Software Documentation

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Last updated 22 Nov 12:43

TL;DR

Anything written about your product can be a Software Documentation. Learn what to document, why, and how.

What Is a Software Documentation

The software documentation is a written text or an illustration that covers comprehensive information of the product. It explains how the software works or how to use it. Documentations aim to accomplish two important things: to inform users and to enable users to successfully accomplish something. Software documents are used in every stage of the product life cycle.

Software Documentation
Source: Dilbert

There are two types of software documentation: internal and external.

Internal documentation:

  • Team documentation
    Project plans, status reports, meeting notes or anything that the team may need for work.
  • Reference documentation
    Company’s policies, legal processes and other information for the employees about the company’s important topics. Reference documentation is usually sent by the HR department.
  • Project documentation
    Proposals, design guidelines, roadmaps, and other information useful for product development.

External documentation:

  • System documentation
    Description of the code, API, and other processes that developers need for creating a specific product.
  • End-user documentation
    Readme, installation guides, tutorials and other types of product documentation provided for the end users.

Why You Might Want the Software Documentation

Software documentation helps:

  • to save time. The developers get the work done faster without thinking too hard and trying to figure out what they should do.
  • to maintain consistency. Stakeholders and the team members are on the same page.
  • with onboarding. New team members understand the product much faster and can start working immediately without waiting for further instructions.
  • to improve your brand. High-quality end-user documentation ensures your customers that you are there to support them and help them.
  • with communication. Software documentation serves as a communication tool between the team members, stakeholders, and your future self.

Problems the Software Documentation Solves

How to Implement the Software Documentation

  1. Hire a tech writer
    If it is possible, hire a technical writer and let them take care of your software documentation.
  2. Set rules
    It is crucial that stakeholders understand everything clearly. Use simple language and follow technical writing standards, such as Michigan State University: Technical Writing Guide, or Wikiversity: Technical writing. Be straightforward, to the point, and consistent.
  3. Do your research
    Ensure that you know the product you are documenting. Be able to answer any questions about the product. Get information from different sources.
  4. Know your audience
    The way you write is determined by your readers. The general rule is the less your audience knows, the less technical is your documentation.
  5. Structure and design
    Technical documentation has to be structurally logical and easy to navigate. Think about the hierarchy of information. Break up long content with lists, visual diagrams or images. Use templates for consistent design, as you may see in our articles:
  • What Is a /name/
  • Why You Might Want the /name/
  • Problems the /name/ Solves
  • How to Implement the /name/
  • Common Pitfalls of the /name/
  • Resources for the /name/
  1. Collaborate and review
    Share your documentation with the team members and get feedback. Use agile methods for collaboration. Ensure that the reviewers understand the goal of the documentation.
  2. Make enough documentation
    There is no need to document every single step you do at work. It is crucial to find a good balance between excessive documentation and a lack of it. Be thorough in the description but do not bore your readers with unnecessary details.
  3. Update your documentation
    Publish and ensure that your documentation us up-to-date. Updating is an ongoing process.

Common Pitfalls of the Software Documentation

  1. The biggest pitfall is a lack of documentation. Your product might be great but it is useless if it is only you who understands it.
  2. For technical writers, it is usually challenging to gather all the information about the product. It is caused by many factors, such as:
  • a lack of developers’ time to go through the product details with the writer
  • the managers do not know what they need to document due to changing market conditions
  • it can be difficult to get people to review the documentation
  1. The documentation is written with a little knowledge about the product. Ensure that everyone who is writing the documentation understands the product.
  2. Companies do not give enough importance to documentation. Their false idea is that development and testing are more important than software documentation. Writers do not get important information, they are not invited to the team meetings where the project scope is defined. But as it was mentioned before, the product is useless when no one understands it.

Resources for the Software Documentation