What Should Software Documentation Include

Software development documentation is a very important part of any software project. Some companies neglect this factor, thinking it is something not worth paying attention to. The reality is that good software documentation helps teams improve their processes and save a lot of time. It saves time because the information contained in it helps users achieve better results when they are working with the product.

We conduct software projects with an eye on the future. We know most projects will eventually be developed further, so we try to design them carefully from the onset. Many things will change in time and you cannot predict what exactly they will be and what effect they would have on your project. That’s why it is essential for software development project documentation to include some kind of flexible templates that could keep all the relevant information collected and provide a part of it depending on changes that occur along the way.

You have diligently created your new software system, and now it’s time to document it. You could document each and every aspect of your software including the module structure, individual functions, program flows, comments and probably a few more things. Or you could just pick the critical ones.

Different kinds of software products have different kinds of documentation requirements. There is no single right approach to software project documentation. However, there are some guidelines. Software projects are known by many names, among them: applications, development products and systems. A software product is generally delivered in the form of a package of files which can be installed on an electronic device connected to a network. Software users use it to control or otherwise work with or on other machines or systems.

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.

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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.

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!Book a Demo

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. For example, https://docs.startup.com to https://startup.com/docs

What to Include in Your Documentation

A popular approach is Readme Driven Development, championed by Tom Preston-Werner. It consists of writing the Readme document before you even start writing any code. This document is an introduction to your software and usually includes:

  • an explanation of what your software does and what problem it solves
  • an example illustrating the circumstances in which your code would normally be used
  • links to the code and bugs tracker
  • FAQs and ways to ask for support
  • instructions on how to install your software
  • license information
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However, in my view, having a solid documentation that can really help developers who use your software/library should go well beyond the classical Readme file. Following Daniele Procida, I suggest you include the following items in your documentation material for a great user experience.

Tutorials

A beginner will love to find a tutorial in your software docs. Tutorials are about showing users how to complete a project using your software, so that they can quickly get a sense of what they can do with it.

Tutorials are lessons that take the reader by the hand through a series of steps to complete a project of some kind. They are what your project needs in order to show a beginner that they can achieve something with it. — Daniele Procida

How-to Guides

How-to guides help users solve a real-world task using your software. Procida compares them to recipes in the sense that they are directions you give users so that they can successfully reach a certain goal. Unlike tutorials, which are aimed at complete beginners, how-to guides assume users already possess some basic knowledge of features, tools, and of how to perform simple tasks.

Reference Guides

Reference guides are technical references of your software’s code — functions, APIs, etc. — and offer a basic description of how to use the software. For example, you’ll find an illustration of how to instantiate a specific class, how to call a particular method, and so on.

Reference guides are technical descriptions of the machinery and how to operate it. — Daniele Procida

This is the piece of documentation you’re likely to find in most projects. Developers tend to be quite good at writing it since they know all about their code and how to use it.

Explanation

Explanations are a deep dive into, or a discussion on, a particular topic you think is relevant to a higher-level understanding of your software. About explanations, Procida points out that —

This section of documentation is rarely explicitly created, and instead, snippets of explanation are scattered among other sections. Sometimes, the section exists, but has a name such as Background or Other notes and doesn’t really do justice to the function.

A topic isn’t defined by a specific task you want to achieve, like a how-to guide, or what you want the user to learn, like a tutorial. It’s not defined by a piece of the machinery, like reference material. It’s defined by what you think is a reasonable area to try to cover at one time, so the division of topics for discussion can sometimes be a little arbitrary.

Things You Need to Pay Attention To

Let’s go through some useful pointers about making your docs user-friendly and relevant.

Make Your Docs Discoverable

It’s a good idea to put some work into making your software documentation easy to find. You could use some SEO techniques together with some marketing strategies so that as many users as possible can get hold of it.

Also, what you put in your docs should be organized into a structure that makes searching for specific information a breeze. Steve Konves recommends you structure your docs in a singly linked tree: starting from the root node, which should be placed in an obvious location for every interested user to discover, all other items can be easily accessed. The project’s Readme file lends itself to working really well as a great root node for the entire tree.

Also, if you receive help requests from your software’s users, you could write the answers and make them available in an easily accessible FAQs page. Doing so will decrease the time you spend helping users, but it will also give you a clearer idea of the kind of information users need most frequently so that you can document them first and keep them in a prominent place in your docs.

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Ensure Your Docs Are Up-to-date and Free of Bugs

Easily accessing your software documentation is great, but if users find out that its content is out of date or the sample code or instructions lead to buggy results, this gets frustrating, to say the least. Still, Steve Konves suggests you keep your docs close to the code — for instance, in source control. This way, when developers update the code, they’ll notice the documentation material, which makes updating the docs a much more likely occurrence.

Also, to minimize the occurrence of bugs, thoroughly test the instructions and the code samples you provide in your docs.

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Extra Tip and Some Popular Examples

Don’t stop at documentation. Blog posts are great for making your software and its features known to a wide audience of potential users. Use your blog to offer clarifications of what your product does, deliver user-friendly tutorials, tips and tricks, walk-throughs, explain updates, etc. You can include your blog in a stand-alone website dedicated to your software — perhaps with a forum — around which a strong community can gather and grow.

A great example of this wider idea of documentation in my view is implemented by GreenSock, a widely successful JS animation platform, which I find myself using a lot, not least because its website makes available easy-to-use and well-structured docs, a super helpful forum, blog posts, quick tips, and much more.

React and Vue.js can also be counted as great examples. As soon as you access their respective websites, the home page tells you what each library is good for in a quick tagline, and then goes into more details on why the library can be considered a great choice for your project. Both websites make getting started less intimidating using gentle introductions, illustrative snippets, short tasks beginners can accomplish using code playgrounds, etc. Once users have gained a bit of confidence with the new software, they can find the more technical API docs readily, plus pages detailing how to get help, displaying information on the ecosystem, offering a news or blog section, etc.

To leave the JS zone and go into the field of popular UI libraries with great websites, I can’t leave out Bootstrap. On the Bootstrap website you’ll find right away what the library is good for and how to get started quickly, as well as comprehensive and well-structured docs and a blog to keep users updated on what’s new.

Tips for software development documentation

Documentation for software development streamlines the process and ensures a quality product for the end user. Here are some tips for writing software documentation:

Include a README file before coding details

README files are basic text documents that describe the software to users and programmers. They can assist end users and system administrators in using the product, and they can also provide new members of the development team with an overview of the project. README files may include:

  • Configuration, installation and operating instructions
  • List of included files
  • Licensing information
  • Known bugs
  • Credits

Conclusion

Documentation is a big part of any software project. It can show that you are aware of the importance of your project and take it seriously. It should be a tool for the client, showing them how to set up the project and use it, so they get immediate results from your work. There are several things that documentation needs to include in order to help the client and to be useful for yourself.

Writing good documentation has its challenges, but it certainly pays off a hundred times if you think how much easier it will be for your users to implement your software’s capabilities. This in turn contributes to your software’s popularity, which makes it attractive and therefore open to the possibility of giving rise to a community of developers who are willing to invest their time in learning it deeply and contributing to its growth, stability, and long-term usage.

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