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Best Practices on Software Documentation for 2022

Mariel Lettier

Table of Content

What Is Software Documentation?
Types Of Software Documentation
Why is Software Documentation Necessary?

Software Documentation Best Practices
How To Write Software Documentation
How To Write System Documentation
How To Write User Documentation
How To Write Process Documentation
Extra Best Practices

Software Documentation Tools
Conclusion

Software Documentation can often be the last thing on the mind of a development team. Yet, it is an excellent source of information for every team member and will save you time and money in the long run. This is why, in this article, we’ll focus on this aspect of the development process. First, we’ll go over what it is exactly, its types, and its benefits. We’ll then move to software documentation best practices, and, finally, we’ll cover some tools to make your job easier. Let’s dive in!

What Is Software Documentation?

Software Documentation includes all documents and tutorials describing software's product development. Further, this applies to any other type of documentation. These documents track the production and use of software from day 1 to the finish line. Software Documentation provides a reference for everyone involved in the project. Not only does this help developers. Also, it's useful for UX and Quality Assurance specialists.

What Are The Types Of Software Documentation?

There are various types of Software Documentation. However, they are two main categories: product and process documentation. We’ll take a look at these below.

Product Documentation

PD refers to all the materials related to the product itself. Moreover, it includes requirements, technical specifications, and manuals. Within this category, you can find System Documentation and User Documentation.

System Documentation

This type of documentation includes documents describing the system and its parts. Requirements, architecture, design, and source code documents are all encompassed by System Documentation.

User Documentation

User Documentation covers all user manuals, installation guides, troubleshooting tips, and other reference material intended for system administrators or users of the final product.

Process Documentation

As the name suggests, this category covers all documents describing the processes used in developing software. This includes product plans, progress reports, test schedules, coding, design standards, and meeting notes, among others.

Why is Software Documentation Necessary?

Here are some of the reasons that make Software Documentation a fundamental part of the development process.

Ensures Quality And Process Control

Documentation is a great way to see coherent work in all projects. It promotes team members sharing knowledge. Consequently, they can understand the development processes better. It also provides guidelines to ensure similar or repeated projects remain consistent.

Improves Feedback And Implementation

The Software Documentation process has many small projects or sprints inside. Thus, it's essential to document the code. Further, you should keep a record of any meetings that have taken place. This will help to adapt to potential changes to software features. As a result, it will be easier to make changes for future sprints for the same features.

Why is Software Documentation Necessary?

Helps Prevent Miscommunication

Having clear and comprehensive documentation helps prevent miscommunication. Every party creating a software product will know precisely what is being done and how. These members go from stakeholders to developers.

Provides A Single Source Of Truth

Looking for the information you need to work can be time-consuming. Proper documentation reduces team members' time, providing a centralized source of truth. Updating the documentation also helps new team members to find all they need. Moreover, teams become more collaborative and strategic when sharing information every day.

Saves Time And Energy

Given all that we’ve seen above, it’s no surprise that keeping documentation will save you time and energy in the long run. Whether it is when looking for specific information, onboarding a new team member, or ensuring everyone involved is on the same page.

Software Documentation Best Practices

Software Documentation best practices will depend on the specific documentation you are creating. But, there are some general guidelines you can follow. We’ll cover these first and then give tips on particular document types.

How To Write Software Documentation

Below, we’ll look at an overview of the things to consider when writing software documentation.

Consider The Target Audience

The documentation you are writing can have different purposes. It may be intended just for the eyes of the dev team, it might be directed at users, or it could be aimed at the stakeholders. Your target audience will define how you structure your documentation and the vocabulary you’ll use. Defining your user, identifying their goals, and creating audience personas will help you better determine your target audience.

Write Down The Important Questions

Once you know who the documentation is for, it’s time to jot down their questions. This will help you collect your thoughts and design your document accordingly.

Outline The Documentation

Now it’s time to outline the structure your documentation will have. You should include the title of the document and its intended audience, a summary, and the scope. Further, if applicable, you'll need the core content (instructions, code, or others) and references.

Gather The Information You Need

Now that you know what you’ll include, it’s time to collect that information. You might need to research, speak to experts or users, or review your notes.

Write A Draft

Once you have all the information, it’s time to write your first draft. There's no need for editing at this stage, but you should try to avoid jargon and keep your writing simple.

