How To Write Good Software Documentation?

how to write software documentation

Are you interested in knowing how to write good software documentation for your next project?

The software industry is quite fast-paced. There are rapidly changing user requirements and short development cycles to meet them. Good software documentation not only enables effective collaboration between different developers and product stakeholders but also helps customers to easily use your software solution.

Developers may not consider user documentation an exciting part of their development process, however, detailed documentation accumulates all the necessary information in one place for them and the software users and ultimately improves the usability of your end product. 

Good software documentation also removes the need for frequent one-on-one meetings for knowledge sharing to further eliminate misunderstandings that often arise when people share ideas and processes through communication.

In this article, we will discuss how you can write software documentation while making it an essential part of your software development process.

How To Write Software Documentation?

You will go through the following stages to write documentation.

Decide The Types Of Software Documents

You will need multiple software documents to help a range of users. The types of software documents you will write will depend on the type and size of your software product. It could be something to assist in day-to-day processes or help with the use of the final product.

In general, you will decide between two main software documentation types:

Process documentation – It includes everything to realize your idea into a working product.

Project plans to map out development stages, tasks, milestones, etc.; software requirements documents; test routines to set testing standards, test schedules, etc.; meeting documents to enable reliable communication between various product stakeholders, etc. are a part of process documentation.

Product documentation – It describes the end product and all the user documentation.

These are documents that include software product specifications, technical descriptions, software manuals, release notes, user guides to install, troubleshooting manuals, tutorials to use the product effectively, FAQ support pages, etc.

At this stage, identify your end users and the types of end-user documentation you want to develop to assist them in using the product efficiently.

Gather All The Essential Information For Writing Documentation

You need to have a thorough understanding of the software product to write effective documentation. You will carry out sessions with subject matter experts to get an understanding of product functionalities, etc.

Mostly, subject matter experts for software products are software engineers. They will know exactly about what, why, and how of every feature. You will familiarize yourself with the product-specific terminology, engineering workflow, etc.

Some important information to document during the project development process includes privacy compliance, data regulations, use of confidential information, etc., safety procedures like an action plan in case the server is down or there is an unexpected security breach, etc.

Develop A Content Strategy

You will have to undertake a conscious approach to developing technical documentation. An effective content strategy will take into account the audience, multiple document repositories, content audits to remove any outdated information in existing documentation, etc.

Develop a content strategy that helps you to allocate resources, track documents, plan documentation audits, decide on future documentation releases, etc.

Write Effectively

Now, you can start to draft the technical document. Technical documentation should aim to convey the information according to the knowledge level of your audience. Therefore, technical writers use simple sentences, avoid complex jargon, and don’t over-explain. 

Moreover, writers need to practice caution while drafting software documents as wrong information can have serious implications. Some points to keep in mind to write good software documentation include the following:

Follow A Pre-Writing Exercise

You can make a pre-writing exercise a part of your product development process. It is especially useful when there is a complex product under development, and there are a number of developers working on various software modules.

A pre-writing stage helps to brainstorm different approaches to design and develop different product features. Developers discuss different solutions to a problem before beginning to implement it.

Write For Your Audience

Your audience can be internal or external. If a document is not intended for developers or stakeholders then it must be for your customers. You will want to impart the required information as effectively as possible. For this, you will need to understand your audience better too.

According to Splunk’s guide on writing good docs, “Reliable and accessible documentation requires thorough product knowledge. It also applies equally, if not more, to know your audience.”

You can go through the following to understand your audience:

  1. Understand user goals;
  2. Create user personas;
  3. Create product use cases;
  4. Identify the document delivery formats for the intended audience.

Follow Agile Documentation Practice

The agile development methodology is majorly used today for developing software products. According to a PMI survey, 71% of businesses use agile documentation instead of the traditional waterfall method.

Just in time methodology is commonly used as an agile approach. It focuses on producing a single document as the need arises in the form of a customer’s FAQ or support call. It is majorly used for customer-intended documentation instead of technical documents like API documentation, etc. for developers and internal teams.

Minimum viable documentation is another strategy of writing software documentation that intends to produce just enough documentation as is required and no more. 

Although the agile manifesto prioritizes working software over comprehensive documentation, agile documentation focuses on concise yet complete software documents instead of lengthy ones. 

