Software Documentation Best Practices [With Examples]

In this guide, we cover software documentation types, examples, and best practices for improving the quality of your documentation process.

David Oragui

Last Updated

April 26 2023

Software documentation is a crucial part of working software. 

Whether it’s API documentation, release notes, or customer-facing help content, you can’t afford to skip over the docs when it comes to shipping your new product.

Software documentation is crucial because it can assist users understand how to use your software, it can provide developers and other technical stakeholders with information about the technical aspects of your software, and it can help ensure that the software development process is consistent and repeatable. Additionally, well-written software documentation can help improve the overall quality and user experience of your software. 

The thing is, as beneficial as software documentation is, many software engineers and developers tend not to create any documentation for their software projects either due to lack of time, lack of expertise, lack of writing abilities, lack of incentive, or lack of tools and resources. All these factors can make it challenging for developers to create high-quality documentation, and they may instead focus on writing code and developing the software.

“ 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 ,” says Eric Holscher , co-founder of Write the Docs.

Luckily, there are examples of software brands leading the way with documentation, and we’re going to take a look at some documentation best practices in this post. 

Looking at other software documentation examples can inspire your own project, although your processes will be entirely your own. 

Let's get started!

Software Documentation: What it Is

Developer creating software documentation for new code

Software documentation is a type of documentation that provides information about software products and systems. It typically includes a wide range of documents and materials that describe the features, capabilities, and use of the software. 

Software documentation can be organized into different categories, depending on the intended audience and purpose of the documentation. Some common types of software documentation include user documentation, which provides information that is useful for users of the software; technical documentation, which provides detailed information about the technical aspects of the software; and process documentation, which describes the steps and procedures that are used to develop, test, and maintain the software.

Types of Software Documentation

Software documentation can be broken down into several different categories or types. The types of documentation that you should create for a software system will depend on the audience and the intended use of the software. In general, it is a good idea to create documentation that provides all of the information that users need to effectively use and maintain the software.

For end users , it is often useful to provide user manuals that provide step-by-step instructions for common tasks and that describe the features and capabilities of the software. It is also often helpful to provide tutorials or other types of training materials that can help users learn how to use the software.

For developers and other technical stakeholders , it is often useful to provide reference manuals that provide detailed technical information about the software, such as its API, data structures, and algorithms. It is also often helpful to provide process documentation that describes the processes and procedures that are used to develop, test, and maintain the software.

For system administrators and other IT professionals , it is often useful to provide installation guides that provide instructions for installing and setting up the software on different types of systems. It is also often helpful to provide system documentation that describes the hardware and software components that make up the system, as well as the interactions between those components.

The key to remember is that each documentation type requires a slightly different approach since they are aimed at different audiences . 

1. Project Documentation 

Project documentation typically refers to the documentation that is created during the development process for a software project. Project documentation is typically intended for use by the development team and other stakeholders, rather than for end users of the software. 

Some examples include:

  • Technical design documents
  • Project plans
  • Project requirements specifications

2. Product Documentation 

Product documentation is typically used to refer to the documentation that is created for a specific software product. This type of documentation is intended to help users understand and use the software effectively.

  • Instructional manuals
  • Reference manuals
  • Installation guides

3. Process Documentation

Process documentation is important for software documentation because it provides information about the processes and procedures that are used to develop, test, and maintain the software being created. 

This information can be useful because it can help software developers and other technical stakeholders understand the steps that are involved in the software development process, and it can provide guidance on how to follow those steps. Additionally, it can help ensure that the software development process is consistent and repeatable, and it can provide a record of the decisions and actions that were taken during the development process.

Examples of process documentation:

  • Development plans
  • Testing plans
  • Release plans
  • Bug tracking reports

4. Technical Documentation

Example of technical documentation from Stripe on using their API for software development

Technical documentation is a type of documentation that provides detailed information about the technical aspects of a product or system. In the context of software documentation, technical documentation typically provides information about the technical characteristics and capabilities of the software such as the software's architecture, data structures, algorithms, and other technical details.

Technical documentation is important for software documentation because it provides detailed information about how the software works and what it can do. This type of documentation is typically created to help developers and other technical stakeholders understand the technical details of the software, and it can provide guidance on how to use the software effectively. Additionally, technical documentation can also be useful for end users of the software, as it can provide information about the features and capabilities of the software, and it can help them understand how to use the software to achieve their goals.

Some examples of technical documentation include:

  • API documentation - Reference documentation regarding making API calls and classes
  • Data model documentation - Information about the data structures and relationships that are used by the software such as the entities, attributes, and relationships that are defined in the data model as well as examples of how the data model is used by the software.
  • Architecture documentation - Overview of the overall design and structure of the software
  • User guide  - Document that provides instructions on how to use the software
  • Release notes - Information describing the latest changes and improvements in a software or feature releas as well as any bug fixes
  • README  - A high-level overview of the software, usually alongside the source code

5. System Documentation 

System documentation is a type of software documentation that provides information about the architecture, components, and design of a software system. It is an important type of documentation because it provides valuable insights into how the software works, and it can help developers, administrators, and other technical stakeholders understand the system and its capabilities.  

The main purpose of system documentation is to provide technical information about the software system. This can include things like the system architecture, the components and modules that make up the system, and the design principles and patterns that were used to build the system. By providing this information, system documentation can help developers and other technical stakeholders understand how the system is organized, how it works, and how it can be extended or modified.  

Additionally, system documentation can provide useful information for users who want to learn more about the system, or who want to understand its capabilities and limitations. For example, system documentation can provide details about the system's features and capabilities, as well as information about how to use the system and troubleshoot common issues.

  • Troubleshooting guide - provides information that is useful for users who want to troubleshoot common issues or problems with the system
  • Architecture documentation  - provides information about the architecture of the system, including the components and modules that make up the system, and the relationships between them. (Architecture documentation can also be part of any technical documentation created as we mentioned above).
  • User manual - useful for users who want to learn how to use the system. It can include step-by-step instructions and examples, as well as information about the system's features, capabilities, and limitations.  

6. User Documentation

User documentation , as the name suggests, is focused on providing information that is useful to end users of the software. User documentation is intended to help users understand how to use the software, and it is typically written in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand style.

  • How-to guides – Problem-oriented, take the user through a series of steps to reach a real-world goal
  • Tutorials  – Learning-oriented, take the user through a series of steps to learn a concept
  • Reference docs – Information-oriented, technical descriptions of the software (could include software design documents)
  • Explanations  – Understanding-oriented, they clarify or illuminate a particular topic for a user

Benefits of Creating Software Documentation

Creating software documentation can provide a number of benefits. Some of the key benefits of creating software documentation include:  

1. Improved User Experience

Software documentation can help users understand how to use the software, and it can provide information that users need to achieve their goals. This can improve the overall user experience of the software, and it can help users get the most value out of the software.  

2. Enhanced Collaboration

Software documentation can help developers and other technical stakeholders understand the technical aspects of the software, and it can provide information that they need to work on the software. This can enhance collaboration among team members, and it can help ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.  

3. Increased Efficiency

Software documentation can provide clear, consistent, and up-to-date information about the software, and this can help developers and other technical stakeholders work more efficiently. For example, developers can use the documentation to quickly find the information they need, and they can avoid having to spend time trying to reverse-engineer the code or figure out how the software works.  

4. Improved Quality

Software documentation can help ensure that the software development process is consistent and repeatable, and it can provide a record of the decisions and actions that were taken during the development process. This can help improve the overall quality of the software, and it can help prevent errors and mistakes.

How to Write Effective Software Documentation

There are several steps you should take if you want to create software documentation that is accurate, useful, and easy to understand.

Here are the following best practices we follow at Helpjuice when looking to write software documentation.

1. Prioritize Documentation in the Development Process

This may seem obvious, but as we mentioned earlier, software documentation may fall under the radar due to developers not seeing the value of documentation or not having enough time or expertise to create high-quality documentation. Additionally, because some organizations may not have established processes or guidelines for creating and maintaining software documentation, it can make it challenging for developers to create and update the documentation.

This is why it's the first step to writing effective software documentation is to prioritize  it during the software development lifecycle! 

Don’t allow developers to ship a feature unless it is accompanied by the appropriate documentation.

Hire technical writers who can promote the value of documentation within your company.

Invest in the right tools to make it easy for your development team to create the necessary documentation.

Whatever the case, it's important that you get everyone on the same page and explain the benefits of creating software documentation. By understanding the value of software documentation, developers and other technical stakeholders can make informed decisions about how to prioritize it in the development process.

2. Identify Your Target Audience 

It is important to identify your target audience when creating software documentation because its your readers who will determine the content and style of the documentation. Different audiences will have different needs and expectations when it comes to software documentation, and it is important to understand those needs and expectations in order to create effective documentation. 

For example, if your audience for the documents you're looking to write is end users of the software, the documentation should be written in a clear and concise style, and it should provide step-by-step instructions for common tasks. It should also provide information about the features and capabilities of the software, and it should include examples and exercises to help users learn how to use the software. 

On the other hand, if your audience for the software documentation you're creating are developers or other technical stakeholders, the documentation should provide detailed technical information about the software, such as its API, data structures, and algorithms. It should also describe the processes and procedures that are used to develop, test, and maintain the software.

The Splunk Documentation Team provides an in-depth guide in their book The Product is the Docs on how to define your audience for technical writers. 

Here’s a quote from Splunk: “ Reliable and accessible documentation requires thorough product knowledge. It also applies equally, if not more, on knowing your audience .” – Splunk, p.275

This is an exercise that is useful not just for technical writers but also for other members of your company, including marketing, engineering, product, and support.

  • Define your user. You can start with available user information and talk to customer-facing teams like support.
  • Identify your user’s goals (e.g., install a database).
  • Create audience personas.
  • Create audience definitions (e.g., entry-level admin audience).
  • Create use cases for the product (e.g., manage enterprise customers in a CRM system).
  • Identify the correct delivery formats for your users (e.g., FAQ , wiki , or knowledge base).
  • Create content that is an appropriate scope and at the right level of detail.
  • Identify appropriate users to provide feedback on your documentation.
  • Conduct user research and communicate with users.

Remember, your software users may change over time. Repeat this exercise at least once a year.

3. Define the Scope and Goals

Once you have identified the audience, the next step is to define the scope and goals of the documentation. This can help you focus on the most important information and ensure that the documentation is relevant and useful. For example, you may want to focus on specific features or use cases, or you may want to provide information that is needed to complete specific tasks.

4. Develop a Content Strategy

The next step is to plan how you will go about actually creating the necessary software documentation to meet the scope and goals of the previous step as well as who will be responsible for maintaining the documentation. This can involve establishing a schedule for creating and updating the documentation, as well as identifying the tools and resources that will be needed. The plan can also include a process for reviewing and revising the documentation, to ensure that it is accurate and up-to-date..

A documentation content strategy helps you keep on track, allocate resources, and manage your time. It will help you time your documentation alongside releases so you can have some idea of what’s coming up. 

5. Create a Style Guide

Just like you would create a style guide for your content marketing activities, you should consider having a style guide for your software documentation. 

Having a style guide can be helpful for a number of reasons. 

  • It can help ensure consistency in the software documentation process . By following a set of standardized rules and guidelines, writers can avoid using conflicting or inconsistent styles, which can make the documentation more difficult to read and understand. 
  • A style guide can help establish a clear and coherent tone for the documentation you write . By using a consistent style and tone, writers can make the documentation more engaging and easier to read. 
  • It can help improve the overall quality of any software documentation you create . By following a set of standardized rules and guidelines, writers can avoid common errors and mistakes, and they can create documentation that is more accurate and useful.

Some things to consider including in your software documentation's style guide include :

  • Standardized terminology (how to refer to your company and software)
  • Voice & tone
  • Page formatting (use of headers, paragraphs, lists)
  • Guide on word choice (should it be internet or Internet – obviously the former!) 
  • Use of visuals and video

You can refer to some well-known software style guides like the Rackspace Style Guide or the Microsoft Style Guide . 

Microsoft style and voice guideline for devs creating documentation

For advice on grammatical choices, such as whether to use the Oxford Comma, you can check standard style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style . 

Example of Mailchimp's style guide for their technical content

6. Write Clearly and Concisely

You've most likely come across the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). This principle should be applied when writing your software documentation.

When writing the documentation, it is important to focus on clarity, conciseness, and organization. Use clear, simple language, and avoid using jargon or technical terms unless they are necessary. Use headings, subheadings, and other formatting techniques to organize the documentation, and provide examples and images to help illustrate key concepts.

7. Review and Revise 

Your customers should not be the first testers of your documentation, or you have failed to provide working docs. 

This is why documentation should not be published until it has been subject to technical verification, which is the point where you should review your documentation to ensure that it's accurate as well as up-to-date and revise as needed. 

To review and revise software documentation, it is important to involve other stakeholders who can provide valuable feedback and suggestions. This can include developers who are familiar with the software, as well as users who can provide insights into how the documentation can be improved.

Gathering feedback from users who have actually used the software can help identify gaps or errors in the documentation, and it can help improve the overall quality of the documentation. Have anyone who reviews the documentation check it for factual errors, ensuring that it is consistent with the current version of the software, and verifying that it covers all of the important features and use cases. You'll then want to consider incorporating any of the feedback or suggestions you receive to update the documentation as appropriate.

Once the documentation has been reviewed and revised, it is important to continue to review and update the documentation on a regular basis. This can help ensure that the documentation remains accurate and useful, even as the software evolves and changes over time.