Find Good Visuals

Visuals are a great tool to include in any documentation. This could be a graph, a screenshot, or an illustration. Visual aids can add information to your writing. In consequence, it can help readers understand your concept more easily.

Edit And Create The Final Version

Next, you’ll put everything together and create the final version. This may take one or several edits, and it might be advisable to have someone else read it. This could be an expert to ensure you haven’t missed anything or a target audience member. In this way, you'll ensure they can easily understand the document.

Software Documentation Best Practices

How To Write System Documentation

When it comes to system documentation, there are a variety of documents to be included. Here are some of the most relevant ones, followed by what you should have in each.

Product Requirements: roles and responsibilities, goals and objectives, background, assumptions, user stories, acceptance criteria, and questions.
UX Design: user personas, user scenario, scenario map, user story map, and UX style guide.
Software Architecture: overview and background, architecture and design principles, user story descriptions, solution details, a diagram representing the solution, and milestones.
Source Code: type of data binding, security measures, design pattern, and frameworks applied.
Quality Assurance: QA plan, test strategy, test plan, test case specifications, and test checklists.
API: list of all available APIs and their specs.

How To Write User Documentation

What you should include in your user documentation will vary if you are aiming it at system administrators or end-users.

User Documentation For System Admins

This will include a functional description and a system admin guide. The former focuses on product functionalities and the latter on the various system behaviors.

User Documentation For End-Users

Documentation for end-users has a quick-start guide, a product manual, and a troubleshooting guide. These may consist of FAQs, video tutorials, and support portals. In consequence, these will assist users and ensure a high-quality customer experience.

How To Write Process Documentation

As mentioned above, process documentation includes product plans, progress reports, and test schedules. Other documents you should have here are estimates, metrics (generated regularly), and working papers (that record ideas and thoughts during implementation).

Agile Product Roadmap

A good strategy when writing process documentation is to have an Agile product roadmap. This will help keep the development process in sync with the initial project goals. There are three types of Agile product roadmaps:

Strategic Roadmap: contains general information about the project, including the vision and long-term goals.
Technology/IT Roadmap: establishes the technical requirements and how you will implement the technology.
Release Plan: sets release deadlines.

Extra Software Documentation Best Practices

Here are some extra tips to consider when working on your software documentation.

Write The Documentation As You Go

It would help if you focused on documentation throughout the development process. Leaving it for later means you will have a lot of work to do in the final stage of development. This can lead to missing relevant documentation or not including all relevant information. An excellent way to prevent this is to require documentation every time a feature is shipped.

Follow Agile Practices

Agile Methodology can be quite helpful in software documentation. You can integrate Agile through the Docs like Code methodology. This process treats documentation creation as code development, using the same tools and techniques. You can find more information about it here.

Create A Style Guide

A style guide will ensure all your documentation contains the necessary information. Moreover, it'll use the same language and formatting. So, your style guide should at least include standardized terminology. Further, it should have the documentation's voice and tone, formatting requirements, and notes on visual usage.

Software Documentation Tools

Software Documentation Tools

If you need some extra help, we’ll see some software documentation tools below. These are great at stating requirements, sharing information, and documenting processes.

Confluence

Released in 2004 by Atlassian, Confluence has stood the test of time. Nowadays, it's one of the most popular collaborative project tools today. It’s excellent for creating and sharing documentation in a wiki-like system. Confluence has many integrations, including with other Atlassian products, such as Jira.

Bit.AI

Bit.ai does not only help you create and share documentation in a wiki-style system. Also, you can embed blocks or snippets of code and save documents in PDF or markdown format. The tool allows many users to edit a document simultaneously with no version conflicts.

GitHub

You are probably already familiar with GitHub. The cloud-based platform is a great way to store code and track changes. Within Github, you can display documentation in a wiki-like system. Also, you can do it through GitHub Pages.

iA Writer

iA Writer is a markdown editor that offers a unique writing experience. It includes highlighting features to help you simplify and clarify your message. For example, when there are unwanted repetitions, redundancies, or superfluous adjectives.

ClickHelp

This documentation tool helps you host, author, and deliver software documentation. ClickHelp is cloud-based and allows UI customization for a better experience. Further, it includes flexible permission options.

Conclusion

Software documentation can sometimes seem like a hassle. Yet, it is both necessary and beneficial. We hope this article helps make your documentation journey easier!


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