Software Design Documentation Best Practices

Design documentation is a field that often gets overlooked by programmers. But, it’s vital to ensure your software will be easy to maintain and update for others. To understand what design documentation is and how it can help make your software easier to maintain and update for others, read my article.

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If you’ve ever had to add even the simplest of new features to an existing software application, you’ll know how quickly things can get messed up as it’s developed. Rare is the software developer who understands user requirements and design documentation best practices immediately. This article shares some best software design documentation practices that you can leverage when developing your own applications.

There are many tools available to create and store software design documentation, but how can you be sure you are using them correctly? How can you optimize your software design documentation process in the most efficient way possible? Read on to find out what best practices I recommend to reduce the complexity of your software development process.

Best Practices in Creating Software Documentation

Knowledge is power in the software industry. But whether you can transfer it to others depends on your software documentation. So check out these tips in creating project documentation.

To make things easier, most software development products come with software documentation. Although they vary in function, all these documents were created during the entire software development lifecycle.

There are many types of software documentation, including:

The documentation details how end users can make the product work. And it also explains how developers can operate it.

Create Software Documentation with These Best Practices

What makes software successful? Well, it’s not only about the technicalities. It’s also about the detailed and comprehensible presentation of information that accompanies it. So if you want to create good software documentation, take note of these best practices. 

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1. Make documentation a priority

It’s easy to disregard software documentation and place it in the backseat. But, this can backfire in the long run. 

Creating the documentation along with the development lifecycle saves you time and effort. It keeps track of tools and processes in real-time. And you can also document any changes along the way. Instead of trying to remember every detail at the end of the project, doing it simultaneously makes the documentation less prone to errors. 

2. Know your target audience

There is no one-size-fits-all style in creating the documentation. That is why it is important that you determine your target audience accordingly.

Try to establish various audience personas from available user information. Identify each of their goals, level of information access, and preferences. This way, you can determine the right delivery format and style.

3. Think of a content strategy ahead

Before creating your documentation, look at the bigger picture. See how each piece of information fits in with the whole puzzle. And think of a content strategy to deliver them in a way that’s easy for the readers to understand. 

ALSO READ:   Best Free API Documentation Tools

Hence, what should you do? It’s time to create a style guide that you can follow. It will help you standardize your voice, formatting, terminologies and word usage, and visuals. 

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4. Remember the Agile documentation practices

There are many benefits to using the Agile approach in software development. And we’re not only talking about the development process. More technical writers are using Docs Like Code or Just In Time methodology. Both are subsets of Agile, which encourages collaboration among all stakeholders. They also offer flexibility in version and source control. 

Moreover, you can also use the Minimum Viable Documentation method. It comes in handy especially when you have limited technical writing resources. 

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5. Collaborate with professionals and experts

Coming up with technical documentation is a collaboration between developers and other stakeholders. 

First, it entails that the expertise of developers is turned into usable, written information. Second, technical writers can take care of the nitty-gritty of document creation. Third, no software documentation should come out without going through the QA and testing process.

6. Consider user experience of the project documentation

Will the target audience find this software documentation relevant? For non-technical end users, can they understand it easily? Take note that writing the documentation is just the beginning. If you want it to work, make sure that every target audience has a seamless and educational experience while going through it.

Thus, make sure that the information architecture of your knowledge base is organized. From labeling to navigation systems within systems, everything in the information environment must be in its proper place.

You must also consider how to cater to the needs of different people in terms of accessibility. For instance, can end users with visual impairments use screen readers and have easy access to them? Can people from other countries gain access to it without using a VPN? These things may seem minute in importance, but they are vital for the user experience of your documentation.

7. Decide on appropriate software and tools

For starters, you can use GitHub to deliver your project documentation to your audience. You can also use a Static Site Generator as an alternative.

Moreover, you may also want to consider using a lightweight markup language. This makes it easier to visually present your documentation or migrate it to another system with all formatting intact.

8. Get the best technical writers for the job

Of course, developers can create your software documentation. However, their time and skills are better allocated to taking care of the software than on documentation content. So hire professional technical writers to help with the project. Either hire a full-time in-house writer or outsource the task. Although, hiring a good one is imperative for your success.

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9. Check on customer temp for feedback and development

A customer feedback loop should be set up. This way, you can stay on top of things when things go wrong on the end user’s side. Why? Because aside from your internal team, it is important that your customers know the how-tos of your product. 

Don’t worry, there are many ways to collect customer feedback. You can check out social media interactions, customer support tickets, and knowledge base contact forms. Or, you can even get in touch with some of them for their concerns and suggestions.

ALSO READ:   Open Source Tools for Software Documentation

Software Documentation

Software documentation is a part of any software. Good documentation practices are important for the success of the software. Documentation must comprise an interactive User Experience, Information Architecture, and good understanding of your audience. Note: It is recommended that you suggest building the documentation deliverable into your development process, while attempting to use the Agile methodologies for software development.  

