Best Documentation Tools in 2021

Pick the right tool to keep your docs organized and up-to-date.

Let's be honest — documentation is no one's favorite task. Most do it sloppily just to cross it off their to-do list, while others neglect to document their work altogether. A common misconception about agile documentation is that writing docs is not only tedious, it's also a waste of time.

Author and expert on the psychology of programming Gerald Weinberg summed the general attitude towards documentation by calling it "the castor oil of programming" – in other words, managers think it's good for programmers, and programmers tend to hate it.

But documentation doesn't have to be such a pain. One of the first steps towards making it less frustrating is finding the right documentation tool.

Top 5 best documentation tools

If you have to deal with a clunky and slow editor, unreliable search, and an unintuitive interface every time you have to write or update a document, it's no surprise that documentation will be a source of endless frustration.

But a good documentation tool can go a long way towards changing your attitude towards writing the docs. To make your decision easier, we have evaluated dozens of documentation tools and put together a list of 5 best picks.

1. Nuclino

Documentation tool Nuclino

Nuclino is a lightweight internal documentation tool that allows you to organize all your docs in a collaborative wiki and privately share them within your team. Its clean, intuitive interface makes it a great solution for both, technical and non-technical users.

Nuclino is designed to eliminate as much friction from the writing process as possible. The editor supports a set of Markdown commands that allow you to quickly format your docs without taking your hands off the keyboard. Organizing your documentation is just as easy with wiki-style internal links, which allow you to link related documents together.

Internal links in Nuclino

Every Nuclino page can be collaboratively edited in real time without edit-save-conflict cycles, and every edit is preserved in the version history. The instant search function allows you to locate the docs you need in seconds.

If you want to create clean, consistent documentation and value ease-of-use and speed, look no further than Nuclino.

What users say about Nuclino:

"I had never used a product like Nuclino until joining my current startup, and I've been really impressed with it. It's super easy to use and edit and it looks clean. It's been an essential tool for me as I've built out all of the documentation for my department. Some of my favorite features are the ability to pin articles and the ability to include boxes of code (and you can specify the language - there are a bunch to choose from, although I've only used SQL)."

Capterra review

2. Confluence

Documentation tool BookStack

Atlassian Confluence is one of the oldest software documentation tools on the market. Its powerful enterprise capabilities and extensive configuration options helped it amass over 60,000 customers.

Its strength lies in its seamless integration with other products in the Atlassian suite. If you are already using other Atlassian tools, such as Jira or Bitbucket, Confluence is likely to easily fit into your workflow.

It comes with a certain learning curve, but if you are looking for a documentation tool with advanced customization options and enterprise-level features, Confluence is definitely an option worth considering.

What users say about Confluence:

"After using this software for more than 18 months, I can definitely say, this is a great tool for technical documentation. It provides with easy setup, multiple project spaces for different teams, amazing API's to create pages remotely from different tools, and last but not the least, simultaneous editing of the same document."

Capterra review

3. BookStack

Documentation tool BookStack

BookStack is another wiki-style documentation tool. It's open-source, self-hosted, and highly flexible.

While the interface and navigation are fairly user-friendly, note that the initial installation may require some patience and technical skills. Once your documentation platform is up and running, however, it should be easy to bring your team on board.

If you would prefer a self-hosted documentation tool rather than a cloud-based one, BookStack is definitely worth evaluating.

What users say about BookStack:

"The stock interface design has a modern feel and is simple for new users to use. Granular permissions can be set up for specific roles on a per-content basis and permissions will waterfall down to child content. However, the current installation process involves many steps and may be a lot to take in for people not familiar with setting up Laravel applications."

— (Slant review)

4. GitBook

Documentation tool GitBook

GitBook is an all-in-one platform that can work as your internal documentation tool, a knowledge base for your customers, and your personal note-taking app. It's a great option if you are looking to consolidate all your documentation — both internal and external — in one place.

It lacks certain collaboration features that other options on this list offer, such as real-time collaborative editing, but it makes up for it in other areas. GitBook stands out thanks to its seamless integration with GitHub, visual customization options, advanced version management, and more.

What users say about GitBook:

"Before GitBook our documentation was limited and very hard to find. It is really easy to get started with and the best part is that it supports Markdown. Writing documentation in Markdown is way easier and GitBook makes it easy to organize the content. There are no cons as such, but there were a few issues while getting started, while importing the existing documentation for the first time."

— (Capterra review)

5. Document360

Documentation tool Document360

Like GitBook, Document360 is a hybrid solution that can bring together your internal and customer-facing documentation.

Notable features of Document360 include built-in localization mechanisms, content review reminders, SEO features, comments, and more. Granular analytics allow you to track how the readers interact with your docs.

Despite its extensive feature set, it's a relatively easy-to-use tool. Documentation writers can choose between a Markdown editor and visual WYSIWYG tools, tailoring the editing experience according to their preference.

Note that Document360 is more expensive than other tools on this list, with its cheapest plan starting from $49 per month. However, that price includes unlimited free accounts for the readers of your docs, making it the more cost-effective solution for some teams.

What users say about Document360:

"Document360 was exactly what we needed to publish documentation to various reader groups. It's quite straight forward and quickly to grasp on one hand, while feature rich on the other."

Capterra review

Find the right documentation tool for your team

This is by no means an exhaustive list of documentation tools. There are plenty of other solutions, many of which are (quite honestly) almost identical copies of each other.

It's also important to keep in mind that finding the right tool is only half the battle. The real challenge is to build a culture of documentation and develop the right habits. A user-friendly documentation tool, however, can make that task a lot easier. We hope this list helps you make the right choice for your team.

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