling up older records for updates. They need the ability to quickly and accurately search for content from within their authoring interface with an intuitive search/browsing experience.
7. Dynamic link updating
The ability to check for broken links and dynamically update them after a URL is changed, moved, or removed from the site structure can save time, help maintain site health, and avoid sending users to 404 pages.
8. Revision history
It’s not uncommon that a document will need to be reverted to a previous version. Perhaps a product has been discontinued, or a recommended solution is no longer valid. Having access to detailed revision history, including version comparisons (what was changed, edited, added, removed), author information, and the ability to revert to previous versions of a document can be highly useful.
9. Recommended links
While authoring, wouldn’t it be nice if the system served up recommended content to link to? Authoring tools that integrate this functionality into the page editor help authors quickly enrich the content experience for end-users by intuitively leading them to related content that is useful to them.
10. Instant publishing
Knowledge teams need the ability to push important content live without delay. Time to value for timely knowledge is important—the sooner that information is available, the sooner it can be consumed, shared, and crawled so that more users can find it.
11. Learning curve
Tools have shortcuts, nuances, and best practices, most of which come with experience. Authoring tools with a steep learning curve can slow down workflows and discourage adoption among other knowledge contributors (customer support agents, for example). Aside from the technical details of the tool, what kind of training and support is available to support adoption?
Good authoring tools help create better customer experiences
Finding a well-rounded authoring tool is about more than making things easier for knowledge workers. The more robust the authoring tool, the better suited your team will be to meet modern customer expectations about content.
What are these expectations?
Timely, highly consumable content optimized for search and mobile devices. Delivering this kind of customer experience with your content has to be square in the center of any decision, including which authoring tool to use.