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A Quick and Simple Guide to Writing Exceptional Software Documentation

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Software Documentation and Types

Your creations are brilliant. They are feature-rich, robust, and thoughtfully built to meet customers’ demands. However, merely developing exceptional products does not ensure outstanding client experiences. Your clients should utilize the product effectively and with the fewest possible inconveniences.

Online user documentation is a time-tested method for resolving this issue. It is a crucial self-help tool that teaches clients about your product and assists them in overcoming obstacles. It’s an excellent business tool that can elevate your product’s user experience to new heights.

That is why we have created this quick and simple guide for you to learn how to write and publish your software documentation with online documentation software.

What is Software Documentation?

Software documentation encompasses all publications, tutorials, and other materials that detail a software product’s creation, functioning, and/or use. It is one of a variety of different types of technical documentation.

The objective of software documentation is straightforward: to facilitate communication among all stakeholders engaged in the project.

A technical document may be considered a kind of wiki page within the organization where the software is being produced - a guiding blueprint that the development team can refer to while working on it. Additionally, it can benefit individuals who use the completed product.

To be more precise, excellent software documentation may assist in the following ways:

  • Align Expectations and Understanding - one of the primary responsibilities of any software firm is ensuring that the software engineers strive to bring the stakeholders’ vision to reality. A documentation mistake might result in inconsistencies between what is requested and created.
  • Assist the End-User – in addition to assisting programmers in implementing requirements; software documentation helps the audience in setting up the software, comprehending the user interface, and adhering to the finest use-cases.
  • Track Progress - another internal application of software documentation is to track the software development lifecycle (SDLC). This enables a business to track progress, learn from failures, and make more informed decisions in the future.

Every technology business, from small startups to established titans such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, uses software documentation. Overall, this kind of technical communication benefits programmers, stakeholders, and consumers equally.

The Different Types of Software Documentation

As indicated previously, software documentation is classified into two broad categories: product documentation and process documentation, both of which can be further subdivided. Consider the following.

1. Product Documentation

As the name implies, an online product document describes the complete product and its utilization to accomplish specified goals. Its primary goal is to give users immediate responses to any inquiries about the product.

It can be further divided into:

A. System Documentation

This section of the documentation focuses on the product’s underlying technologies. It encompasses the design, maintenance, constraints, source code, and architecture of a software product, among other things.

System documentation is highly beneficial when changes to a software product are to be performed by a team other than the one that built the product in the first place. This new staff may struggle to grasp the fundamentals of the product, which may affect the upgrades they produce. With system documentation in place, the new team of engineers can quickly become familiar with all of the software’s critical aspects and perform upgrades with minimal effort.

B. User Documentation

This documentation is written primarily to benefit a software product’s end users. It comprises how-to manuals, installation instructions, troubleshooting methods, and video tutorials, among other information resources that may assist consumers in becoming acquainted with the product and self-diagnose problems.

2. Process Documentation

It captures the complete process of developing a software product, from conception to completion and everything in between. Additionally, process documentation contains:

  • Product development plans.
  • Progress reports.
  • Your company’s coding and design standards.
  • Any other critical information about the development process.

How to Document Software?

Writing software documentation is a difficult task because workflows differ per firm. There are several best practices that, when followed, may significantly improve the process (and yield the ideal results).

You may develop any form of software documentation in seven simple steps, regardless of its purpose. The following procedures are general - they may merely require a simple text editor. We will not discuss the usage of templates or any other documentation tool such as GitHub, Confluence, or similar.

Let us begin:

1. Recognize the Document’s Purpose and Audience

Before anything else, you should pause and consider why you are about to produce that document. Because there are many different sorts of software documentation, even the most seasoned technical writers are prone to confuse the primary purpose or audience they’re targeting. As a result, you must begin by emphasizing the aim of your paper. A straightforward piece of advice is to create a blank document and title it with the document’s purpose.

Additionally, make a point of emphasizing the audience for whom you are writing the text. Take it a step further by developing personas for the kind of individuals who will read your technical material.

2. Make a List of Important Questions

Developing a technical paper that does not address the audience’s pain points or provide solutions to their inquiries is worthless. After establishing the purpose and audience for your technical writing, the next step is to anticipate the questions readers may have regarding your product.

It is where your personality will be advantageous. Make a list of those frequently asked questions. However, refrain from including them in your main document just yet.

The purpose of selecting the questions is to gather your ideas, create your paper appropriately, and present the most pertinent information that provides the most significant value.

3. Create a Document Outline

Developing an understanding of the outlining process is critical to creating software documentation. That is why the following step is to create a document design that is acceptable for your document.

If this is your first time producing a particular document, you may need to create a structure from scratch.

As is the case with everything else, no uniform template exists for all types of software documentation. Your document’s design/outline will be determined by the exact objectives you wish to accomplish and the comprehension level of your audience.

The following is a list of the items that should be included in order:

  • The subtitle and the intended audience
  • A synopsis of the document
  • The statement of the problem and its scope
  • The document’s objective(s)
  • Reader Requirements (if applicable)
  • Instructions/Procedures/Solutions/Discoveries/Code (whatever is applicable)
  • A chronology (if applicable)
  • Bibliography (if applicable)

You are the only one who truly understands your audience. Include any additional information that may be beneficial in your outline. Arrange the facts in the most beneficial manner possible. You could require the services of a graphic designer.

You may then use the outline/design as a template for all subsequent papers to ensure communication consistency and to make minor adjustments along the way.

4. Compile the Required Data

Depending on your expertise with the issue, you may need to perform extensive research to compile and confirm all pertinent material for your paper.

This may include conducting interviews with experts/users, speaking with stakeholders, poring through existing documentation, and/or performing online research.

Transform the research material into usable information, organize it according to your outline, and include references wherever essential to provide your work legitimacy (if it applies).

5. Begin the Drafting Process

After establishing a solid framework for your technical paper, the only remaining task is to compose it.

If you’ve produced a thorough plan and acquired the necessary material in advance, the actual writing process should be pretty quick.

Some quick writing tips:

  • Avoid writing more than is necessary.
  • Avoid using jargon wherever feasible.
  • Communicate your views in clear English.
  • Avoid being imprecise.
  • Avoid editing while you are writing.

While drafting, check back to the purpose and audience to ensure that you stay on track.

6. Utilize Visuals

After you’ve completed your draft, you should add some visuals (flowcharts, graphics, images, etc.) to supplement your text.

You may also opt to incorporate visuals into the text as you write it if they are accessible. Some authors even choose to incorporate them into the planning step. You are free to do whatever seems right/is appropriate in light of your unique circumstances.

These images can be used to underline a point, further clarify a technical topic, assist the reader, or just improve the appearance of your work.

7. Complete Final Editing

We are not yet finished. All that remains is for you to revise your technical paper.

Depending on your research, formatting, and writing abilities, the final paper may require a single or numerous rounds of modifications. This includes having an editor (if one is available), a subject matter expert, or just another set of fresh eyes review your manuscript for grammatical, technical, or contextual mistakes.

Do a favor to yourself for future endeavors

Creating technical documentation benefits more than simply the current project you’re working on. Additionally, it can aid future initiatives, given the structure is already in place. Merely make the required modifications based on your product and previous expertise, and you’re ready to begin development.

A Quick and Simple Guide to Writing Exceptional Software Documentation