In this article, we are going to cover some of the best practices of the software project documentation. Software project documentation is that set of documents regarding the current and future parts of a software system which include requirements, design, architecture and so on and on.
The topic of software project documentation is something that you don’t see covered a lot. It almost always leads people to come up with their own definition, which makes it really hard for them to understand it. In fact, I’ve seen so many people who are interested in this topic but can never find anything on it because the concept of software project documentation is not clearly defined.
Answering yes to both of these questions is a big part of providing a great customer experience and improving your customer satisfaction rate. That’s why it’s crucial to have documentation that helps customers find answers to their questions without waiting for someone on your staff to reply.
More and more companies hire software development teams who are responsible for building applications and software products to meet the business needs. Unfortunately, a significant amount of these projects fail to deliver what they promised. One of the main reasons is poor software project documentation .
Types of Documentation
Before we jump to the documentation examples, it’s important to learn about the different types of documentation. This will help you understand the types that will make the most sense for your business.
User documentation is the creation of user manuals, quickstart guides, tutorials, FAQs, and other instructional material to provide end-users of a product or service with the help they need to utilize its full potential.
As you can guess, developer documentation is meant for developers to understand all the aspects of how they can make use of or integrate a given software library or service, typically through its API (application programming interface). Developer documentation includes material such as use cases, authentication, troubleshooting information, and so on. It will generally be made up of more technical writing than customer-facing user documentation.
Technical documentation lies somewhere in the middle of user documentation and developer documentation, and usually needs a technical writer. It aims to explain the technical instructions or concepts associated with a product in a comprehensible manner that even non-developers should be able to understand.
Project documentation involves covering key details about a project. It’s about creating comprehensive documentation to explain what’s needed over the course of the project to execute it properly. Some examples of project documentation include project proposals, project plans, business cases, status reports, and so on.
Benefits of Documentation
We get it. You are busy running your business, and the last thing you want is to have to be constantly documenting things like status reports, guides, and so on. However, when unexpected issues arise out of nowhere (and they will), you’ll be glad that you and your users have documentation to fall back on. Here are the key advantages of prioritizing adequate documentation.
Knowledge in One Place
An average knowledge worker is estimated to spend about 2.5 hours a day looking for information. Effective documentation saves everyone a significant amount of time by collecting all the essential information in one place.
Documentation ensures that things get done even with unexpected events such as the absence of a team member, or a known issue creeping up again. You are able to keep the wheels moving without wasting resources in tracking down credentials, details, and more.
Documentation helps keep your customers happy and satisfied. By showing them how to get the most value from your product, documentation reduces churn rate and boosts your customer lifetime value.
With the benefits out of the way, let’s jump right into the best documentation examples for each of the four types of documentation.
Google needs no introduction. It offers hundreds of products, with each product having its own documentation. What stands out about Google’s product documentation is that it’s a combination of static answers and community forums for users to submit feedback and ask questions.
Other notable features of Google’s documentation include:
- Users can help each other with uncommon queries. This gives the customers a better chance to get themselves heard better and raise concerns.
- The Upvote feature is great to see if other people are also facing the same issues and to gather support for the most important problems and ideas.
- Customers can also subscribe to updates on a discussion or post a comment to contribute an additional viewpoint.
Skype is a popular video meeting software from Microsoft, used for different purposes such as business meetings, educational sessions, and personal chats. Skype makes for a great documentation example as its software documentation is loaded with user-friendly features such as different navigation and sorting options.
Other things to note include:
- Users can indicate whether they found a document to be helpful or not, and share their feedback.
- Features such as breadcrumbs and a table of contents make the documentation easy to navigate.
Apple’s iPhone is known for its intuitiveness and user-friendly features, but that’s no excuse to ignore proper documentation. Fortunately, Apple understands this, and its documentation is as simple and easy to navigate as the iPhone.
Noteworthy aspects of iPhone documentation include:
- There is an option to choose the iOS version a user has currently installed. This helps end-users ensure that the instructions are accurate and relevant to them.
- A table of contents has been used for referring to other features and device-specific screenshots.
- Users can contact the support team directly if a document doesn’t answer their query.
Developer Documentation Examples
Docker is an open platform for building, running, and shipping applications. It allows you to separate the applications from the infrastructure in order to deliver software quickly. What gives Docker’s documentation an amazing start is the ability to switch between Night Mode and Day Mode.
Other factors that make this documentation great are:
- There are Recap and Cheat Sheet sections at the end of various chapters. These sections help reinforce concepts that a user may have missed.
- Internal links are provided throughout all the pages of the documentation to make it easy for a user to expand on a piece of information.
- It allows for going back to a prerequisite page or chapter that is essential to understand the insights provided on the current page.
