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Software Documentation Best Practices

28
Jul
2022
Software Documentation Best Practices

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 a software's product development. Further, this applies to any other type of documentation. These documents track the production and use of the 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.

Types Of Software Documentation

1. Product Software Documentation

Product Documentation encompasses all the essential materials related to a particular product, ranging from its requirements and technical specifications to manuals and user guides. This category further branches out into two main types of documentation, System Documentation and User Documentation.

1A. System Software Documentation: The System Documentation provides comprehensive information about the product's design, including its underlying technical architecture, infrastructure setup, and functional capabilities.

1B. User Software Documentation: User Documentation plays a crucial role in ensuring that users can efficiently operate a product by providing clear and concise guidelines and instructions that are easy to understand.

2. Process Documentation

As the name suggests, this category includes various documents that explain the software development process. These documents consist of product plans, progress reports, test schedules, coding and design standards, and meeting notes. They offer a complete view of the software development process, keeping everyone informed and up-to-date about progress and any necessary changes to ensure the final product's quality.

Software Documentation Best Practices

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Outline. 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.

4. Information. 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.

5. 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.

6. Visuals. Visuals are a great tool to include in any type of 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.

7. Final. 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.

System Documentation Best Practices

System Documentation requires several crucial documents that provide essential information for various teams involved in the development process. The documents cover different aspects of the system. Here are the most relevant documents and what each one should contain.

UX Design: UX Design documents should include user personas, user scenarios, scenario maps, user maps, and UX style guides. These elements are essential in creating a user-centered design, and they help ensure that the final product meets the needs and expectations of the target audience.

Product Requirements: Product documents outline team roles and responsibilities, as well as goals, background info, assumptions, user stories, acceptance criteria, and questions. It's essential to ensure everyone is on the same page!

Software Architecture: These documents provide an overview and background of the system architecture and principles. It should also include solution details, diagrams, and milestones to help the development team know the system's technical requirements and how to build them.

Source Code: Here, the focus is on information on the type of data binding used, security measures, design patterns, and frameworks applied, giving critical information to developers about how the system works and how to make changes to it.

Quality Assurance: QA documentation often encloses a test strategy, test plan, test case specifications, and checklists. This document ensures that the final product meets the desired quality standards and is free of bugs and errors.

User Documentation Best Practices

When creating user documentation, it's crucial to consider your target audience. The content can differ significantly whether the documentation is for system administrators or end-users

For system administrators' documentation, you should provide a functional description of the product and a system admin guide that outlines the various system behaviors. This type of documentation should be comprehensive, as it intends to guide those responsible for maintaining and managing the system.

On the other hand, when creating documentation for end-users, you will need a different set of materials. This set includes a quick-start guide that provides a high-level overview of the product's essential features, a product manual that goes into more detail about each element and how to use it, and a troubleshooting guide that outlines common issues and how to resolve them. 

These resources may take the form of FAQs, video tutorials, and support portals, and they should be designed to provide users with the information they need to get the most out of the product and ensure a high-quality customer experience. By tailoring your user documentation to the needs of your target audience, you can create a more effective and useful resource that will help users achieve their goals with your product.

Process Documentation Best Practices

As previously stated, process documentation encompasses various documents such as product plans, progress reports, and test schedules. It should also include estimates, regularly generated metrics, and working papers that document ideas and thoughts during implementation. Having an Agile Product Roadmap when writing process documentation is advisable to help ensure that the development process remains aligned with the initial project objectives. There are three Agile Product Roadmaps: Strategy, Technology, and Releasment. 

A Strategy Roadmap provides a high-level project overview, including its vision and long-term objectives. Likewise, a Technology Roadmap outlines the necessary technical specifications and a technology implementation plan. Lastly, a Release Plan is a document that outlines the timeline for releasing a product or software. It sets clear and specific deadlines for when each release will occur.

Why is Software Documentation Relevant?

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

2. Feedback. 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.

3. Communication. 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.

4. Single Source. 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.

5. Time and Energy. Given all 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.

Conclusion

Software Documentation is a crucial component of any successful software development project. While it may seem like a daunting task, it's one that can't be overlooked if you want to achieve maximum efficiency and success. We hope this article helps make your documentation journey easier!