Additional Best Practices for Writing Software Documentation

You will need to consider the user experience (UX) of your documentation, especially customer-facing help content. 

Just writing the content is half the battle – how do end users feel when they actually read your documentation? Does it help them to achieve the goal they set out to achieve when reading your documentation? Are they able to easily find what they need? 

Take a look at the following best practices for ensuring that your software documentation is useful and actually  read by your target audience.

1. Keep the Documentation Up-To-Date 

Software systems are constantly changing, and the documentation should be updated to reflect those changes. This will help ensure that the documentation remains accurate and useful.

2. Make Use of Visuals

Visual aids, such as images, diagrams, and videos, can be an effective way to illustrate concepts and ideas, and they can help make your software documentation more engaging and easier to understand which is particularly helpful for new users who are learning how to use your software.

3. Include Examples and Exercises

Providing examples and exercises can help users learn how to use the software more effectively.

4. Use a Consistent Structure and Format

This will help users find the information they need, and it will make the documentation easier to read and understand.

5. Consider Hiring Professional Technical Writers

There’s nothing wrong with your developers writing documentation if necessary, but it the quality of your documentation might greatly improve if you make use of professional technical writers. Technical writers are professionals who specialize in creating clear, concise, and accurate documentation for technical products and systems. They have the knowledge, skills, and experience to create high-quality documentation that is useful, easy to understand, and up-to-date.

You can outsource your technical writing needs to a BPO vendor or hire an in-house expert to create technical documentation for your products or systems.

6. Inclusivity and Accessibility

When you get to a certain point in your documentation, you need to seriously consider how people with different needs will be able to use your documentation. 

For example, consider whether your users are from international audiences when actually writing content. You want to avoid the use of idioms and references that they might not understand. 

Accessibility relates to the User Experience of the documentation tool itself. For example, consider whether it will be accessible to a person using a screen reader, which will read the test aloud to a person using it. 

Images with text overlaid are not accessible, so think about your screenshots and make sure they have accompanying text. 

Take into consideration the contrasting colors of your knowledge base design, and how you style links, to ensure other users with visual impairments can engage with your site successfully. Take this example from Write the Docs' website: 

Write the DOCS Documentation Guide

The site design is very clear, easy to use, with underlined links and short paragraphs. The black and white color scheme provides a high contrast for visually impaired users. 

Continuous Improvement

Documentation is never done, and you’ll always have to iterate on your efforts. Set time aside to review the documentation, identify missing documentation, or improve documentation that is frequently used. 

This relates to the customer feedback loop. Quickly act on comments from your customers that tell you your documentation is failing to solve a problem. 

Make the time to talk to your support agents about what documentation they might find useful, and even empower them to create it themselves!

7. Content Discoverability

Consider how customers arrive at your knowledge base in the first place. Very few customers will consider your knowledge base as a whole, and hardly anyone will arrive at your carefully constructed homepage. 

Consider Every Page is Page One principles as described by Mark Baker. According to EPPO, people “forage” for information like animals searching for food, rather than learning in a linear fashion as you would with a book. 

There is no “beginning" to start from.

Mark says:  “There is no “Start Here” page for the Web. Wherever you dip your toe into the Web, that is your page one. We can’t avoid this. Whether you are a reader or a writer, and whether you like it or not, that is the way the Web works. Every page is page one.” 1

Your software documentation is no good if nobody can find it, but there are a number of ways to promote your content. In fact, Google’s search engine is often “page one” for many users. 

The best knowledge base software should be indexable by search engines, with all the correct meta tags. You should also link to your documentation from your software app, since this is where users will naturally get stuck. 

If possible, make use of contextual help which is served up whenever customers need it. 

For example, if customers are having trouble with their billing, ensure a link takes them to a page with billing documentation that can help solve their problem. 

Here’s an example of contextual help inside Slack: 

An example of contextual help inside Slack

Using Software Documentation Tools

Software documentation tools are specialized tools that are designed to help developers, technical writers, and other stakeholders create, organize, and manage software documentation. There are several reasons you should consider making use of specialized tools when creating your software documentation including:

  • Automation : Software documentation tools can help automate some of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks that are involved in creating software documentation. For example, many software documentation tools can automatically generate documentation from source code, or from other types of structured data. 
  • Collaboration : Software documentation tools can provide tools and features that make it easier for teams to collaborate on software documentation. For example, many software documentation tools provide version control, review and approval processes, and other features that can help teams work together effectively. 
  • Accessibility : Software documentation tools can make it easier for developers, users, and other stakeholders to access and use the documentation. For example, many software documentation tools provide online documentation portals, search tools, and other features that can help users find the information they need quickly and easily. 

There are several different types of software documentation tools that you can use when creating software documentation. Some examples of types of software documentation tools include: 

  • Source code documentation tools : These tools are designed to help developers automatically generate documentation from source code. They can parse the source code, extract comments and other documentation, and generate organized, structured documentation in a variety of formats.
  • Collaborative documentation tools : These tools are designed to help teams collaborate on software documentation. They can provide features such as version control, review and approval processes, and online collaboration tools that can help teams work together effectively. 
  • Knowledge management portals : These tools are designed to help users access and use the documentation. Additionally, they can provide search tools and other features that can help users find the information they need quickly and easily.
  • Knowledge management tools : These tools are designed to help organizations manage their knowledge assets, including software documentation. They can provide features such as document management, search and retrieval, and content management that can help organizations organize, manage, and access their software documentation.
  • Technical writing tools : These tools are designed to help technical writers create and manage software documentation. They can provide features such as document templates, writing aids, and content management that can help technical writers create high-quality, organized, and consistent documentation.
  • Source code repositories : These tools are designed to help developers and technical writers manage their source code and other development artifacts, and they can provide many features such as version control and collaboration features that are useful for managing software documentation.

How a Knowledge Base Can Help With Your Software Documentation

A knowledge base can be useful for your software documentation because it can provide a centralized, organized, and accessible source of information about your software. For example, a knowledge base can provide a consistent and user-friendly way for end users to access your documentation, and it can help users quickly find the information they need. 

Additionally, a knowledge base can be a useful tool for organizing and maintaining your documentation. For example, a knowledge base can provide a structure and a process for creating, reviewing, and updating your documentation, and it can help ensure that your documentation is accurate, up-to-date, and consistent.

Some features that knowledge base software typically comes with to help with creating effective software documentation that gets read includes:

  • Search features . A knowledge base typically provides search and retrieval tools that can help users find the information they need quickly and easily.
  • Version control . A knowledge base can help ensure that the documentation is always accurate and up-to-date by providing tools that can manage different versions of the documentation.
  • Analytics . Knowledge base software can come with analytics that can track user behavior, such as the number of users who access the documentation, the types of information that users are looking for, and the success rate of finding what they're looking for. This can help organizations understand how the documentation is being used, and it can help them improve the documentation to make it more useful for users.

Final Remarks

This has been a lot to take in! Feel free to refer back to this guide as you develop your software documentation strategy and start reaching new heights of user success. 

Remember that good documentation practices are just as important a part of the software as the actually source code itself. Make sure to prioritize the documentation process into your overall development process to ensure that software documentation is being created and that it's useful.

As part of the process of enabling users to access and make use of your software documentation, you'll want to find the right tools to help with the creation process.

This is where Helpjuice's knowledge base software can help. As we mentioned, a knowledge base can be a fantastic tool for creating, organizing, and distributing your software documentation. Try a 14-day free trial of our software and see how easy it is to manage and share any software documentation your organization creates.

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Technical Documentation in Software Development: Types, Best Practices, and Tools

  • 26 min read
  • Business ,   Engineering
  • 29 Mar, 2023
  • 12 Comments Share

In this article, we delve into the crucial role technical documentation plays in software development. We'll guide you through the various types of documentation, share best practices for crafting clear and concise documents, and introduce tools that can streamline the process. Gain valuable insights to improve your team's efficiency and enhance communication throughout your development journey.

What is technical documentation in software development?

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 throughout 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.

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.

Agile and Waterfall approaches to software documentation

The documentation types that the team produces and their scope depending on the software development approach that was chosen. There are two main ones: Agile and Waterfall. Each is unique in terms of accompanying technical documentation.

Waterfall approach

Agile Development Cycle

Agile development cycle scheme

Agile approach

The Agile approach is based on teamwork, close collaboration between developers, stakeholders, and end customers, flexibility, and the ability to quickly respond to changes. The basic building blocks of Agile development are iterations : Each one of them includes planning, analysis, design, development, and testing. The Agile method doesn’t require comprehensive documentation at the beginning. Managers don’t need to plan much in advance because things can change as the project evolves. This allows for just-in-time planning. One of the Agile Manifesto values sounds like this, “ working software over comprehensive documentation.” While the item on the left is valued more in Agile, the item on the right shouldn’t be ignored as it brings value too. So the idea is to produce documentation with information that is essential to move forward when it makes the most sense. Today, Agile is the most common practice in software development, so we’ll focus on documentation practices related to this method. If you prefer watching to reading, here's our 11-minute explainer on software documentation.

Software Planning and Technical Documentation

Software documentation and planning, explained

Types of technical documentation

Software documentation most commonly used in Agile projects

Software documentation most commonly used in Agile projects

All software documentation can be divided into two main categories:

  • Product documentation
  • Process documentation

Product documentation describes the product that is being developed and provides instructions on how to perform various tasks with it. In general, product documentation includes requirements, tech specifications, business logic, and manuals. There are two main types of product documentation:

  • System documentation represents documents that describe the system itself and its parts. It includes requirements documents, design decisions, architecture descriptions, program source code, and FAQs.
  • User documentation covers manuals that are mainly prepared for end-users of the product and system administrators. User documentation includes tutorials, user guides, troubleshooting manuals, installation, and reference manuals.

Process documentation represents all documents produced during development and maintenance that describe… well, the process. Common examples of process-related documents are standards and project documentation, such as project plans, test schedules, reports, meeting notes, or even business correspondence. The main difference between process and product documentation is that the first one records the process of development and the second one describes the product that is being developed.

Product: System documentation

System documentation provides an overview of the system and helps engineers and stakeholders understand the underlying technology. It usually consists of the requirements document, architecture design, source code, validation docs, verification and testing info, and maintenance or help guides. It’s worth emphasizing that this list isn’t exhaustive. So, let’s have a look at the details of the main types.

Product requirement document

Technical documentation example

Technical documentation example: One web-page software requirements document created by using Atlassian Confluence , the content collaboration software

Here are the main recommendations points to include in your product requirement document: Roles and responsibilities . Start your document with the information about project participants including a product owner, team members, and stakeholders. These details will clarify responsibilities and communicate the target release goals for each of the team members. Team goals and business objectives . Define the most important goals in a short point form. Background and strategic fit . Provide a brief explanation of the strategic aim of your actions. Why are you building the product? How do your actions affect product development and align with the company's goals? Assumptions. Create a list of technical or business assumptions that the team might have. User Stories. List or link user stories that are required for the project. A user story is a document written from the point of view of a person using your software product. The user story is a short description of customer actions and the results they want to achieve. Acceptance criteria. Those are the conditions that indicate a user story is completed. The main purpose of acceptance criteria is to define a satisfactory result for a usage scenario from the end-user perspective. Check our dedicated articles on acceptance criteria and user acceptance testing to learn more. User interaction and design . Link the design explorations and wireframes to the page. Questions. As the team solves the problems along the project progression, they inevitably have many questions arising. A good practice is to record all these questions and track them. Not doing. List the things which you aren’t doing now but plan on doing soon. Such a list will help you organize your teamwork and prioritize features. Make all this information more comprehensive by using the following practices:

  • Use links and anchors . They will help you make the document easier to read and search as readers will be able to comprehend the information gradually. For instance, you can provide links to customer interviews and anchors to previous discussions or other external information related to the project.
  • Use graphics and diagramming tools to better communicate the problems to your team. People are more likely to perceive information by looking at the images than by reading an extensive document. Different visual models will help you to perform this task and outline requirements more effectively. You can incorporate diagrams into your requirements process using the following software diagramming tools: Visio, Gliffy, Balsamiq, Axure or SmartArt in Microsoft Office.

User Experience Design documentation

User experience design (UX design) begins at the requirements stage and proceeds through all the stages of development, including the testing and post-release stages. The process of UX design includes research, prototyping , usability testing, and the actual designing part, during which lots of documentation and deliverables are produced. he research stage includes:

  • User personas
  • User scenario
  • Scenario map
  • User story map
  • UX style guide

User story map example

An example of a user story map broken down into releases. Source: feedotter.com

The UX style guide is a document that includes the design patterns for the future product. It also describes all possible UI elements and content types used, defining the rules of how they should be arranged and work with each other. But, unlike a UI style guide , UX designers don’t describe the actual look of the interface. During the stage of prototyping and designing , a UX designer often works with the deliverables and updates documentation on par with other team members, including the product owner, UI designers, and engineers. The most common documents produced at these stages are:

  • User flow schemes or user journey
  • Usability testing reports

Site map example

Site map structure example. Source: uxforthemasses.com

User flow scheme example

Job search application user flow scheme. Source: medium.com

Wireframe example

Wireframe example for Peekaboo mobile app

A mock-up is the next product design stage, showing the actual look and feel of a product. They are static images representing the final product design. A prototype is a mock-up that you can interact with: click some buttons, navigate between different pages, and so on. A prototype can be created in a prototyping tool like Sketch or MockFlow . Using templates, UX designers can create interactive mock-ups on the early stages of development to be employed for usability testing. A  usability testing report is a short-form feedback document created to communicate the results of usability testing. The report should be as short as possible, with visual examples prevailing over text.