Heroku Dev Center
Heroku offers a powerful and easy application deployment service for developers. And its developer center has a beautiful documentation setup. The biggest highlight of this documentation is how easy it is to switch to a different language.
Here are some more things worth noting about Heroku documentation.
- It gives sequential steps for different programming languages, along with their respective packages.
- Resources are available about other tools and integrations that are often used together with Heroku, like using Github as a code repository.
Twilio has been a top API provider helping businesses and developers with customized communication solutions since 2008. Twilio’s developer documentation is a work of art, with a sleek two-panel design giving all you need to know right away. The left panel offers simple explanations, while the right panel provides handy code snippets.
What else makes this documentation great? The following:
- Twilio’s developer documentation has an elegant font style and contrasting hyperlinks. The whole interface is very easy on the eyes.
- There are several source code snippets developers can copy and paste right away to save time and hassle.
- Twilio provides an amazing level of depth even for beginners, with topics like “What’s a REST API, anyway?”
Technical Documentation Examples
Email marketing tool Campaign Monitor is a great example of technical documentation done well. It puts focus on the search feature, followed by a clean, properly structured collection of articles to help customers.
What else makes it good documentation?
- The articles are divided into categories that match the features of their email automation software.
- The App Status indicator is a clever move that tells customers if the issue they are facing is from Campaign Monitor’s end, alleviating stress.
Canva offers graphic design tools for personal and professional use, which can also be used on iOS and Android devices. Canva’s expertise in design is evident from its own beautiful documentation pages. From the search functionality to article categories, there are clear choices for users to quickly find the right solution.
Canva’s documentation works because:
- The main page has a great mix of top articles, categories, and other support options.
- The “Popular Searches” help customers understand the kind of phrases they can search for to use the search feature effectively.
If you use a cloud storage service, you must have heard of Dropbox. For a SaaS solution like Dropbox, it’s a wise decision to solve the most common problems right on the homepage.
Additional highlights of Dropbox documentation include:
- The use of attractive illustrations reinforces the friendly vibe of its brand, which goes a long way in comforting people with issues.
- Integration with the Dropbox community facilitates interactions between users and gives an additional avenue to seek help.
User Documentation & Technical Documentation: What is the Difference?
As the name suggests, technical documentation consists of technical information related to your offerings, all of which might not be necessary for your end-users, i.e., customers.
It provides readers enough information, helping them grasp both the inner and outer aspects of your product. This documentation can consist of research papers, reports, case studies, and the like. It can be for your external audience – customers or internal users – development and product team.
On the other hand, user documentation is more customer-friendly. It guides customers on how to make the best use of your products and troubleshoot issues on their own. User documentation comprises helpful content in the form of FAQs, video tutorials, instructional, step-by-step guides, installation guides, and more.
Types of User Documentation
User documentation is a broad term that is as simple as it sounds. It means a document created for your end-users, i.e., customers.
This documentation can be of different types, such as:
1. Installation Guide
This covers details about how to install, set up, and use your product. It comprises step-by-step instructions that guide customers through the process installation and setup process.
2. Product Manual
If you want documentation that demonstrates every step regarding how to use and make the most of your offerings, the product manual is the right choice. It comprises examples, video tutorials, and how-to articles that explain how your product works.
3. Introductory Document
This document gives an overview of what your product is about, what are its functions, use cases, and what customers can expect from it. It’s like a short, sweet, and quick guide to acquaint customers with your product.
What are Good Documentation Practices?
When it comes to creating a successful documentation site and knowing how to write technical documentation, there are a couple of best practices to keep in mind:
- Comprehensive. Comprehensive documentation covers all aspects of the product, without making assumptions about what the user may or may not know. Examples, code samples, images, videos, and other content can play a role in providing a seamless experience for users in your user documentation.
- Up-to-date. Nothing is more frustrating to an end user than locating an online help topic or support page, only to find that it references an outdated feature or version of a product.
- Easy to Find. Users shouldn’t have to hunt through your site to find the answer. A menu, robust search functionality, related content links, or other easy navigation elements make for a better user interface that makes it easier for users to discover content.
- Visual Appeal. A well-designed site goes a long way in keeping the end user engaged in your site for effective technical communication. By offering an inviting, clear experience that looks great on mobile and desktop devices, users are given a consistent look-and-feel that matches your brand instead of just the plain technical writing text of a dull and lengthy technical document.
Software documentation or external documents is a vital part of modern programming. Without it, a programmer can’t complete an application project successfully. There are scores of necessary reading materials that must be referred to when writing program code.
The business world is changing. The nature of software development projects and technology itself is growing exponentially. Software developers want to focus on building a product for the customer, rather than focus on the documentation. But what about businesses that do not use a ready-made solution? They have to develop software from scratch or companies that need to keep their legacy code running while they are working on a new project. Understanding how to create quality documentation is becoming a necessity in modern business development.