In an agile environment, developers and writers are using the same software tools, like Github for version control of code and documentation, Jira for task management, etc. You would also want to make your software development teams and writers work together as a single team for close collaboration.

Give An Interactive User Experience

Providing an excellent user experience is extremely important, especially with customer-facing software documentation. Are your users easily able to navigate through your help document? 

Give special importance to the information architecture of your knowledge base which refers to the structural design of a document, including organization, searching, navigation, etc.

You must create a style guide for your software documentation. This will help you give a standardized feel to your technical and support documents. A style guide will include the following:

  • Terminology that writers will use throughout their writing;
  • Formatting rules like bullets, headings, etc.
  • Use of visual content to provide information interactively;
  • Use a coherent writing style so that different writers are on the same page when producing software documents.

Some popular writing style guides include Microsoft style guide, Google developer documentation style guide, Apple style guide, IBM style guide, etc. These documentations can help decide voice, format, terminology, structure, conventions, etc.

Make Your Software Documentation Discoverable And Accessible 

Spend some effort in figuring out how your users will access your documentation. Google search engine is considered as a beginning point for most of your users. Optimize your documentation for Google search. 

You may have to follow certain SEO rules, including the use of meta description, relevant keywords, image content, etc. so that your software documentation starts ranking and users can access it easily.

This brings us to another important aspect of good software documentation, which is accessibility. You will think about how users will be accessing your software documents and how your content will be displayed to them. This is a part of the user experience. 

For example, how your software document will open for mobile users? Are they able to view the video content, are the images loading correctly, etc? Also, you may consider the accessibility of your knowledge base for users in different countries or users with visual impairments.

Use Appropriate Documentation Tools

Make use of documentation tools to carry out the content writing and management process efficiently. For example, version control tools help in tracking different versions of documents and working with multiple knowledge bases. 

Some popular documentation tools include FileHold, Google Workspace, OnBase, etc. These tools help with enterprise content management, including document version control, integrated document management, document sharing, etc.

Test Your Software Documentation

Test and quality assurance procedures are as important for software documentation as for source code. Software documentation should not be published without verification of technicalities from the product development team.

Elaborate testing of each document will ensure the right information reaches the target users, including developers and customers, and the use of the information as intended.

Continuous testing is an important stage of an agile development process and applies equally to the software documentation to ensure quick delivery of high-quality software information.

Consider Customer Feedback

Collecting customer feedback is important to verify that your software documentation is delivering in the market as per user requirements. 

While beta testing with the technical team helps to find technical discrepancies, customer feedback will ensure you are providing all the information needed by the actual users to utilize your software successfully.

You can adopt multiple ways to gather customer feedback on your software documentation. You can integrate a rating system, add a contact form, enable comments on documentation pages, etc.

Also, make sure that you have a team designated to address customer queries to complete the customer feedback loop. Read more on the customer feedback loop in an agile environment in this blog.

Planning To Write Software Documentation?

A complete, accurate, and easily accessible software documentation is a viable source of communication, knowledge sharing, and learning about the software product. To achieve these benefits of good software documentation templates, you must form a team of competent writers and set up a process to write, test, and manage knowledge bases.

Read more on how to write technical documentation on our blog here.

You can partner with a competent software development company to produce a feature-rich yet secure software solution with supporting technical documentation like user manuals, system documentation, code documentation, etc. for a range of users using an appropriate supporting software documentation tool.

DevTeam.Space can also help you via its field-expert team of software developers and technical writers for your next software development project.

You can easily partner with these software development and documentation professionals by sending us your initial project specifications. One of our account managers will get back to you to provide further assistance.

FAQs On How To Write Good Software Documentation

1. What are the basic rules for good documentation?

A technical writer should be familiar with the following rules to produce good software project documentation: keep technical writing accurate yet concise, follow a documentation process, record everything during each stage of a software development lifecycle, etc.

2. What are the 4 methods of documentation?

4 methods of writing documents include learning tutorials, how-to guides explaining a specific goal, discussions for thorough understanding, and reference manuals for supplementary information.

3. How do you document a software process?

The main steps to document a software process are to name the process, define the scope of the process, define the inputs, determine the process outputs, set the process boundaries, decide all the steps to complete a process, and decide the individuals involved in the software process.


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