Software architecture design document

Architecture diagram

Azure web application architecture diagram. Source: docs.microsoft.com

Milestones . Include the overall timeline, deadlines for completion, and/or functional milestones, i.e., independent modules of the application developed. That will help organize the work process and provide a clear metric to monitor progress. This section can be very brief as it’s closely related to the process documentation described below.

Source code document

A source code document is a technical section that explains how the code works. While it’s not necessary, the aspects that have the greatest potential to confuse should be covered. The main users of the source code documents are software engineers. Source code documents may include but are not limited to the following details:

  • HTML generation framework and other frameworks applied;
  • type of data binding;
  • design pattern with examples (e.g., model-view-controller);
  • security measures; and
  • other patterns and principles.

Try to keep the document simple by making short sections for each element and supporting them with brief descriptions.

Quality assurance documentation

There are different types of user acceptance testing in agile. We have outlined the most common:

  • Quality management plan
  • Test strategy
  • Test case specifications
  • Test checklists

A quality management plan is an analog of a requirement document dedicated to testing. This document sets the required standard for product quality and describes the methods to achieve this level. The plan helps to schedule QA tasks and manage testing activity for product managers, but, it is mainly used for large-scale projects. A test strategy is a document that describes the software testing approach to achieve testing objectives. This document includes information about team structure and resource needs along with what should be prioritized during testing. A test strategy is usually static as the strategy is defined for the entire development scope. A test plan usually consists of one or two pages and describes what should be tested at a given moment. This document should contain:

  • The list of features to be tested
  • Testing methods
  • Roles and responsibilities (e.g., unit tests may be performed either by the QA team or by software engineers)

A test case specifications document is a set of detailed actions to verify each feature or functionality of a product. Usually, a QA team writes a separate specifications document for each product unit. Test case specifications are based on the approach outlined in the test plan. A good practice is to simplify specifications description and avoid test case repetitions. Test checklist is a list of tests that should be run at a particular time. It represents what tests are completed and how many have failed. All points in the test checklists should be defined correctly. Try to group test points in the checklists. This approach will help you keep track of them during your work and not lose any. If it helps testers to check the app correctly, you can add comments to your points on the list.

Maintenance and help guide

One of the key documents created as part of product system documentation is the help and maintenance guide. This document serves as a crucial resource for ensuring the smooth operation and longevity of the system. It should describe known problems with the system and their solutions and provide step-by-step instructions for users and administrators to troubleshoot and resolve common issues. The guide should also outline best practices for maintaining and updating the system, as well as any necessary security measures. Additionally, it should represent the dependencies between different parts of the system to provide a comprehensive understanding of the system's architecture and functionality.

API documentation

Nearly any product has its APIs or Application Programming Interfaces. Their documentation informs developers how to effectively use and connect to the required APIs.

API Documentation and Why it Matters

Video explaining API Documentation and why it matters

Product: User documentation

  • system administrators

End-user documentation

  • Video tutorials
  • Embedded assistance
  • Support Portals

System administrators' documentation

  • Functional description - describes the functionalities of the product. Most parts of this document are produced after consulting a user or an owner.
  • System admin guide - explains different types of behaviors of the system in different environments and with other systems. It also should provide instructions on how to deal with malfunction situations.

Process Documentation

Agile product roadmaps.

  • Strategic roadmap
  • Technology or IT roadmap
  • Release plan

Strategic software product roadmap example

Strategic software product roadmap example. Source: productplan.com

Technology roadmap example

Technology roadmap example. Source: hutwork.com

Release plan example

Release plan example . Source: productplan.com

Tools for software documentation

General purpose tools.

  • Atlassian Confluence is the most popular collaborative project tool that has the whole ecosystem for managing product requirements and writing documentation. Confluence is known for a stable wiki system and an efficient user story management interface.
  • Document 360 is a self-service knowledge base/software documentation platform designed for Software-as-a-Service products.
  • bit.ai is a tool for collaborative documentation creation, storing, data sharing, and using a wiki system. The documentation is interactive, meaning that developers can embed blocks or snippets of code right into the document and share it in one click. Once you finish editing your documentation, you can save it in PDF or markdown format, and post it on any other platform.
  • Github needs no introduction, except for those who want to use it for software documentation. It provides you with its own wiki system and allows for converting your documentation into compelling website showcases.

Markdown editors

  • Visual Studio Code is a free, open-source code editor developed by Microsoft for Windows, Linux, and macOS. It has many features and extensions, including those for project management and collaboration.
  • Typora is an editor that provides a distraction-free writing environment and real-time rendering of markdown syntax for easy creation and editing of markdown files.
  • iA Writer is a minimalist text editor designed for writing. It provides a simple, distraction-free interface with a range of useful features, including syntax highlighting, word count, and iCloud synchronization.
  • Quiver is a note-taking and code snippet management application for Mac and iOS devices. It allows users to create and organize notes using a combination of text, code snippets, and markdown.

Roadmap specific tools

  • ProductPlan is a cloud-based product roadmap software that provides features for roadmapping, timeline creation, collaboration, prioritization, and reporting to help businesses develop, share, and manage their product roadmaps in a more efficient and effective way.
  • Aha! is a product roadmap software that provides a suite of tools to manage the entire product management lifecycle, from idea to launch.
  • Roadmunk is a web-based tool that offers features such as custom fields, drag-and-drop editing, integrations with other tools, and collaboration features to enable team members to work together in real-time.
  • Roadmap Planner is another visual project planning and team collaboration tool used to create project roadmaps, timelines, and Gantt charts.

Tools for UX documentation

  • Sketch is a simple but powerful vector-based design tool that has a web application and a Mac desktop client. Sketch is well-known and quite simple, offering enough capabilities for designing interfaces.

Sketch interface

Sketch interface

  • InVision is one of the most popular tools for prototyping. InVision is famous for its collaborative features and cross-platform capabilities, making it a great tool for designing future interfaces.
  • UXPin is a Mac and Windows design tool that allows you to build any type of blueprint. You can also upload your sketches or wireframes from other products and make an interactive prototype of it.
  • Adobe XD , where XD stands for experience design, is a product aimed at UX specialists. The product is aimed at UX specialists. It allows designers to create high-fidelity prototypes and share them via the app.

Tools for API documentation

  • Swagger is a free self-documenting software service designed to create and update RESTful web services and APIs.
  • RAML 2 HTML is a simple documentation generator that uses RAML specifications.

Tools for technical writers

  • MadCapFlare -- a powerful cloud-based software with a multi-channel publishing feature, multilingual support, extensive learning resources, and more.
  • Adobe RoboHelp -- a full-featured CMS that allows for creating media-rich content, convenient managing of microcontent, collaborating for version control, etc.
  • ClickHelp -- an award-winning platform offering easy migration from other programs, flexible permission options, and a number of reporting capabilities.

Samples and templates for software documentation

General project documentation templates.

  • Atlassian Confluence Templates offers general-purpose project documentation templates with their product out of the box.
  • Ready SET Pro is a large library of software documentation templates in HTML that include planning documents, architecture, design, requirements, testing, and many more.
  • ReadTheDocs is an all-in-one template made with ReadTheDocs platform, providing instructions on writing each type of document you may need, from architecture and UML diagrams to user manuals.

Product roadmap templates

  • Office Timeline
  • Template.net
  • TemplateLab

Quality assurance documentation templates

  • StrongQA.com has various documentation templates for QA specialists. These include testing checklists, smoke testing templates, test plans, and more.
  • Template.net has a section with quality assurance plan templates.
  • EasyQA offers an SDK for software testing and provides templates with detailed guidance on how to create a qualitative test plan.
  • Software testing is a big platform, including a blog, forum, and all sorts of information materials for testing specialists.

Software design document templates

  • Sample Templates
  • CMS (.docx file download link)
  • cs.dal.ca (.doc file download link)

Specialized architecture samples: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud

  • Amazon -- the AWS architecture center provides AWS architectural guidance, frameworks, tools, and best practices for running architectural workloads in the cloud.
  • Microsoft -- this resource suggests a lot of useful materials on Azure architecture, including example scenarios, architecture diagrams, and more.
  • Google -- visit the official icon library of samples for building Google cloud architectural diagrams.

How to write software documentation: general advice

Write just enough documentation, consider your audience, use cross-links, don’t ignore glossaries, keep your software documentation up to date.

You can also use a version control tool to manage this process more efficiently. It will let you track changes made, retain previous versions and drafts, and keep everyone aligned.

Documentation is the collaborative effort of all team members

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7 Best Examples of User Documentation & Help Guides

How to Create Technical Documentation with Examples

Category: Technical Documentation

Last updated on Dec 29, 2023

All software products with simple or complex needs should be accompanied by technical documentation to help stakeholders and developers understand the software development. It does not end there – it also requires product documentation and user manuals for the benefit of customer onboarding and using the product.

Without technical documentation, developers and customers are in the dark about the purpose of your software. It becomes hard to troubleshoot issues and ensure the software is working properly.

Technical documentation is a vital aspect of working software, and should not be skipped during the release cycle. Whether it’s release notes , knowledge bases, or user manuals, remember that 51% of customers want to see a FAQs section on a website when making an online purchase.

“Docs or it didn’t happen” is a mantra for anyone building a software product, and means that documentation is more than a byproduct or afterthought of your project. It closes the gap between development and software users, as well as the gaps between those who are involved in building the software.

Table of Contents

What is technical documentation, importance of technical documentation, types of technical documentation with examples, 8 steps to create incredible technical documentation, do’s and don’ts of technical documentation.

Technical documentation describes and explains anything to do with your software product, ranging from internal documentation for teams to external documentation written for end users. It encompasses all written documents relating to software product development and many different types are created throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

It describes the features and functionality of the product clearly so that anyone can use it. The primary goal is to explain a particular aspect of the product to the target audience. Although it comes in a number of different forms, most technical documentation is published online and it’s normally written by technical writers, developers and project managers.

Technical documentation should be clear, concise, and accurate, and actually, solve a problem for your users.

Technical documentation is vitally important for your software company. Here are some reasons why.

Enables quick decision-making by the product team

When your product team has access to the right technical documentation, they can make much quicker decisions. They don’t have to scroll back through emails or threads in collaboration tools – they can instead instantly consult the documents produced alongside the software that explains how everything works and records the reasoning behind the decisions.

Contextual help for users

When customers are using their software they can access your technical documentation alongside the product for help in using the tool. Documentation can be displayed in-app so customers don’t have to switch contexts when they run into issues. This improves the overall usability and experience of your software product. Marketing tool

Having robust technical documentation makes it easier to advertise your product to potential customers. Many customers will be researching in more detail how your product works and technical documentation can explain your software features in more depth than you can get with typical marketing materials.

Reduces tech support calls

When you have comprehensive technical documentation, customers can consult the docs when they run into technical issues. This reduces the number of inbound calls you get to your tech support line and means you can support more customers on a smaller budget. Most customers prefer to troubleshoot problems themselves instead of waiting around for a person to help them.

Records developer ideas

Your software documentation can record ideas that your developers have in relation to your software product. Even if you don’t implement them right away, further down the line you’ll be able to look back for features that you might want to consider or other changes you want to make. Developers don’t necessarily remember their ideas later on so your documentation is a good place to keep a record.

Gives a roadmap for future projects

Your technical documentation is a roadmap for projects you want to develop in the future, noting the plans you have for the development of your product and new features that you have in the pipeline. It makes sure everyone in your team is on the same page and working towards a single goal.

Enhances communication with stakeholders and developers

Documentation is an important form of communication – your stakeholders and developers don’t need to talk to each other directly to access information about the software. Your documentation saves knowledge for posterity and enables your team to look back at work that has previously been completed in order to inform their future decisions.

Read More: 10 Most Popular Tools for Technical Writing

There are many different types of technical documentation – we’ll go through them now.

Technical documentation in SDLC

This is your behind-the-scenes software documentation intended for your developers and other team members.

System administrator’s documentation – improves and validates security by documenting the configuration details and procedures that underpin a security policy. They cover installations and updates that assist a system administrator with product maintenance.

redhat system administartion documentation

Image source

Product requirement documentation – provides a single point of reference for a product’s technical design input requirements and explains how the product must function to meet the needs of customers.

product requirement documentation

User experience design documentation – a working document of a product from its conception to its current release, and they include content models, empathy maps, experience maps, mental models, and personas.

user experience documentation

Source code documentation – software documentation that ensures your code is readable, can be quickly understood and is easy to maintain by developers. It includes code comments that can explain parts of code that are not obvious.

source code documentation

API documentation – enables developers to work with your API and shows whether or not your software will solve their problem.

api documentation

Maintenance guide documentation – tells the user how to maintain the system effectively and can include a definition of the software support environment, roles, and responsibilities of the maintenance personnel.

Maintenance guide documentation

Product Documentation

Product knowledge base – a library of information about your software product that contains answers for customers looking to solve problems on their own.

product knowledge base

Read more: How to Create SaaS Product Documentation for Your Customers

User manual – contains extensive information on how to install and operate the product, listing hardware and software requirements, full explanation of product features and how to use them to their full extent.

user manual

Read more: Top Online User Manual Tools for 2024

Project documentation – records the key project details and produces the documents required to implement a project successfully. It can include project proposals , business requirement documents , business cases, project plans and project status reports.

project plan documentation

Here are the steps you need to go through in order to create technical documentation that is both successful and helpful to your users.