It needs to serve the purpose of resolving the issues, when encountered by the developer, end user or while during customer facing the knowledge Base.

Appropriate details and description need to be in the documented to achieve the following goals:
• Resolve issue encountered by the developer during the development process
• Help end-user to understand the product
• Assist customers and the support team to find the information.

Documentation can be related to an API documentation (which can be used to either incorporate in the code, or to extend the functionality of the existing application, release notes that serves what bugs had been fixed in the current release, and what code had been refracted) and, or customer-facing help content to easily find required information immediately.

Software documentation helps you to understand the product, interface, capability, ability to fulfill a task, and quickly search and find a particular section within the document, or find resolution when encountered using the product. Note: Even when there are knowledge workers, yet, 51% of people prefer to receive technical support through a Knowledge Base, and yet producing the relevant documentation is challenging for any companies.

Types of Software Documentation

Many types of documents are required and delivered during the product development life cycle and software development life cycle, like Software documentation, Developer documentation, Software requirement document, and design documentation and audience analysis.

User Documentation

This document is mostly delivered for end-user who actually want use the product themselves, to understand and complete a certain task.

• How-to guides – Guides the user to complete a task or a predetermined goal.
• Tutorials – Learns a concept by following a series of steps concept
• Reference docs – Describes the technical detail of the product (Software requirement specification, software design documents and so on)
• Administration Guide: Enables the administrator to refer to this after installing an application
• Configuration Guide: Allows the administrator to refer to this document for configuration parameters.

Developer Documentation

This documentation refers to system related documentation.
• API documentation –Specifies how to invoke API calls and classes, or how to include API in the code that is being developed.
• Release notes: Describes about the latest software, feature releases, and what bugs have been fixed. Usually this document is a text file with a filename extension (.txt).
• README: A form of documentation, it is usually a simple plain text file called Read Me, READ.ME, README.TXT with A high-level overview of the software, usually alongside the source code.
• System documentation – Describes the system requirements, includes design documents and UML diagrams.

Just-in-time Documentation

Situation may arise, where a just-in-time document quickly serves the support for customer-facing documentation. The user need not have to refer to any documents or FAQs for information.

It is recommended that documentation tools be common across your development team, so that it can be easily accessible within the environment, and you need to initiate that the documentation becomes a mandatory part of the Software development life cycle process. For example, GitHub is a cloud-based do my papers application, which serves the purpose for code developers and authors.

ALSO READ:   Software Development Documentation Best Practices

How to choose a software documentation tool.

Documenting your product and its features can be highly time consuming and requires a lot of attention to detail while creating software documentation which can be easily understood by customers and team members. Here are some crucial features to look for in a software documentation tool

Document360 supports the following features:
• Custom Dashboard
• File Manager
• Article Redirect
• Team Management
• Team Auditing
• Secure Hosting
• Backup and Restore
• Custom Security
• In-app Assistance

Schedule a demo with one of our experts to take a deeper dive into Document360!

Overview of Knowledge Base application interface

Apart from the above mentioned essential features Document360 also has some outstanding capabilities that make the knowledge base attractive to the end users.

Build Multilingual Knowledge Base

The Localization feature in a knowledge base system , which enables you to build multilingual knowledge base documents for the different customer base. For example, your international customers across the globe may want to read the document in their own native language, even when the document is available in English.


                               Choosing a language for the facing page.

You can take the help of an in-house translator to translate the article manually for public facing page or use Google translator to translate the copied content from the source, and then paste the translated content back in to the editor.

Look for knowledge base software that includes built-in Machine Translation, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to instantly transform the material for better results. If you are dissatisfied with the 3rd party translation tools 

Create custom Site of Knowledge Base

When you create a document in Document360, you can have a public facing URL, which can help user(s) to access to your Knowledge Base.
You can perform the following in the Site Domain page:
• Site Domain Hosting: You can create a custom URL for an existing URL
• Sub-Folder Hosting: Customized URL. You can use sub-folder as a hosting page to mark these documents internally within the organization.


The following screen displays the Site Domain page.


             Site Domain Hosting and Sub-Folder Hosting page

Backup and Restore your Knowledge Base

It is necessary to keep your data secure each day. The Backup and Restore function is integrated with Dcoument360, which can help you restore earlier versions of your document from the backup list.

Conclusion

If you want to be a great web designer, you need to learn how to design your applications in an orderly and logical fashion. By reading and following the best practices, you’ll be able to come up with better solutions to user-interface problems, as well as come up with better creative designs for your future software projects.

Don’t waste time searching for software design documentation best practices. They aren’t as easy to find as you think. You have a better chance of finding best practices for software design documentation tools. When it comes to writing documentation, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details…

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