Best Format Software Documentation

Document format is one of the most important things you need to consider when preparing a document. Regardless of what the document is, you will have to pay attention to the layout and the style that you use. There are many suggestions out there on how you can create good-looking documents. Some of these suggestions are offered by experts in different fields such as psychologists and marketing experts. You will also find many websites that specialize in tips for best practice document formatting specifically.

The best format software documentation are XML-, PDF- and XLSX-files. This applies especially to advanced users of Windows XP. All in all, there’s no such thing as the best format for documentation that fits every situation and can’t be improved with other methods. The fact is, however, that you should use the best file format for your tailored documentation purposes, so that you don’t have to worry about this problem anymore!

Best format software documentation is a very good thing to get, especially if your business is developing and selling software. However, finding the best documentation format can sometimes be a challenging task. If you find yourself in this situation, then you probably should know a little more about document formats first and then take a closer look at some of the possibilities that are available through the best format software documentation options.

Technical documentation in software engineering is the umbrella term that encompasses all written documents and materials dealing with software product development. All software development products, whether created by a small team or a large corporation, require some related documentation. And different types of documents are created through the whole software development lifecycle (SDLC). Documentation exists to explain product functionality, unify project-related information, and allow for discussing all significant questions arising between stakeholders and developers.

Who uses software documentation?

The people who use software documentation are as diverse as the kinds of documentation themselves. In fact, there’s truly something for everyone when it comes to the different types of documentation. Many people see the words software documentation and automatically assume that they’re technical documents that are only used by developers. In reality, this is not always the case.

As we’ll discuss in the next section, software documentation can be divided into different categories.

1/ Some kinds of documentation are user-focused, meaning that they’re normally read by end-users. This can include anything from customers to testers to external stakeholders.

2/ Other kinds of documentation are developer-focused. These are normally the more technical documents that are assembled and referred back to by developers, programmers, software engineers, project managers and the like.

Of course, these categories are not set in stone. There are also kinds of documentation that are used by end-users and developers alike, as well as more specific sub-categories.

Project documentation by stages and purpose

Project documentation by stages and purpose

On top of that, documentation errors can set gaps between the visions of stakeholders and engineers and, as a result, a proposed solution won’t meet stakeholders expectations. Consequently, managers should pay a lot of attention to documentation quality.

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Technical Documentation Formatting Best Practices

Depending on who is writing the technical documentation, the best practices for documentation may be slightly different. That’s because a subject matter expert will talk about the product as they usually do. However, someone who’s trained to translate complex concepts will be able to convert complicated information into easy-to-understand documentation.

In any case, following a 5-step process is usually the best way to go about writing technical documentation, regardless of the format.

  1.     Step One – The technical writer starts working on doing the necessary research on the subject matter to develop a documentation plan. The plan usually includes goals, style guides, topic outlines, existing resources, tools, management software, and deliverables.
  2.     Step Two – The technical writer decides on the documentation structure and design, including the on-page design and document flow. You can use templates for this part, and based on the template, you can create a simple navigation structure.
  3.     Step Three – The technical writer works on creating the content for the documentation based on the documentation plan and structure. Work on a rough draft and make it sound like a conversation. Some technical writers use the 30/90 rule for feedback; however, you should also get peer reviews to make revisions and edit accordingly.
  4.     Step Four – The technical writer or senior technical writer will deliver and test the documentation to check its safety, ease of use, and usability/UX.
  5.     Step Five – The technical writer or senior technical writer will complete a maintenance schedule to keep the documentation’s integrity. Then develop an updated plan to routinely modify the document according to new developments, feature updates, and more.

The formatting of your technical documentation should always be such that it maximizes its efficiency while providing up-to-date information. More importantly, there is a need for a consistent design and structure to maximize its accessibility worldwide.

4 Formatting Examples for Your Own Technical Documentation Reference

Technical writing has a lot of different types of documentation, each with its own documentation formatting types. For example, students can write journal essays in MLA or APA style. Furthermore, they have specific requirements for the header, footer, line spacing, filename, indents, page numbers, commas, capitalization, using asterisks, using parentheses, quotation marks, and more.

Similarly, writing API documentation would have different rules for using italics, underlines, checkboxes, table of contents, and more. There’s also a slight change depending on the organization and your industry.

However, the typical documentation formats tend to remain the same for most. The following four documentation formatting examples are usually the industry standard in most cases.

1.     DOC

One of the most widely known formats is Doc–an abbreviation of “document.” You’ll find that it’s a filename extension for all word documents.

It started as an extension to signify documentation that only had plain text. However, today Microsoft Word and other word processing software allow you to use pictures, graphics, diagrams, and more, making it more than just a plain text document.