Decide on type of audience and type of documentation

First and foremost, you need to be aware of your target audience for your documentation. Is it your customers, other developers, product team, or any other stakeholder? By knowing who your audience is, you’ll be able to adapt the tone and style of your documentation to make it more relevant and engaging. If you don’t know who your audience is, your documentation will be unfocused and unhelpful. Defining your audience at the beginning stage of your documentation process will aid in document creation and ensure you have a clearly defined target.

Research on topics

Once you’ve defined your audience, you need to research the topics that you’re going to cover in your documentation. You can’t hope to write effective technical content if you don’t have a clear idea of the topics you’re going to write about. At this stage, it’s a good idea to work with your team to brainstorm different topics and assign various research tasks to different team members.

It’s important to ask yourself questions like:

  • What areas do we want our technical documentation to include?
  • What is the goal that we want to achieve with our technical documentation?
  • Do we have any existing documentation that we can already work with?

Make sure it’s a team effort to research the topics – you don’t have to go it alone.

Capture knowledge

When writing your documentation, it’s likely that you won’t be the only author. You’ll need to collaborate with other stakeholders in your team in order to produce technical documentation. At this stage, you need to work with Subject Matter Experts to capture knowledge that you’re going to use to write your articles.

Take your time to work out who is the most appropriate person to author different topics of your technical documentation, and reach out to them to assign them the task. You can also conduct interviews with your SMEs and write the content yourself.

Keep detailed records of your topics and the person responsible for providing the content, and keep track of what stage your content is at.

Design templates and organize content

While the most important part of your documentation is the actual written content, it’s also a good idea to consider how your docs will look visually for the end user. You’re aiming for a well-organized and visually appealing documentation site rather than a jumble of badly designed notes that are no help to anyone.

When thinking about documentation design, consider the structure and navigation of your content. Your users are typically turning to technical documentation in order to find specific information or a solution to a problem, so your research should allow them to accomplish this task quickly.

Remember to place your information into categories and subcategories that users can search through efficiently. Ideally, you should have a search bar that users can use to instantly jump to the information that they’re looking for.

Get started with content creation

You should already have kick-started the writing process with documentation research and collaboration with SMEs. Writing technical documentation is a team effort and you will have many contributors taking part in this collaborative process.

If you haven’t already, meet with the team and delegate content tasks to the most appropriate member based on their skills. The best documentation is produced when writers start with outlines, and target their documentation towards a particular user.

Your documentation should start with a high-level outline for each of the topics you’re planning to cover. Gather the rest of the content you need for your piece of content along with any supporting visuals.

Remember to write in plain and clear language that is easily understandable for the user. Don’t assume that readers have the same level of prior knowledge as you – include as much context as possible to help with comprehension. Write as much content as needed to convey your point and not a word more – less is most definitely better when it comes to documentation.

Review and collaborate with your team

Once you have got started on your content, you’ll need to bring in SMEs to review your content for accuracy. Bring them in just after the first draft and after the final draft to give their feedback on your documentation. After the first draft, you want to get feedback on the broad outline and flow of the document, rather than feedback on typos and grammar. Only after the final review do you want in-depth criticisms of the way you have written your content.

Seek peer reviews with other members of your team who can test your technical documentation for usability. Ask someone else to go over your documentation and record any areas where they got lost or confused. Once you have your peer-review feedback, incorporate the changes into your documentation.

Also, check out our article on How to Test the Usability of Technical Documents

An intuitive knowledge base software to easily add your content and integrate it with any application. Give Document360 a try!

Document360

Publish the content

When you’ve reviewed your content several times, it’s time to publish your documentation ready for your audience. When your documentation is live, go over it to check for any last-minute updates and make sure that it’s free of error.

When you publish your content, you may want to use knowledge-base software like Document360 which is a good way to host your documentation. It comes with in-built information architecture and category organization, along with a prominent search bar and mobile responsiveness.

After your site is live, you may want to run further tests on the effectiveness of the documentation by gathering feedback from your users. Audit the navigation of your documentation to check that users can easily get around and find what they’re looking for – identify things like broken links and that navigational elements are working properly.

Refresh and manage documentation based on analytics

Your technical documentation is never done. If you’re using the appropriate software, you’ll have analytics you can review that shows you the effectiveness of your content. You should always be reviewing your documentation for updates and avoid letting it grow stale.

You need to keep your documentation in line with new product releases and updates. Schedule in regular maintenance for your content based on insights that you gather from your analytics, such as failed searches or negative article ratings.

If you use the right software you can save previous versions of your documentation in case you need to revert back to it later.

  • Keep it simple and clear – don’t overcomplicate your documentation or use complex language.
  • Always have your user in mind – whenever you write documentation, make sure you’re clear on who it’s for.
  • Make it visual – if you can represent what you’re trying to convey with an image, then do that.
  • Go through a thorough review process – if you can, make sure you have several people review your work during the writing phase.
  • Assume that your audience is familiar with your topic – always provide as much context as possible.
  • Use passive voice – always use active voice instead: “He pressed the button” rather than “the button was pressed by him”.
  • Use acronyms – if you must use acronyms then clearly state the meaning of the acronym next to it.
  • Try to be funny – what might be amusing to you could be insulting or offensive to your readers.

Also Read: How to write inclusive documentation?

Final thoughts

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating how important technical documentation is to your company’s overall success. It is an essential part of communication and means that members of your team don’t literally have to be available every time someone has a question, whether that be a customer or a stakeholder from your team.

You don’t have to approach technical documentation with a heavy heart – if you follow the steps we’ve outlined in this guide then you’ll be well on your way to creating content that is helpful for your users. They’ll be empowered to use your product and have more fun using it, which is exactly the goal of technical documentation.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How is technical documentation different from user documentation.

Technical documentation is documentation that describes how a product or service works. It is more developer-focused focused and created to describe (in technical language) the use, functionality, or architecture of a product, system, or service. The documentation for a product or service delivered to end users is referred to as user documentation. The user documentation is intended to help end-users understand and use the product or service.

Difference between Product & Process documentation?

Documentation can be of two types: products and processes. Product documentation defines the product under development and gives instructions on how to use it. Process documentation , on the other hand, refers to all the content produced during the development process.

What is software technical documentation?

Technical documentation in software defines the various API routes and endpoints that the developer can access, or it can explain the SDK’s libraries, integrations, and dependencies. Every engineer who has ever written code in any language has at some point referred to technical documentation.

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Jan 21, 2022

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A Guide to Writing Your First Software Documentation

Maria Antonietta Perna

As a developer, your pride and joy is your code. It’s readable, it meets DRY principles, it reflects best practices, and the end product is a great tool that solves some kind of problem for its target users. However, no matter how much work you’ve put into your code, if your software comes with no documentation, or you write documentation as an afterthought and treat it with little importance, it’s likely users will find little joy in working with it, and eventually opt for a different, more user-friendly product.

In this article, you’ll find a number of practical guiding principles to get you up and running with writing your first software documentation.

Why Documentation Is Important

In reference to your software, Mike Pope has a fitting saying that goes like this: If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist .

Why’s that? Well, just to take my personal experience as an example, I was browsing the Web looking for new JavaScript animation libraries to try out and I came across one with a description of its features that I really liked. However, there was no documentation, not even a Getting Started section, but just a bare-bones API page with almost no explanations or examples. Do you think I ended up using that library? Of course, I didn’t. I got so frustrated with it that I moved on to something that made more sense to me.

To the question of why good JavaScript libraries fail , Nicholos Zakas gives the following answer :

Lack of documentation . No matter how wonderful your library is and how intelligent its design, if you’re the only one who understands it, it doesn’t do any good. Documentation means not just autogenerated API references, but also annotated examples and in-depth tutorials. You need all three to make sure your library can be easily adopted.

Another important reason why your software docs are crucially important is that they serve as a communication tool between your present self and your future self, and also between your present self and other developers who eventually might find themselves working on your software. Even if you write readable and commented code, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will still be clear to you in six months’ time why you wrote a function, or any other piece of your code for that matter, the way you did.

Documentation allows you to transfer the why behind code. Much in the same way code comments explain the why , and not the how , documentation serves the same purpose. — A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Documentation

Surely, you want people to use your code and also to be able eventually to update it and improve on it. These are all contributing factors to the growth of a supporting community behind your product, which is important for it to gain robustness, maturity, and success.

It’ll be mighty hard to accomplish all this if your software doesn’t have great docs to go with it.

Who Software Documentation Is For

When writing anything, make sure it’s clear in your mind who your audience is. Docs are no exception to this rule. Doing so clarifies in your head the problems your audience is likely to face, the familiarity it’s likely to have with your product or the prerequisites for using your product. This information is crucial to the way you create the content and the language you use.

There are two kinds of documentation this article is not concerned with:

  • User manuals. For instance, my sister might decide to use WordPress for publishing her own blog. She’s not a developer, but she’s heard that non-devs can get their blog up and running in no time with WordPress. Now she’ll be needing instructions on how to download and configure the software on her server, how to write, publish, and update her posts, how to add images to a post, etc. In other words, she’ll need a user manual.
  • Project documentation. This kind of documentation has more to do with the project than with the software itself, although some of its content could go in a project’s Readme file. To continue with the WordPress example, after getting lots of practice with WordPress, I might decide I’d like to add a feature to the software or fix a bug or two. In this case I’ll need to know things like changelogs, conventions and best practices, contribution policies, how to participate in team discussions relevant to the task at hand, etc.

The kind of documentation I’ve got in mind here is mainly aimed at developers who have different levels of familiarity with your software and need to use it in their projects. For instance, if I’m creating a WordPress theme, then I’ll need to know how to get started, how to include style sheets and JavaScript documents, how to communicate with the database to display posts, etc.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Writing Software Documentation

What are the key elements to consider when writing software documentation.

When writing software documentation, it’s crucial to consider the target audience, the purpose of the document, and the type of documentation being written. The language used should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. The document should be well-structured, with a logical flow of information. It’s also important to include visuals like diagrams or screenshots where necessary to aid understanding. Lastly, always ensure the document is thoroughly reviewed and edited for accuracy and clarity.

How can I make my software documentation user-friendly?

To make your software documentation user-friendly, use simple and clear language. Avoid jargon and technical terms as much as possible. If you must use them, ensure you provide clear definitions. Organize your content logically and use headings and subheadings to make it easy to navigate. Include a table of contents and an index for longer documents. Use visuals like diagrams, screenshots, and videos to illustrate complex concepts.

What are the different types of software documentation?

There are several types of software documentation, including system documentation, user documentation, and technical documentation. System documentation provides an overview of the software system, including its architecture and data flow. User documentation provides instructions on how to use the software and includes user manuals and help guides. Technical documentation is intended for developers and includes code comments, API documentation, and development guides.

How often should software documentation be updated?

Software documentation should be updated whenever there are significant changes to the software. This could be due to new features being added, existing features being modified, or bugs being fixed. It’s also a good idea to review the documentation periodically to ensure it’s still accurate and relevant.

What tools can I use to write software documentation?

There are many tools available for writing software documentation, including word processors, documentation generators, and specialized documentation tools. Some popular options include Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Doxygen, and Sphinx. The choice of tool depends on your specific needs and the complexity of the software.

How can I ensure the quality of my software documentation?

To ensure the quality of your software documentation, always review and edit your work thoroughly. Consider having a colleague or a professional editor review your document. Use a consistent style and format throughout the document. Ensure the information is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant. Lastly, consider getting feedback from users to identify areas for improvement.

What is the role of visuals in software documentation?

Visuals play a crucial role in software documentation. They can help illustrate complex concepts, making them easier to understand. They can also break up large blocks of text, making the document more readable. Examples of visuals include diagrams, screenshots, flowcharts, and videos.

How can I make my software documentation more engaging?

To make your software documentation more engaging, use a conversational tone and active voice. Break up large blocks of text with visuals and bullet points. Use examples and case studies to illustrate concepts. Include interactive elements like quizzes or exercises where appropriate.

What is the importance of consistency in software documentation?

Consistency is important in software documentation as it makes the document easier to read and understand. It also gives the document a professional look and feel. Consistency applies to language, style, format, and visuals.

How can I improve my skills in writing software documentation?

To improve your skills in writing software documentation, practice writing regularly. Read other software documentation to learn from them. Take courses or workshops on technical writing. Seek feedback on your work and be open to criticism. Stay updated with the latest trends and best practices in software documentation.

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Home › What is Documentation? › What is Software Documentation? › 20+ Software Documentation Examples to Inspire You

20+ Software Documentation Examples to Inspire You

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Examples of good software documentation can help technical writers, programmers, software engineers, and relevant stakeholders develop documentation that helps internal teams and external users succeed.

Software documentation is a type of technical documentation that is an essential part of a software product.

Without good software documentation, users face difficulties in making the best use of software products, and developers and programmers who work on developing and updating software can face difficulties in understanding work that was previously done by others.

Comprehensive user documentation is one of the factors that play a major role in the procurement of software, especially enterprise software. Without proper documentation, a company may buy state-of-the-art software costing millions of dollars, but will not be able to use it effectively and will constantly run into problems.

