Software documentation is a crucial part of any software development process and it should be included from the beginning of the development process. Software documentation describes the process of creating a software product.
In this guide, we will cover Software documentation, its importance, types, benefits and best practice for creating good software documentation. We will equally outline some disadvantages of creating a poor documentation
What is Software Documentation?
Documentation is one of the most important parts of a software project. However, a lot of projects have little or no documentation to help their (potential) users use the software,”Eric Holscher, co-founder of Write the Docs
Software documentation is a type of documentation that provides information about a software product and process in the form of images, text or video. Software documentation may include a user manual, technical manual, and online materials. In short, Software documentation is a way for engineers/developers to describe their product and the process they used in creating a software product.
Types of Software Documentation
There are two great types or categories of Software Documentation:
- Process Software Documentation
- Product Software Documentation
Process Software Documentation
They provide information that describes the process and procedure that are used to develop, test, and maintain the software created. Some Common examples of process documentation include:
- Project Plan
- Test Schedules
- Bu reports
- Release plan
- Meeting notes
Product Software Documentation
As the name suggests, product documentation describes the software and its features in detail. This type of documentation is intended for users and helps them to understand and use the software. The users here can be engineers, developers, and end-users. This documentation usually produces:
- Reference manuals
- Installation guides
- Requirements document
- Validation documents
Product Documentation is further divided into two categories:
- Developer Documentation
- User Documentation
Also known as System Documentation, Developer documentation, document the system under development and its parts. This document is used by engineers, software developers, project managers and other software technicians involved in the development process. DD includes:
- Software requirements,
- Design Decision,
- Architecture descriptions
- Source code
On the other hand, User documentation provides information about installing, configuring, or using the software. Software is a product, and software documentation is part of the product. User Documentation includes:
- How-to guides:
- User manuals
- Troubleshooting guidelines
- Reference docs
- Readme files
The main different between the to types of software documentation is that Process documentation describes the development process while product describes the produced that is being developed
Why is Software Documentation Important(Benefits of Software Documentation)
Software documentation provides information for everyone involved in the creation, installation and deployment of software. Documentation generally keeps the trace of the development process and assists with tasks like installation and deployment in the absence of system experts.
Good documentation equally helps end-users to understand and use a product easily. Good Documentation could equally help promote a product because users tend to use software systems that provide smooth and concise documentation. For example, some CSS Frameworks like Bootstrap documentation are one of the main reasons that encourage users to use it in web projects. Flutter equally have great documentation with detailed procedures and actions to take in case a user is blocked on an implementation. Even Free tools tend to write good documentation to keep their user engage or convert to customers.
Other key benefits of creating software documentation include:
Improve User Experience
Software documentation easily helps users to understand and handle a product and provide the necessary information through guidelines, step-by-step to help them achieve their goals. It highly contributes to user experiences
Enhance team collaboration
Documentation can help developers and other technical stakeholders to understand the software’s technical aspects by providing them with the necessary information they need to work to work on the software. It equally helps to ensure that each entity involved in the software is working to achieve the same goals
A user, developer or technical stakeholder can efficiently work with concise, clear and up-to-date documentation. For instance, a user or developer can use software documentation to troubleshoot a certain bug rather than wasting time trying to perform reverse engineering or figuring out how the software works.
Software quality is an important aspect that defines the success score of a software product. Software documentation can help enhance the quality since you can take decisions and necessary action during the development phase based on software documentation feedback. In simple words, the fact of documenting and sharing keeps records that can help you gather information to improve the quality of the software.
What are the Best Practices for Creating Good Software Documentation?
Creating Software documentation is not always easy but it’s important to follow the best practices to ensure that you have documented everything in a way that’s easy to understand by different entities depending on the audience it’s created for. I have gathered some best practices for you to keep in mind when writing your documentation. They include:
Understanding user needs. If documentation is estimated to an end-user, the developer or technical writer should be able to understand the needs of the user and efficiently address those needs in the documentation.
Writing an Easy to understand documentation. Documentation should be simple to understand, concise and avoid the usage of complex words. It should use tones and voices that the intended audience would use.
Subject Matter experts should be involved. Important to have experts in the documentation process of software to help ensure that what is documented is what is accurate.
Ask for user feedback. Each time you release software, ask users what they like or dislike about the product and use it to improve the software ad its documentation.
Continuous maintenance. Keep in mind that software documentation is a continuous process. So each time you update and maintain the software you need to update the documentation too.
Use many content formats: Create documentation in many different formats, including video, text, illustrations, and short guides so that users can choose the most suitable and comprehensive format.
Hire a Technical or Content Writer. Hiring a skilled content writer could equally help the software team to create end-user documentation.
Disadvantages of Poor Software Documentation
The success of a certain software product depends on the quality of its documentation. Poor software with good documentation tends to ace well than a good one with poor documentation. These are some inconveniences of poor Software documentation
- Poor documentation is difficult to understand by the audience it’s destinated to
- It decreases the quality and trustiness of the software
- Poor documentation leads to misunderstanding of the product by different entities involved in the software.
- Poor code Documentation takes a lot of time to be understood and can lead to frustration. That’s why sometimes it’s better to have no documentation than a poorly written one.
Documentation is the reflection of your software product, building poor documentation is equal to building poor software though the software may good. So it’s important to include documentation in each phase of your project as well as identify the different roles each documentation and stakeholders will play. Everybody should be in the right spot.
Avoid Poor documentation at all cause because fixing documentation problems can use a lot of resources
Software Documentation Tools
Software documentation tool helps you to create, manage and maintain your document efficiently and easily. A tool can help you improve the quality of your document plus you can easily share with your team, get feedback and easily incorporate them using the tool. documentation tools come in various forms and types some of them include:
- Dropbox Paper
- Read the Docs
Frequently Ask Questions on Software Documentation
What are the goals of Software Documentation?
- Deliver useful support to users
- Provide Documentation notes to developers
What are the categories of Software Documentation?
There are two types of documentation:
Process Documentation and Product Documentation. Product Documentation is further divided into two categories: User Documentation and Developer/System documentation.
When should you start writing Documentation?
You should start producing documentation at the beginning of a project. You need to document each step and process efficiently so that anyone involved in the process can reproduce them effectively.
What is a Software Documentation tool?
It’s a tool that helps to write and deliver documentation faster, and easier, reducing the time taken to create and manage a document.
How to choose a documentation tool?
Documentation tools ease documentation tasks by providing options to help you manage your documents, and share and get feedback. There are hundreds of documentation tools out there and it’s not always easy to choose the right one. When choosing a tool take into account the type of project you are working on, and the type of documents you will be producing. These are some factors that could help you select the best tool for your documents.
What are some examples oDocumentation?
Some documentations include:
- Application Programming Interface Documentation
- Readme Files
- Release and test notes
- Reference Documents
- How-to guides
- User manuals
- Online assistance
Software Documentation is a continuous process as documents need to be created, maintained and updated frequently. Documentation helps users, developers, engineers and stakeholders to accomplish their tasks efficiently. Producing poor documentation can negatively affect the success of projects. It is recommended to incorporate best practices like understanding user needs and writing documents while avoiding using complex words to provide the best experience to different users.