The Doc format is an excellent option to develop a relatively minor technical document. Also, if you only need to add text and graphics, you’re well off using the Doc format.

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However, if you need to develop technical documentation with hundreds of topics, it may be unwise to use this format. That’s because minor inconsistencies can mess up the overall document formatting. As a result, when you get on to printing the document, it may cause unwarranted formatting issues. If you move to fix one page, you may mess up the entire document.

Other than that, Doc files don’t support videos or GIFs; therefore, if you want to add any of those, you can only hyperlink it or provide a direct link for it. In any case, the user would have to open another app or browser to watch the video or GIF.

2.     PDF

The PDF (Portable Document Format) format was developed in the 1990s by Adobe as an alternate way to present documents that can include text, images, and graphs, regardless of the operating system, hardware, or application software. Technical writing documentation often takes this filename.

Every PDF file contains a top-to-bottom description of a fixed-layout flat document, including unique fonts, text, vector graphics, raster images, and other information. It’s crucial to maintain the syntax of English while developing the PDF since many people find it hard to edit afterward.

Nowadays, PDFs have evolved to include different forms of content that also include logical and interactive structuring elements like annotations, form fields, layers, videos, and 3D objects, among other things.

Furthermore, PDFs also provide additional encryption options, and you can include file attachments, digital signatures, and metadata.

PDFs allow all forms of content now make it great for document formatting when it comes to technical documentation. Most importantly, PDFs can be opened on practically any device, regardless of the operating system.

3.     CHM

You have the CHM format for more technical documents that’s a Microsoft proprietary online help format. It includes HTML pages, an index, and various navigation elements that act as a table of contents.

CHM files are compressed and used in a binary format with the extension. That keeps the document size extremely small while ensuring faster loading times.

Otherwise known as Compiled HTML, CHM is used for software documentation like CSS and PHP tutorials, software manuals, and legal documentation of a Creative Commons license.

Despite being designed by Microsoft, various applications can open and view CHM formatted files.

It allows for all the basic features like italicize, bold, markup, markdown, and more. More importantly, using a template for CHM format is much more convenient than other software documentation formats.

In any case, CHM is a great technical documentation formatting example because of the navigational properties.

4.     Online Documentation (Technical Writing)

Online documentation is usually topic-based information that users can access online for any assistance or information regarding the software. Such documentation can be opened on any browser, regardless of the operating system and software.

The following are the critical aspects of online documentation.

  •       As long as the user has a stable internet connection and a browser, they can access the documentation online.
  •       Online documentation officially supports all forms of visual content elements, including graphics, vectors, diagrams, GIFs, videos, and more, that can be played inside the document immediately.
  •       After publishing, your documentation formatting will remain the same from when you designed it. Other formats can mess up your formatting when you’re about to publish or print your documentation.
  •       Exporting documentation online is easier because you can get several formats for the document. That will help make documentation access easier for different users with varying systems.
  •       It’s much easier to use a professional technical writing tool for online documentation. Furthermore, you can use other online writing tools like Grammarly to fix any issues quickly.
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Lastly, attribution is much easier when using online documentation formatting. You can directly link to other sites, documents, and tools in the documentation itself.

Choosing the Right Documentation Formatting

Technical documentation and technical writing can take on various forms, but it mostly depends on your objective. For example, if you’re creating software manuals, it would be best to use CHM documentation formatting. On the other hand, you’re better off with PDFs if you’re developing product manuals.

Similarly, if you have a web app, cloud-based software, or a website, your best bet is online documentation.

In any case, while you can use any documentation formatting example above, it’s best to stick with industry standards because users are familiar.

Depending on your industry, product/software, and organization, choose an appropriate documentation formatting example and go with it. 

We recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course if you are new to technical writing. You will learn the straightforward fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.

Conclusion

Best format software documentation is a documentation solution that provides users with information that is retrievable. The documentation solution integrates into existing applications, whether on the desktop, Web or mobile application, and helps deliver key information to the user. Documentation solutions also aid developers by providing an easy way for them to construct new and edit existing content for their applications. The rules of best format for documentation have not changed much. What has changed, and evolved, is the technology being used to write and compile them. What once was a mere collection of text on a page has evolved with the need to contain much more information. With this evolution has also come additional complexity of formats. Where once there was only one pamphlet format, it now seems more like trying to identify a species of fish with all its fins and scales.

Conforming to API standards is an efficient and effective way of ensuring that a particular system will interface with another. If a standard is used often, it can also be a significant time saver in maintaining consistency of some kind. API standards are important to maintain the expectations of software users. Software companies should take the necessary steps to develop a format that best meets those expectations.

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