Without good software documentation, companies that develop software can also run into serious problems. If software requirements and architecture are not documented, software test plans are not prepared, and user needs are not taken into account, then the probability of successful software development will be very much reduced. Furthermore, if the team or part of a team that developed a software leaves the company, other developers who will work on updating and releasing new software versions may find it difficult to proceed in the absence of proper documentation.

It is for these reasons that companies invest heavily in the development of detailed software documentation. If you’re interested in seeing examples of software documentation from companies via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

CMMS Software

Types of Software Documentation

The two main categories of software documentation are

  • User Documentation.
  • Developer Documentation.

User documentation, or end-user documentation, is developed for software users and provides information about installing, configuring, or using the software. User documentation covers manuals, guides, and several other types of documentation that help users make the best use of the software.

Each software is a product, and software documentation is part of the product. Comprehensive documentation is one of the key factors that influence businesses’ buying decisions.

Developer Documentation

Developer documentation is developed for software developers, programmers, software engineers, project managers, and other stakeholders involved in the software engineering process. It documents software requirements, design, architecture, and source code.

Developer documentation is created by dedicated technical writers or software developers during the software development process. It serves as a reference for developers who may later work on updates to the software. Developer documentation is also known as system documentation or internal software documentation.

Let’s look at some software documentation examples.

User Documentation Examples

These are some examples of user documentation.

User Manuals

A user manual, also known as a user guide or instruction manual, is an in-depth document that users can refer to if they face any issues or, for example, want to explore more advanced software features. It is intended to assist users with using the software.

Creating easy-to-follow manuals or guides for users is crucial for every software. A well-crafted user manual can impart a great customer experience as users can easily use their software by following the guide.

Good user manuals are searchable, have an easy-to-follow format, use simple language, include visuals, are logically organized, and provide links to relevant resources.

The following image shows the table of contents for the SAP Enterprise user manual .

SAP manual TOC

In addition to details about the software, user manuals also often contain details and specifications about the minimum hardware requirements needed to run the software.

How-to Guide

A how-to guide contains step-by-step instructions to help users perform specific tasks such as installing the software, upgrading the software, and activating the software.

How-to guides are especially relevant to software users with limited exposure to technology or users using software for the first time.

Not too long ago, how-to guides were only available in printed format with descriptions and images to help readers understand. However, now it’s much more common to find such information in the form of short videos that are available on YouTube or other social media platforms. The short video format provides all the information users need in an easy-to-follow format.

If you want to blur personal information on a video, this video how-to guide from TechSmith shows how to do it with Snagit.

CMMS Software

Quick Start Guide

A quick start guide or QSG helps customers set up and start using software as quickly as possible. Quick start guides differ from user manuals in that they are very short guides with only the most important information that is required to use the software.

Benefits of quick start guides include improved clarity and understanding, customer empowerment, increased understanding of software products, and contribution to a good customer experience.

The following example is from the Windows 10 manual and shows users how to quickly start using the new Windows 10 desktop.

Windows 10 Quick Start Guide

Quick start guides are a great way to learn about software and start using it without going into details. For detailed information, you can always refer to the user manuals, configuration guides, and troubleshooting guides.

User documentation includes tutorials, which are learning aids designed to share knowledge and skills related to a particular topic. Examples include tutorials related to using a specific module of enterprise software or a tutorial on how to prevent software from unauthorized access.

Some tutorials include test questions to ensure comprehension of the material, while others may be simple walkthroughs of a software program. Tutorials are created for different levels of users, such as basic, intermediate, and advanced.

Tutorials are available in printed or multimedia format. Video tutorials are popular nowadays because they are easy to follow and provide information on specific topics in an audio-visual format.

Video tutorials allow users to learn on-demand and when they are motivated. Users can take a tutorial whenever and wherever they are located. Users can take breaks and repeat sections as needed.

This video tutorial from Dropbox shows you how easy it is to save stuff to your dropbox account.

CMMS Software

Administration Guide

For complex enterprise software, a team of IT professionals working under an administrator manages day-to-day operational issues such as adding new users, providing access rights, and taking data backups.

An administration guide contains all the relevant instructions administrators and their teams require for configuring and maintaining the software.

Software companies develop administration guides for complex business software that will be used by hundreds of thousands of employees. Such software usually has a server-client architecture: the “server software” runs on a server or a group of servers, and employees access the servers through “client software” installed on their official desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

The server software is complex and requires installation, configuration, and maintenance by experts. The administration guide helps the IT administrator and their team with the server software.

Experts from the IT team also set up the client software: they install and configure it and resolve any issues that come up later.

Administration guides also contain instructions for software configuration. The difference between administration guides and configuration guides is that administration guides are aimed at IT experts and network administrators who are expert-level users, and configuration guides are aimed at other users who are general users with less software expertise.

The following example is taken from the Polycom UC Software administrator guide . It shows the steps required to change the administration password on an IP phone.

Polycom administration guide

Troubleshooting Guide

Troubleshooting guides – or troubleshooting manuals – contain a list of common problems along with step-by-step solutions.

In addition to solutions for specific problems, troubleshooting guides also often contain a systematic process for dealing with problems. This is because any guide or documentation cannot include each and every problem that a user may ever face. A systematic process enables users to deal with most problems in an organized manner.

The following documentation example is from Oracle’s Content Server Troubleshooting Guide . The “symptom” is what the customer experiences during software use, and the “problem” is the actual cause of the symptom. The “recommendation” is what the software developer recommends to solve the problem. Depending on the problem, the recommendation could be simple or a detailed series of steps.

Troubleshooting guide

Configuration Guide

Most enterprise-level software is complex, with hundreds or thousands of settings that require configuration. The setting for each parameter varies depending on the customer’s requirements. A configuration guide contains all the necessary details that allow system administrators to configure the software successfully.

The following example is taken from the Configuration Guide for Cisco IOS Release 15.1S . It shows summary steps and detailed steps for configuring the IP Routing R4 feature on Cisco devices.

Cisco configuration guide

External Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a library of information about your software. Its purpose is to make it easy for people to find solutions to their problems without having to ask for help. Knowledge bases use a combination of text, image, and video-based content.

An external knowledge base – also known as a customer-facing knowledge base – is where customers can go to learn anything they’d ever need to know about a company’s software-related products and services. It is usually public to everyone and can be easily found online. If you browse through any software’s Help and Documentation section, that’s their external knowledge base.

The following image shows the knowledge base for Asana, which is a popular tool for project managers. Asana is a fairly complex tool, and its knowledge base is a great way of learning the ins and outs of the platform.

Asana provides comprehensive documentation on its knowledge base . The navigation is intuitive, with articles that flow naturally from one to the next. This knowledge base is so effective that new users usually require only a few hours to become experts in Asana.

Asana knowledge base

FAQs are answers to questions that have been either asked on a regular basis or that you expect your users to ask at some point. FAQs explain topics that don’t require too much depth or technical support. They cover topics that can be explained in one or two paragraphs.

FAQ pages offer many benefits, including improved customer experience, quick information to help customers make a purchasing decision, reduce the time your customer support teams spend on answering simple questions, increase visibility on Google and other search engines, and drive sales since people will have basic information to make a decision.

The following example shows the WhatsApp FAQ page . The FAQs are grouped into relevant categories that users can refer to.

Whatsapp FAQ

Developer Documentation Examples

These are some examples of developer documentation.

UX Design Documentation Examples

UX is the acronym for “user experience.” It refers to how people interact with a product. In the digital design world, UX refers to everything that affects a user’s interaction with a digital product. User experience is about what users both think and feel, and it also depends on the context in which the product is used.

UX design is the process of creating products that are practical and usable. UX requires a deep understanding of the user: their needs, wants, behaviors, and the context in which they will use a product. The ultimate goal of UX design is to make usable and useful products for users and businesses.

UX design is part of the product design, and that is why it begins at the requirements stage and proceeds through all the stages of software development, including the testing and post-release stages. UX documentation covers user personas, user scenarios, user story maps, and a UX style guide.

User Personas

Personas are fictional representations of users. Even though personas are fictional, they should be based on fact. Personas represent the goals, characteristics, motivations, and behaviors of real users.

By helping to put a human face to users, personas help the UX design and project teams get a consensus on who the actual ‘users’ are, and help communicate important information about users.

User personas can also help to understand issues such as perceived obstacles or problems in your software or product.

User persona

Image Source: uxplanet

User Flow Diagrams

User flows (user journeys) are diagrams that display the path a user takes when using a product. These diagrams are highly comprehensive and include the path from the moment the idea forms in the user’s head until their goal is achieved.

The benefits of user flow diagrams are:

  • They provide the fastest way to visualize the process. There is no need to jump to other applications.
  • While prototypes imitate the final solution, user flow diagrams show all possibilities in a single image.
  • You can visualize all tasks before you start making mockups and prototypes.

User flow diagram

Image Source: draw.io

A wireframe shows the user interface (UI) elements such as text, images, buttons, and links that make up a screen, page, or user interface component.

Wireframes are blueprints for the UI and show which elements make up the UI and how they should behave. However, wireframes do not necessarily show what the user interface will look like.

Wireframes offer many benefits, including the ability to visualize the structure clearly, clarify the features of the interface, push usability to the forefront, help to refine navigation, save time and effort, and make content development more effective.

Wireframe

Image Source: Balsamiq

A sitemap is a website blueprint and shows the pages/screens that make up a website or application.

Sitemaps often indicate groupings, such as site sections and links between the various pages and screens.

The following image shows an example sitemap for a digital product.

Sitemap

Image Source: uxforthemasses.com

Software Requirements Specification (SRS)

A software requirement specification describes a software system to be developed. It lays out functional and non-functional requirements. A software requirement specification may include a set of use cases that describe user interactions that the software must provide.

A software requirement specification establishes the basis for an agreement between customers and contractors or suppliers on how the software product should function. It also contains the technical or business assumptions.

According to International Standard ISO/IEC/IEEE 29148:2018 (Systems and software engineering — Life cycle processes — Requirements engineering), the benefits of documenting software requirements specifications include:

  • It provides a realistic basis for estimating product costs, risks, and schedules.
  • It provides an informed basis for deploying a product to new users or new operational environments.
  • It provides a basis for product enhancement.
  • It forces a rigorous assessment of requirements before design can begin and minimizes later redesign.
  • It establishes the basis for agreement between the acquirers or suppliers on what the product is to do (in market-driven projects, the user input may be provided by marketing).
  • Organizations can use the specifications to develop validation and verification plans.

The following image shows the table of contents for the SRS of a software tool.

Software requirements specification

Software Design Description (SDD)

A software requirements specification (SRS) serves as the basis for the software design description or SDD. An SDD contains the software design and overall architecture.

An SDD helps to ensure that the whole project team, including the software developers, are on the same page. The SDD also helps to ensure that all stakeholders vet the entire design and that all risks and assumptions are considered.

An SDD usually contains the following:

  • Data design: Describes structures that reside within the software. Attributes and relationships between data objects dictate the choice of data structures.
  • Architecture design: Uses information flow characteristics, and maps them into the program structure. The data flow diagrams allocate control input, processing, and output along three separate modules.
  • Interface design: Describes the internal and external program interfaces, and the design of the human interface.
  • Procedural design: Describes structured programming concepts using graphical, tabular, and textual notations.

The following image shows the table of contents for the SDD of a web application .

Software design document

Source Code Documentation

Source code refers to the computer programs that programmers create. It is comprised of long sequences of programming language statements that make up a computer program.

Source code documentation contains all the computer programs related to a software product. It serves as a reference for developers who may work on later versions of the software, and for developers who may use components of the software for their own projects.

The main purpose of source code documentation is to increase the product’s maintainability, regardless of who might be working with the code.

Some developers argue against code documentation because they reason that well-written programs are self-explanatory. In reality, however, this is not always the case:

  • Not all source code is equally obvious, and there may be complex algorithms or custom workarounds that are not clear enough for other developers.
  • If there are any issues with the product after release, having proper source code documentation can speed up the problem resolution time.
  • Source code documentation describes dependencies between system modules and third-party tools and therefore may be needed for integration purposes.

In addition to the programming language statements, the documentation for source code contains explanatory notes known as comments, and it is logically organized for readability and comprehension.

The following image shows an example of documented source code.  In this example, the conceptual content and steps appear in the middle column and the source code appears on the right.

Source code documentation

Software Test Documentation

Software development is an iterative process: software is developed and then tested, errors – known as bugs – are identified and removed, and then the software is tested again. Once a working software version is ready, work starts on the next software version.

Software test documentation contains detailed test plans and procedures for software testing.

Components of the software test documentation include:

  • Master Test Plan (MTP): contains the overall test plan.
  • Level Test Plan (LTP): contains the approach, resources, and schedule of the testing activities for each LTP.
  • Level Test Design (LTD): contains details for the test cases and test pass criteria.
  • Level Test Procedure (LTP): contains the detailed test procedure, including details for necessary pre-requisites.
  • Level Test Report (LTR): contains a summary of the test for a specified test level.
  • Master test report: contains a summary of the overall test report.

Software test documentation

API Documentation

API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to interface with each other.

API documentation contains instructions about effectively using and integrating with an API.

The following example shows API  doc umentation from Twilio . 

API documentation

SDK Documentation

SDK is the acronym for Software Development Kit. An SDK is a set of software-building tools for a specific platform, including the building blocks, debuggers, and a group of code libraries such as a set of routines specific to an operating system (OS).

