Key things to know before selecting a Help Authoring Tool

Key things to know before selecting a Help Authoring Tool

Help Authoring is the process of creating, designing, publishing, and managing help content for your business. Using help authoring tools, you can create help manuals, documentation, and more. These tools can be used by an individual author or a team of writers and editors, to create content on a large scale collaboratively. 

Before we get into the different kinds of help authoring tools, let’s look at how help authoring is different from other types of online writing. This will give you an idea of how a tool such as Wordpress is not suitable for help authoring, while an online documentation tool like ProProfs Knowledge Base Software is!

Using a help authoring tool, you can create web pages, documents, and help files. These are meant to equip customers with the right information so that they can resolve queries on their own. Not just customers, this tool can be used to create corporate wiki or employee handbooks for your workforce.

Authoring tools are geared towards enabling you to create meaningful content that can be of help to your customers or employees. However, for something like blogs, you don’t really need such a tool. Blogs are relatively shorter, and they are not created to reduce tickets, unlike online help files, documentation, or FAQs.

Different Kinds of Help Authoring Software

There are essentially three different kinds of help authoring software. These are:

  • Opensource - The software comes as a free application that allows you to customize the source code. Example: Mediawiki 
  • Proprietary - The help authoring tool is similar to other stand-alone commercial software applications. Example: Adobe Robohelp
  • Software as a Service - These are hosted in the cloud by the software service provider and help you create wikis, manuals, etc. directly on the web. Example: ProProfs Knowledge base.

Here’s a checklist to help you understand the differences better:


Software as a Service




No need to install the software. No need to rewrite source code. The help authoring tools are hosted in the cloud with full-service features.

The software can be downloaded and installed on your local system, allowing you free access to customize the source code and build your help authoring software.

The software can be installed locally on your computer or server.


Monthly/ Annual service charges.

Software is free. However, you will have to hire technical experts to install, manage, and upgrade the help authoring software.

Upfront license fee, typically with annual renewal fees.

Installation Charge

No installation charges.

No fees, however, you need technical experts to install the software.

You may require vendor fees to assist with the installation and set-up.

Data Backup

The data is securely stored in the cloud, and you don’t need to create any backup for your data.

You need an IT team to manage your data and keep it secure.

You need to create your own data backup plan.

Hardware Requirements

No hardware required. You can access the help authoring tool at any time, any place with Internet connectivity.

You need an IT team to manage your data and keep it secure.

You need to create your own data backup plan.

Hardware Requirements

No hardware required. You can access the help authoring tool at any time, any place with Internet connectivity.

Hardware requirements vary according to the software.

You need to host the help authoring software on your company’s data servers or your local systems.

Upgrades & Updates

Upgrades require a small fee to be paid.

Upgrades and updates are usually free, but their installation may require technical assistance.

Upgrades usually require a fee and technical guidance from an IT team.


Safety & Security

With web-based enterprise help authoring tools, security is managed by the provider.

With the source code available to anyone, security risks need to be continuously monitored by a professional IT team.

The help authoring software can be secure with a professional IT team administering and managing the application.


Third-Party Integration               

Third-party integration is inbuilt and comes with advance integrations for email marketing software, CRMs, Live Chat and more.

Third-party integration may not be built into the open-source package and would require IT professionals to program integration of third-party applications.

Depends upon the vendor.


User Support

User support available which includes video tutorials, FAQ, email, chat, and phone

User support usually only offered through online forums and discussion lists.

No vendor support. Some user support offered as online help documentation.

Technical Support

Full technical support with minimal work for users, except for possible customization features.

With a free, open-source help authoring tool, all support will be from user forums and discussion lists.

No vendor support. Some technical support may be packaged with your purchase but may require a yearly fee to keep vendor support.

24/7 Availability

Web-based enterprise help authoring tools are available 24/7 and offer uninterrupted services to users.

You are responsible for providing backup plans and redundant systems in the event of a loss of service to the help authoring software.

You are responsible for providing backup plans and redundant systems in the event of a loss of service to the help authoring software.

Important Questions to Ask Before Buying a Help Authoring Tool

While the above checklist serves as a ready reckoner, there are still some questions that you need to ask yourself before buying a help authoring tool.

1. What Are Your Requirements?

Figure out your requirements by jotting down the following questions:

  • What are you looking to create with it? 
  • Are you looking for an authoring-cum-publishing tool, using which you can create help articles for your website’s FAQ, manuals, documentation, or user guides? 
  • Is your target audience customers or employees?
  • What kind of features are you looking for?
  • Will you prefer going for a trial version before the final purchase? 

 2. Will the Help Authoring Tool Grow Your Business or Add to Your Expenses?

If you have to buy new hardware, then definitely the tool will be an extra addition to your expense sheet. This happens when the tool is open source, where the source code is free, but you need to have your own hardware to store the content and data. However, with SaaS providers, you don’t need new hardware as they host your data on secure cloud servers.

Different kinds of help authoring tools

The other thing you need to consider carefully is if your team will have the time to set up the tool, manage updates, and integrations. If acquiring the tool only ends up in adding to the costs of maintaining and managing the software, then you need to find an alternative.

 3. Does the Vendor Offer a Detailed Features Checklist?

There’s no point in buying a tool that doesn’t get your job done. Review the tool thoroughly to ensure that all the features that you’re looking for are there. Here’s a list of some essential features that a help authoring tool must offer:

  • Online text editor to help you write, edit, and upload content.
  • Multiple integrations with ticketing systems, live chat & CRMs
  • Workflows and revision history
  • Contextual help
  • Advanced security options
  • CSS and white label
  • Branding and customization options
  • Role-based access

4. Can You Access the Tool from Anywhere, Anytime from Any Device?

This is a mandatory feature that a help authoring tool must offer. The fact is that, more often than not, a team of geographically dispersed authors, editors, administrators, and viewers will be using the tool.

Therefore your team members must be able to use the tool 24*7 from multiple devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The tool must also support different browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and more.

5. Does the Tool Integrate with Other Software?

Besides creating help documentation, the tool should help you do a lot more. For instance, after you create a help article and publish it as a web page, you should be able to add a survey to gather feedback from customers. Similarly, the tool should also serve as a help desk ticketing system, which captures tickets and sends it directly to your CRM.

 Also, the tool should allow you to add a chatbox on the final help pages. Capturing customer details and generating leads for your email marketing lists will become a lot easier if your software offers extra benefits. This can happen only when the tool integrates seamlessly with other software like Help Desk software, Live Chat, Wufoo, etc. 

Look out for such integrations while choosing a help authoring tool. 


While the above questions are the most important ones that you need to ask before buying a help authoring tool, they are by no means the only questions to ask. There are still many more questions, such as:

  • Is the tool well within your budget?
  • Is there a free trial version of the tool?
  • What do existing customers have to say about the tool?
  • Do they have multi-channel post-sales support?

Invest in a help authoring tool only when you are entirely sure of its features, functions, and benefits. 

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About the author

Brayn Wills

Brayn is a knowledge management expert. He has been published in CustomerThink, PointVisible and Apruve. As a customer support specialist at ProProfs, Brayn has been instrumental in building a robust knowledge base and documents that help support executives keep every customer delighted. You can catch up with Brayn on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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