SDK documentation contains instructions about how to use an SDK effectively.

The following image shows AWS SDK documentation for JavaScript.

AWS SDK documentation

UML Diagrams

UML stands for Unified Modeling Language. It is intended to provide a standard way to visualize the design of a software system.

Creating a UML diagram before any code is written is an efficient way for programmers to keep track of all the components involved and how they relate to each other.

The benefits of UML diagrams include effective communication of software architecture, flexibility, ease of understanding, and help to plan a program prior to programming.

The current UML standard specifies 13 different types of diagrams: class, activity, object, use case, sequence, package, state, component, communication, composite structure, interaction overview, timing, and deployment. These 13 types of diagrams are organized into two groups: structural diagrams and behavioral or interaction diagrams.

The following image shows a UML diagram for Domain Models.

UML diagram

Image Source: Lucidchart

Internal Knowledge Base

An internal knowledge base is typically utilized as a way to allow employees to collaborate and share all company knowledge and information internally. When creating an internal knowledge base, you can include anything that is meant for internal use.

An internal knowledge base is a great way of protecting organizational knowledge and increasing productivity. As teams work on projects they contribute to the knowledge base, which allows other team members to learn new ideas and speed up innovation. If any team member has a query, rather than spending precious time searching for information, they can go directly to the knowledge base and get the information at the press of a button.

An internal knowledge base also helps to reduce employee onboarding time and employee training time.

The following image is the landing page for an internal knowledge base made with Papyrs.

Internal knowledge base

Product Roadmap

The product roadmap is a type of internal product documentation. It contains a plan of action for how a software product will evolve. It serves as a guide for both business and technical teams.

The following example shows a release roadmap for a software product. This roadmap helps to visualize what needs to happen in order to deliver timely upcoming releases. With the visual timeline, you can view the scope of work and zoom into specific features. You can also include milestones for important dates such as deadlines or approvals. 

Product roadmap

Image Source: Roadmunk

There are several other types of roadmaps.

Portfolio roadmaps show planned releases for a portfolio of software products in a single view. They are useful for providing a strategic overview of the release plan to company leadership and a broad view of how multiple product teams work together.

A features roadmap shows the timeline for the planned delivery of new features. They are ideal for communicating the details of upcoming features with customers and other teams.

Strategy roadmaps display planned high-level efforts that will help you to achieve your product goals. They are a great way of presenting progress on initiatives to leadership and keeping multi-disciplinary teams aligned on the overall business strategy.

Detailed documentation is an essential component of the package that makes up a software solution.

The two main types of documentation that pertain to the software itself are user documentation and developer documentation.

User documentation helps users learn about software, its features, how to configure it, use it, and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Developer documentation helps software developers, programmers, and other stakeholders involved in the software development process by ensuring that software development proceeds smoothly and that the software satisfies all requirements.

Technical writers, programmers, and other stakeholders participate in the development and maintenance of comprehensive software documentation.

Producing software documentation is a task that doesn’t have to be done manually. Many software documentation tools are available. With software documentation templates and other features, these tools help to streamline the process of creating and managing documents. The tools make document creation and distribution more straightforward and faster. The best software documentation tools also allow you to publish your documents and distribute them to internal teams or external users.

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technical writing documentation on software projects

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  • Software Development

How To Write Good Software Documentation?

how to write software documentation

Faiza Khalid

Are you interested in knowing how to write good software documentation for your next project?

The software industry is quite fast-paced. There are rapidly changing user requirements and short development cycles to meet them. Good software documentation not only enables effective collaboration between different developers and product stakeholders but also helps customers to easily use your software solution.

Developers may not consider user documentation an exciting part of their development process, however, detailed documentation accumulates all the necessary information in one place for them and the software users and ultimately improves the usability of your end product. 

Good software documentation also removes the need for frequent one-on-one meetings for knowledge sharing to further eliminate misunderstandings that often arise when people share ideas and processes through communication.

In this article, we will discuss how you can write software documentation while making it an essential part of your software development process.

How To Write Software Documentation?

You will go through the following stages to write documentation.

Decide The Types Of Software Documents

You will need multiple software documents to help a range of users. The types of software documents you will write will depend on the type and size of your software product. It could be something to assist in day-to-day processes or help with the use of the final product.

In general, you will decide between two main software documentation types:

Process documentation – It includes everything to realize your idea into a working product.

Project plans to map out development stages, tasks, milestones, etc.; software requirements documents; test routines to set testing standards, test schedules, etc.; meeting documents to enable reliable communication between various product stakeholders, etc. are a part of process documentation.

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Product documentation – It describes the end product and all the user documentation.

These are documents that include software product specifications, technical descriptions, software manuals, release notes, user guides to install, troubleshooting manuals, tutorials to use the product effectively, FAQ support pages, etc.

At this stage, identify your end users and the types of end-user documentation you want to develop to assist them in using the product efficiently.

Gather All The Essential Information For Writing Documentation

You need to have a thorough understanding of the software product to write effective documentation. You will carry out sessions with subject matter experts to get an understanding of product functionalities, etc.

Mostly, subject matter experts for software products are software engineers. They will know exactly about what, why, and how of every feature. You will familiarize yourself with the product-specific terminology, engineering workflow, etc.

Some important information to document during the project development process includes privacy compliance, data regulations, use of confidential information, etc., safety procedures like an action plan in case the server is down or there is an unexpected security breach, etc.

Develop A Content Strategy

You will have to undertake a conscious approach to developing technical documentation. An effective content strategy will take into account the audience, multiple document repositories, content audits to remove any outdated information in existing documentation, etc.

Develop a content strategy that helps you to allocate resources, track documents, plan documentation audits, decide on future documentation releases, etc.

Write Effectively

Now, you can start to draft the technical document. Technical documentation should aim to convey the information according to the knowledge level of your audience. Therefore, technical writers use simple sentences, avoid complex jargon, and don’t over-explain. 

Moreover, writers need to practice caution while drafting software documents as wrong information can have serious implications. Some points to keep in mind to write good software documentation include the following:

Follow A Pre-Writing Exercise

You can make a pre-writing exercise a part of your product development process. It is especially useful when there is a complex product under development, and there are a number of developers working on various software modules.

A pre-writing stage helps to brainstorm different approaches to design and develop different product features. Developers discuss different solutions to a problem before beginning to implement it.

Write For Your Audience

Your audience can be internal or external. If a document is not intended for developers or stakeholders then it must be for your customers. You will want to impart the required information as effectively as possible. For this, you will need to understand your audience better too.

According to Splunk’s guide on writing good docs, “Reliable and accessible documentation requires thorough product knowledge. It also applies equally, if not more, to know your audience.”

You can go through the following to understand your audience:

  • Understand user goals;
  • Create user personas;
  • Create product use cases;
  • Identify the document delivery formats for the intended audience.

Follow Agile Documentation Practice

The agile development methodology is majorly used today for developing software products. According to a PMI survey , 71% of businesses use agile documentation instead of the traditional waterfall method.

Just in time methodology is commonly used as an agile approach. It focuses on producing a single document as the need arises in the form of a customer’s FAQ or support call. It is majorly used for customer-intended documentation instead of technical documents like API documentation, etc. for developers and internal teams.

Minimum viable documentation is another strategy of writing software documentation that intends to produce just enough documentation as is required and no more. 

Although the agile manifesto prioritizes working software over comprehensive documentation, agile documentation focuses on concise yet complete software documents instead of lengthy ones. 

In an agile environment, developers and writers are using the same software tools, like Github for version control of code and documentation, Jira for task management, etc. You would also want to make your software development teams and writers work together as a single team for close collaboration.

Give An Interactive User Experience

Providing an excellent user experience is extremely important, especially with customer-facing software documentation. Are your users easily able to navigate through your help document? 

Give special importance to the information architecture of your knowledge base which refers to the structural design of a document, including organization, searching, navigation, etc.

You must create a style guide for your software documentation. This will help you give a standardized feel to your technical and support documents. A style guide will include the following:

  • Terminology that writers will use throughout their writing;
  • Formatting rules like bullets, headings, etc.
  • Use of visual content to provide information interactively;
  • Use a coherent writing style so that different writers are on the same page when producing software documents.

Some popular writing style guides include Microsoft style guide , Google developer documentation style guide , Apple style guide , IBM style guide , etc. These documentations can help decide voice, format, terminology, structure, conventions, etc.

Make Your Software Documentation Discoverable And Accessible 

Spend some effort in figuring out how your users will access your documentation. Google search engine is considered as a beginning point for most of your users. Optimize your documentation for Google search. 

You may have to follow certain SEO rules, including the use of meta description, relevant keywords, image content, etc. so that your software documentation starts ranking and users can access it easily.

This brings us to another important aspect of good software documentation, which is accessibility. You will think about how users will be accessing your software documents and how your content will be displayed to them. This is a part of the user experience. 

For example, how your software document will open for mobile users? Are they able to view the video content, are the images loading correctly, etc? Also, you may consider the accessibility of your knowledge base for users in different countries or users with visual impairments.

Use Appropriate Documentation Tools

Make use of documentation tools to carry out the content writing and management process efficiently. For example, version control tools help in tracking different versions of documents and working with multiple knowledge bases. 

Some popular documentation tools include FileHold , Google Workspace , OnBase , etc. These tools help with enterprise content management, including document version control, integrated document management, document sharing, etc.

Test Your Software Documentation

Test and quality assurance procedures are as important for software documentation as for source code. Software documentation should not be published without verification of technicalities from the product development team.

Elaborate testing of each document will ensure the right information reaches the target users, including developers and customers, and the use of the information as intended.

Continuous testing is an important stage of an agile development process and applies equally to the software documentation to ensure quick delivery of high-quality software information.

Consider Customer Feedback

Collecting customer feedback is important to verify that your software documentation is delivering in the market as per user requirements. 

While beta testing with the technical team helps to find technical discrepancies, customer feedback will ensure you are providing all the information needed by the actual users to utilize your software successfully.

You can adopt multiple ways to gather customer feedback on your software documentation. You can integrate a rating system, add a contact form, enable comments on documentation pages, etc.

Also, make sure that you have a team designated to address customer queries to complete the customer feedback loop. Read more on the customer feedback loop in an agile environment in this blog .

Planning To Write Software Documentation?

A complete, accurate, and easily accessible software documentation is a viable source of communication, knowledge sharing, and learning about the software product. To achieve these benefits of good software documentation templates, you must form a team of competent writers and set up a process to write, test, and manage knowledge bases.

Read more on how to write technical documentation on our blog here .

You can partner with a competent software development company to produce a feature-rich yet secure software solution with supporting technical documentation like user manuals, system documentation, code documentation, etc. for a range of users using an appropriate supporting software documentation tool.

DevTeam.Space can also help you via its field-expert team of software developers and technical writers for your next software development project.

You can easily partner with these software development and documentation professionals by sending us your initial project specifications. One of our account managers will get back to you to provide further assistance.

FAQs On How To Write Good Software Documentation

A technical writer should be familiar with the following rules to produce good software project documentation: keep technical writing accurate yet concise, follow a documentation process, record everything during each stage of a software development lifecycle, etc.

4 methods of writing documents include learning tutorials, how-to guides explaining a specific goal, discussions for thorough understanding, and reference manuals for supplementary information.

The main steps to document a software process are to name the process, define the scope of the process, define the inputs, determine the process outputs, set the process boundaries, decide all the steps to complete a process, and decide the individuals involved in the software process.

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Technical Writing

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  • Português – Brasil
  • Doc Resources

Technical writing resources

This page summarizes additional technical writing resources.

The value of documentation

Several research organizations have studied the value of technical documentation to technical organizations. For example:

  • 2021 Accelerate State of DevOps Report from Google.

2022 State of DevOps Report data deep dive: Documentation is like sunshine

API Documentation from smartbear.com.

Editorial style guides

An editorial style guide defines an editorial group's guidelines for communication. That is, an editorial style guide provides a set of answers to questions about writing choices. For example, which of the following rules should your organization adopt for headings?

  • Put headings in sentence case (capitalize only the first word of each heading)
  • Put headings in title case (capitalize most of the words in each heading)

The correct answer is that you shouldn't waste time and energy arguing about heading styles. Instead, just get your organization to adopt a particular editorial style guide and abide by its recommendations. It doesn't matter that one editorial style guide advocates sentence case and another prefers title case. It only matters that your organization adopt a single editorial style guide.

Ah, but which editorial style guide? You may already be familiar with general purpose editorial style guides (such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Oxford Style Guide ). However, your engineering team should use an editorial style guide specialized in technical writing. We recommend choosing one of the following:

  • The Google developer documentation style guide provides editorial guidelines for anyone writing developer documentation for Google-related projects.
  • The Microsoft Writing Style Guide provides guidelines for anyone writing technical documentation.

Do not write your own editorial style guide. Creating and maintaining a "house" editorial style guide requires tremendous resources and causes tremendous conflict. That said, some organizations coin new terminology that doesn't appear in an existing editorial style guide. When that happens, the organization can do either of the following:

  • Ask the maintainers of an editorial style guide to add the new terms.
  • Create and maintain your own usage guide or style sheet that codifies spellings and word usages for your organization's specialized vocabulary.

Inclusive and accessible writing

Some editorial style guides aim to help you write documentation with accessibility and inclusivity in mind. The Google developer documentation style guide provides guidelines for accessibility and inclusive language . These pages are not exhaustive references, but provide some general guidelines and examples that illustrate best practices for writing accessible and inclusive documentation.

General technical writing resources

Write the Docs is a global community of people who care about documentation. It provides excellent resources on many aspects of professional technical writing.

Documentation as part of software engineering

The book Docs for Developers: An Engineer’s Field Guide to Technical Writing is a practical guide to creating, measuring, and maintaining docs using examples, templates, and principles that you can adapt to the needs of your organization. Written by experienced writers and developers from Google, The Linux Foundation, Stripe, LaunchDarkly, and Monzo.

The book Software Engineering at Google features a chapter devoted to documentation as part of the software engineering process.

Open-source documentation opportunities

Google's Season of Docs is a program to foster collaboration between open source projects and technical writers. Season of Docs provides a good opportunity for people working on open source projects to enhance their technical writing skills.

Season of Docs runs annually. To stay informed about the program, join the Season of Docs announcements mailing list .

Writing for GitLab

GitLab's Technical Writing Fundamentals course helps GitLab and community contributors write and edit documentation.

Except as otherwise noted, the content of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License , and code samples are licensed under the Apache 2.0 License . For details, see the Google Developers Site Policies . Java is a registered trademark of Oracle and/or its affiliates.

Last updated 2023-06-16 UTC.

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How to Write Software Documentation

technical writing documentation on software projects

Software documentation is typically included in the packaging of all newly released digital products. Creating software documentation is a crucial step in ensuring that users know how to use your program properly. Software documentation helps achieve optimal UX standards, providing users with the knowledge they need to use the product on a daily basis.

In addition, software documentation is important for technical writers . As the company’s knowledge base expands and documents accumulate, authors require less and less time to produce new content. This follows a standard procedure for today's reuse-based content production process. Component authoring allows your writing team to create new publications while utilizing the same or comparable code and text parts repeatedly. This approach frees up time and resources for developing new products and creative projects.

This blog will describe the key components of effective software documentation and explain how to create it.

Software Documentation: What Is It?

The content your technical writing team produces to support your product is called software documentation , or SD . SD is developed at various phases of the product life cycle, from familiarizing users with the product to fully integrating the software into the customer's system.

Initially, supporting material may take the form of a QSG (quick start guide), explaining crucial aspects of the product, such as installation, authentication, settings, and requirements. This information might be presented as instructions or case studies, using real-life examples to address the most complex issues.

As the product progresses, additional documentation becomes necessary. This includes user experience documents, like user guides, designed to enhance the usability of the digital product. From the product developer's perspective, UX documents aim to optimize how potential customers interact with the product, incorporating elements such as user scenarios and detailed user personas.

At the final stage, SD encompasses metrics and reports that help track the application's effectiveness.

General Recommendations for Writing Software Documentation That Works

First of all, try to develop a documentation strategy before you begin writing. Include your thoughts on the overall goal and content of the knowledge base in a program paper. Your vision for how the documentation will benefit all parties involved (internally and externally) should be crystal clear:

  • Internally . Ensure co-authoring, single sourcing, and document reuse for company stakeholders. Writers should efficiently reuse previously prepared documents and collaborate while using the same sources in their daily tasks;
  • Externally . Assist customers, who are stakeholders outside the organization, in making the best use of your digital offering.

The responsibility of creating SD should be given to a writer with technical experience.

The content will be more interesting for users if it is prepared by a writer with prior knowledge in the field of engineering or IT, providing users with a more in-depth understanding of the product.

Another advantage of having technical expertise is that you will have fewer errors in your documentation. Such errors are often caused by incorrect terminology or a misunderstanding of the procedure.

Combining the abilities of a developer with a writer is one potential solution to this issue. Hiring a tech writer with technical experience, as previously mentioned, would help achieve this. Another common practice in many organizations is having engineers write software documentation.

However, there is a problem with the latter approach. The overall tone of the article may decline even though there may be fewer technical errors. This is because the writing abilities of developers are typically far from flawless. The quality of the content may decrease if engineers and developers are given complete control over the task of generating technical documentation, as they often lack knowledge about document style.

Therefore, it is ideal for engineers and technical writers to communicate throughout the entire product life cycle rather than working independently. Developers should be active in the content review process and should collaborate closely with writers.

Separating documentation into coding and testing docs is another piece of advice. Coding documentation demonstrates the functionality of the digital output, requiring a strong foundation in information technology. Professionals with a blend of writing and technical talents should be assigned to explain complicated portions of a code.

A sizable body of material aiding in describing the testing procedure is the testing documentation . For example, a Test Plan or a Test Procedure Description refers to this set of documents.

It is crucial to consider the psychological component as well. Avoid being overly fixated on creating supporting documentation. Paradoxically, it might not be in your best interests to promote the digital product at every level. Trying to cover every potential bottleneck can result in a ton of technical and jargon-heavy content that readers may never understand.

A product overloaded with documentation appears too complicated to the user . Try to create an intuitive app rather than providing documentation that needs explanation. People simply won't read documents that appear to be academic papers on nuclear physics. Make an effort to provide information in a straightforward, approachable way.

Another often-used technique for supporting a digital product is cross-linking . Links that take the reader from the current page to related topics on the previous or following pages, where the phrase or notion will be described in detail, are essential features of effective SD. Cross-linking gives your material extra possibilities. It becomes clearer and more compact as a result. You can cite just one source rather than duplicating the term across multiple pages , helping you free up space on the page.

elephants holding documents

10 Tips for Content Structuring of Your Software Documentation

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you create clear and comprehensive content for your SD:

  • Determine your target audience . Identify the users of your product and tailor the documentation to their skill level and requirements. Consider their familiarity with the subject area, skill level, and technical expertise.
  • Specify the scope of the documentation . Choose the features of the software that your documentation will cover. List essential features, capabilities, and any restrictions or requirements necessary for using the software.
  • Decide on the format for your documentation . Options like a user manual, an API reference, a tutorial, or a combination thereof are examples of suitable formats. Consider the context and purpose of the documentation when making this choice.
  • Describe the documentation framework . Establish a coherent and well-structured framework for your documents. Divide the content into parts and subsections to facilitate user navigation and help them find the information they need. Typical sections include an introduction, installation manual, configuration guidelines, usage examples, troubleshooting, and frequently asked questions (FAQs).
  • Start with an overview . Provide a high-level synopsis of the software's features and goals at the beginning of the documentation. Offer an overview of the terminology, procedures, and important concepts to help users understand the basics.
  • Give directions for setup and installation . Take users through the installation process step by step, explaining any dependencies and system requirements. Use screenshots or command-line samples when necessary to illustrate each step.
  • Describe the essential features of the software . Provide illustrations and scenarios to depict various use cases. Include screenshots, code snippets, or diagrams to enhance understanding.
  • Provide tutorials and usage examples . Offer step-by-step instructions and real-life examples to assist users with routine workflows. Ensure that these are thorough enough to help users comprehend how to perform specific tasks.
  • Document configuration and customization options . Explain how users can configure the software based on their specific needs. Detail the available options, their purpose, and the impact they have on the software's behavior.
  • Address troubleshooting and FAQs . Dedicate a section to troubleshooting common issues and providing solutions. Include a list of frequently asked questions to address common queries or concerns.

Remember, the goal of software documentation is to empower users to effectively utilize your software, so ensure the language remains clear, concise, and user-friendly.

Using ClickHelp to Create Software Documentation

Using an assistance authoring tool can streamline the process of creating SD. Your technical writing team will work more efficiently, and your documents will have a polished appearance, thanks to ClickHelp , an online, easy-to-use help authoring tool.

A syntax highlighter is one of the system's small features that make it easier to identify code samples in the text's body. Code fragments will be graphically emphasized and easier for users to read.

ClickHelp offers a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get). You can use photographs, video tutorials, charts, diagrams, screenshots, and more to visually represent your content in your portal.

In addition to the visual component, you will gain other significant advantages from using ClickHelp. All recently developed, comparable documents can be "linked" to the same source thanks to the principle of single-sourcing used in the platform. This will unify the entire knowledge base in terms of language and definitions.

Reusing content is another option offered by ClickHelp. Your writers won't have to create similar content from scratch every time. Reproducing similar content will only require small adjustments to the already existing text or code.

ClickHelp offers co-authoring , which will expedite the SD development process and enhance the caliber of your content. Multiple authors can collaborate on the same document simultaneously. Furthermore, reviewers and translators will be able to work on the content in parallel with the contributors.

By utilizing these features, among many others, you can save time and money while creating excellent content.

digital publication process of software documentation

Time and effort savings should form the foundation of any effective software documentation authoring. To ensure that the user perceives the knowledge base as uniform and well-aligned, try to make your material both flexible and regulated. The outcomes will include increased project launches, dependable and well-tested codes, improved user experience (UX), and ultimately higher revenues.

Good luck with your technical writing! ClickHelp Team Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

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Technical Writing: How to Write Software Documentation

Is the ability to provide relevant information about using your software essential for your customers? Do you find yourself spending hours and hours trying to explain how to use the software? Or are you getting feedback from your clients that your documentation is hard to follow, inconsistent, or maybe even... confusing? 

If you answered with "Yes!" to any of these questions and are willing to  invest the time  and  energy  needed to go through this practical course, then this course is for you! 

CNBC cited this course in the article " The 20 hottest job skills companies are looking for right now "

By the end of this course:

You will be able to  perform the needed steps and start writing documentation as a technical writer .

You will be able to  explain the process for preparing, organizing, and delivering software documentation  for the users of software products.

You will be able to  create instructional images and graphics  needed in your documentation using Canva.

You learn and practice how to  create software documentation in a GitHub wiki  following the instructor's templates for writing in  Markdown .

You will know  how to perform user research  using 2 Cards Sorting techniques in Mural.

You will be able to i dentify the different aspects that make documentation a high-quality  deliverable.

You will find out also  which are the core principles for writing software documentation  that really helps.

You will have the chance to  try out GitHub wiki editor  for writing.

You will learn about the  importance of graphics  and which  tools you can use to create instructional graphics  with ease.

In the end, you will find out more about  information architecture  and its importance in software documentation.

Ultimately, you will have the chance to  create your own documentation project  even if you have never worked as a technical writer before and have no experience.

Over the course of the years, the core activities of technical writing professionals have constantly been evolving.

We started as technical writers and focused solely on technical writing. We transformed into information developers who also consider the graphical aspects and design of the content.  Today, we need to bundle together writing skills, design and graphics, video creation, multimedia, metadata, and software development to meet the expectations of our users.

All these assets put together can be described together as  user assistance.

JPDocu School of Technical Writing  is a training company passionate about technical writing, software documentation, APIs documentation, information architecture, and DITA XML, and helping our students get started and quickly advance in their Technical Writer career.

Our Technical Writing courses are taught as a part of the University courses on Technical Communications at several universities in Europe, as well as a part of the onboarding for new technical writers for many of the best software development companies.

We shape the next generation of technical writers and information developers, by providing them with simple-to-follow and practical, hands-on experiences with technical writing.

For several years now, JPDocu School of Technical Writing has been designing and delivering training for all who want to get started with technical writing. Our students soon get started working as:

technical writers (information developers)

information architects

software developers 

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Careers Related to Technical Writing: How to Write Software Documentation

Certifications related to product development or product lifecycle management or product strategy.

technical writing documentation on software projects

General Assembly’s Product Management course teaches the end-to-end product management (PM) process to a real-world scenario, from evaluating users and managing a roadmap to creating a minimum viable product (MVP) and developing metrics.

What you'll accomplish

This is a beginner-friendly program with no prerequisites, although students may have had exposure to product development concepts or be informally taking on PM responsibilities in their current role. Throughout this expert-designed program, you’ll:

  • Determine key risks and assumptions of a product in order to prioritize research and discovery work.
  • Validate hypotheses by gathering user feedback via MVPs, interviews, experiments, and testing.
  • Execute competitive research to highlight market gaps and trends.
  • Speak fluently with developers, user experience designers, and other business stakeholders about priorities, requirements, and workflow.
  • Apply metrics alongside objectives and key results (OKRs) to measure a product’s success and track its life cycle.
  • Apply what you’ve learned to create a portfolio project: a presentation detailing your product creation strategy.

Why General Assembly

Since 2011, General Assembly has graduated more than 40,000 students worldwide from the full time & part time courses. During the 2020 hiring shutdown, GA's students, instructors, and career coaches never lost focus, and the KPMG-validated numbers in their Outcomes report reflect it. *For students who graduated in 2020 — the peak of the pandemic — 74.4% of those who participated in GA's full-time Career Services program landed jobs within six months of graduation. General Assembly is proud of their grads + teams' relentless dedication and to see those numbers rising. Download the report here .

Your next step? Submit an application to talk to the General Assembly Admissions team

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technical writing documentation on software projects

General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive is a transformative course designed for you to get the necessary skills for a UX Design role in three months. 

The User Experience Design bootcamp is led by instructors who are expert practitioners in their field, supported by career coaches that work with you since day one and enhanced by a career services team that is constantly in talks with employers about their UX Design hiring needs.

As a graduate, you’ll have a portfolio of projects that show your creative and technical ability to launch the next generation of successful apps, websites and digital experiences. Throughout this program, you will:

Identify and implement the most effective methods of user research to gain a deeper understanding of what users want and need.

Use interaction and visual design techniques to craft a dynamic digital product that brings delight and function to users.

Conduct usability testing to make product experiences more accessible for diverse user populations and environments.

Learn best practices for working within a product team, employing product management techniques and evaluating technical constraints to better collaborate with developers.

Produce polished design documentation, including wireframes and prototypes, to articulate design decisions to clients and stakeholders.

Prepare for the world of work, compiling a professional-grade portfolio of solo, group, and client projects.

Prerequisites

This is a beginner-friendly program with no prerequisites, although many students are familiar with common tools for graphic and web designers and some may have had exposure to UX concepts in the past. The General Assembly curriculum helps you gain fluency in end-to-end UX processes, tools, and documentation and put them to work on the path to a new career as a User Experience Designer.

Since 2011, General Assembly has graduated more than 40,000 students worldwide from the full time & part time courses. During the 2020 hiring shutdown, GA's students, instructors, and career coaches never lost focus, and the KPMG-validated numbers in their Outcomes report reflect it. *For students who graduated in 2020 — the peak of the pandemic — 74.4% of those who participated in GA's full-time Career Services program landed jobs within six months of graduation.  General Assembly is proud of their grads + teams' relentless dedication and to see those numbers rising. Download the report here .

technical writing documentation on software projects

Product Managers are responsible for designing and delivering a profitable product or feature into the market. In this program, you will learn to define product strategy and KPIs based on market analysis, pitch a product vision to get stakeholder buy-in, and design a user-centered prototype that adheres to engineering constraints. Then, you will develop an execution timeline that handles competing priorities, communicate a product roadmap that builds consensus amongst internal stakeholders, and create a comprehensive go-to-market plan based on product KPIs. Finally, you will build tests to enhance product features based on market data.

Courses related to Product Development or Product Lifecycle Management or Product Strategy

technical writing documentation on software projects

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technical writing documentation on software projects

Documenting Software in Development Projects: Types, Best Practices, and Tools

In the complicated world of software development, success is often determined by the efficiency, functionality, and reliability of the final product.

But behind every groundbreaking software application is a hidden hero that is often underestimated, yet plays a crucial role in the project’s success – documentation.

In this article, we will explore the different types of software documentation and how each contributes to the software development lifecycle. We will also ask our most experienced developers to share some of their best practices for turning documentation from a boring chore into a valuable asset for all project stakeholders.

  • What is software documentation

The importance of software documentation

Who uses software documentation, 5 types of software documentation, 10 best practices for writing good software documentation, software documentation tools, building a new application or extending your development team.

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What is software documentation?

In short, software documentation is a comprehensive collection of written materials that describe and explain a software system or application. It includes various documents and artifacts that provide insight into the design, functionality, architecture, and use of the software. This documentation serves as a critical resource for developers, stakeholders, and end users to help them understand, use, and maintain the software effectively.

One of our senior programmers has put it that way:

Documentation, in my opinion, answers two fundamental questions: why? and how? From a programmer’s standpoint, it serves a purpose of a point of reference to the general concepts but also describes the details in the given domain and solutions that have been used.

documentation process

Software documentation serves as a cornerstone in the world of software development, benefiting a wide range of stakeholders involved in a software project.

At its core, developers themselves find immense value in documentation as a roadmap for understanding code, explaining complex algorithms, and facilitating team collaboration.

But programmers are not the only ones who benefit from thorough software documentation. Testers who can not only use documentation to design and implement automated regression software testing cases, but also to identify the most complex software features to double-check them with special attention. Beyond the development team, business managers find software documentation essential for making informed decisions, understanding project scope, and accurately estimating budgets and schedules. Customers and end users also benefit from easy-to-use documentation that eases onboarding and improves the user experience.

In essence, software documentation becomes a guiding beacon that unifies stakeholders, fosters transparent communication, and drives software projects to success.

From the birth of a project idea to the moment it’s released into the hands of users, software documentation plays several important roles.

First, documentation acts as a common language and knowledge base that facilitates communication and collaboration among individual team members, including developers, designers, testers, and project managers. It ensures that everyone involved in the project understands the system’s components, interfaces, and requirements, leading to better teamwork and smoother project execution.

It acts as a roadmap, guiding developers through the intricacies of the codebase and helping them understand the rationale behind design choices. Typically, a development team consists of dozens of talented individuals, each with their own unique approach to coding. Documentation is like a blueprint that each team member can refer to when someone else’s style of writing code is unclear.

At the same time, it empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions by providing a clear view of the project’s progress and aligning expectations with reality.

As you might have guessed, there’s no single document that falls under the category of software documentation. Rather, it is an umbrella term for all documents that aim to explain and guide you through the complexities of software.

Let’s explore five major types of software documentation, each serving a unique purpose and addressing different aspects of the development lifecycle.

create software documentation

1. Process documentation

First, we have process documentation, which focuses on capturing and describing the workflows, procedures, and software development methodologies involved in a software development life cycle.

Its main purpose is to provide a clear and structured framework for the custom development process, ensuring consistency and efficiency among team members. This type of documentation serves as a comprehensive guide for project managers, system administrators, software developers , and stakeholders, enabling them to understand the sequence of tasks, dependencies, and responsibilities throughout the software lifecycle.

When can process documentation be useful?

Imagine a situation where the development team is preparing to release a major update or new version of their application. As the release date approaches, the development team needs to ensure that the software has been thoroughly tested for bugs, glitches, and compatibility issues to deliver a stable and reliable product to users. A well-documented QA process flowchart allows the team to follow a standardized testing procedure, ensuring that all essential tests are performed consistently.

Above all, process documentation plays an important role in facilitating seamless collaboration and knowledge sharing within the development team. It ensures that everyone is aligned with established procedures and practices, which ultimately contributes to smoother project execution and successful outcomes.

There are two popular examples of documents falling into the category of process documentation:

  • Process Flowcharts – Visual representations of the step-by-step sequence of activities and decisions in a software application development process, providing a clear overview of the workflow and potential branching paths.
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – Detailed written instructions that outline the specific tasks, roles, and responsibilities for each phase of the software development lifecycle, ensuring consistency and adherence to established processes.

2. Requirements documentation

Process documentation answered the “how” question. Now let’s answer the “what” question by taking a closer look at requirements documentation.

R equirements documentation is a subset of broader system documentation that focuses on capturing and specifying both the functional and non-functional requirements of a software project.

It includes a detailed outline of the software’s intended features, functionality, and performance expectations. This documentation serves as the foundation for the entire development process , providing a clear roadmap for creating the software and guiding the work of developers, designers, and testers.

From a business perspective, requirements documentation is critical because it aligns software development efforts with the organization’s strategic goals and customer needs.

It acts as a contractual agreement between stakeholders and the development team, ensuring that everyone has a common understanding of the project’s scope and deliverables. Neglecting or overlooking requirements documentation can lead to miscommunication, scope creep, and costly project delays.

developer documentation

Here are five key subtypes of requirements documentation that are very common especially in larger software development projects:

  • Software Requirements Specification (SRS) – It is a comprehensive document that provides a detailed description of the software’s functional and non-functional requirements. It includes user needs, system capabilities, constraints, and interfaces, serving as the foundation for the entire development process.
  • Use Cases – Descriptions of interactions between users (actors) and the software, illustrating how the software responds to various user actions. Use cases help in identifying system behavior and understanding user interactions with the application.
  • Functional Requirements – It includes statements that specify the software’s expected behavior and the actions it must perform in response to certain inputs. In other words, functional requirements define the features and functionalities that the software should deliver.
  • Non-Functional Requirements – Contrary to its non-functional counterpart, this type of documentation specifies system qualities, such as performance, security, usability, scalability, and reliability.
  • User Stories – These are short, user-centric descriptions of software features from an end-user’s perspective. User stories focus on capturing specific functionalities and benefits that users expect from the software.

3. User documentation

The previous two types focused on the technical stakeholders of the project but those who lack any programming knowledge are just as important in the vast majority of cases, and that’s the role of user documentation. It is a critical type of software documentation that focuses on providing information and instructions to end-users on how to effectively use and interact with a software product.

It serves as a bridge between the technical complexities of the software and the users’ perspectives, making the software accessible and usable. User documentation plays a pivotal role in enhancing the overall user experience, as it empowers users to make the most of the software’s functionalities and features. Well-crafted user documentation can significantly reduce the learning curve for new users, increase user satisfaction, and minimize the need for customer support.

We also have a second guide that is a description of software functionalities from both a business and technical perspective. We also release it to customers/users as a manual, but as it turns it, from time to time, becomes really handy for developers as well.

user documentation

From comprehensive user manuals and step-by-step guides to interactive tutorials and tooltips, user documentation comes in various forms, catering to different levels of user expertise. Here are seven main examples of user documentation

  • User Manuals – Comprehensive guides that provide detailed instructions on how to use a software product, including setup, navigation, and feature explanations.
  • Online Help Systems (OHS) – Context-sensitive assistance embedded within the software interface, offering immediate guidance to users based on their actions or queries.
  • Tutorials – Step-by-step instructional materials that walk users through specific tasks or workflows, helping them gain hands-on experience with the software.
  • Knowledge Bases – Extensive repositories of articles, guides, and troubleshooting resources, empowering users to explore and resolve more complex software development problems independently.
  • Release Notes – Documents highlighting new features, bug fixes, and changes in software updates, keeping users informed about the latest improvements.
  • User Guides – Targeted documentation tailored to specific user roles or use cases, providing focused guidance based on user needs.
  • Video Tutorials – These are visual guides in the form of videos, demonstrating software functionalities and guiding users through specific tasks.

4. Architecture design documentation

Now let’s move on to the types of software documentation that are primarily aimed at software developers themselves, and first on that list is architecture documentation. Architecture documentation is a critical type of software documentation that deals with the structural design and organization of a software system.

It provides a comprehensive view of the software’s high-level components, their interactions, and the underlying architecture that governs the application’s behavior. This documentation serves as a detailed blueprint that helps developers, architects, and other stakeholders understand the complexity of the system and make informed decisions during development, maintenance, and future enhancements. Architecture documentation also plays a critical role in ensuring the scalability, maintainability, and robustness of software, as it outlines the rationale behind design decisions and helps teams identify potential bottlenecks or areas for optimization.

Here are three key types of architectural documentation commonly used by development teams:

  • High-Level Architecture Diagram – A visual representation of the software’s overall structure, showing major components, their interactions, and the flow of data. This diagram provides a high-level view of the system’s architecture and helps stakeholders understand its key building blocks.
  • Data Flow Diagram (DFD) – Another graphical representation of how data flows through the software, depicting inputs, outputs, and data processing steps. DFDs assist in visualizing data transformations and identifying potential bottlenecks or areas for optimization.
  • Class Diagram – A depiction of the software’s class structure, showing classes, their attributes, methods, and relationships. Class diagrams are valuable for understanding the software’s object-oriented design and inheritance relationships.

Read also: [ What is a Tech Stack and How to Choose One? ]

Technical documentation

Finally, we come to the technical documentation – a critical component of every software development project , serving as a comprehensive resource that provides in-depth insights into the inner workings of the software.

This type of documentation is specifically designed for developers, offering a detailed understanding of the codebase, algorithms, APIs, and other technical aspects. Technical documentation offers great help for developers, empowering them to navigate the complexities of the code and architecture efficiently.

Technical documentation should primarily describe in general what the thing (class, method, field) is used for. For me, it is important that it also explains how certain things behave in boundary conditions, i.e. whether they return a defined error or null, or throw an exception.

internal documentation

In large projects encompassing hundreds of classes, it is impossible to know every detail about the code. And that’s the key role of technical documentation – clarifying the purpose and usage of functions, classes, and modules, enabling developers to collaborate and maintain code consistency even in very robust software applications.

Sometimes applications are built as standard and are simple, then such additional explanation is just not needed. But in large, in enterprise software , ways of starting various development tools, firing up the product, and loading some data into it are not standard, so new programmers would not know how to do it and you would have to explain to each one individually.

Apart from that, technical documentation plays a pivotal role in supporting ongoing development efforts, bug fixing, and software updates. By providing clear and accurate references to the codebase, it helps developers troubleshoot issues and make informed decisions about optimizations and improvements especially when dealing with legacy software systems .

It is impossible for every programmer to know every single functionality. When he needs to do/change something in it, that’s when we reach for the Technical Guide to refresh our knowledge.

internal software documentation

From this description, technical documentation seems quite similar to the previously mentioned type – architectural documentation. So what’s the difference between these two subtypes?

First and foremost, technical documentation focuses on the low-level implementation details of the software and is primarily aimed at developers for efficient coding, debugging, and maintenance. Architecture documentation, on the other hand, provides a high-level overview of the software’s design and interactions and is intended for a broader audience to facilitate decision-making and project planning. However, both types of documentation are essential for successful software development, and each plays a unique role in ensuring the effectiveness and maintainability of the software.

api documentation

Some examples of technical documentation include:

  • Code comments – Inline explanations within the source code that provide context, rationale, and explanations for specific code segments, making the code more understandable and maintainable.
  • API documentation – Comprehensive documentation that describes the usage, parameters, return values, and functionality of application programming interfaces (APIs), enabling developers to integrate external services or libraries seamlessly.
  • Technical specifications – Detailed descriptions of the software’s technical requirements, design decisions, data formats, and protocols, aiding developers in understanding the overall system architecture and implementation.
  • User guides for developers – Instructional materials specifically tailored to help developers effectively use software libraries, frameworks, or SDKs, simplifying system integration and promoting best practices.
  • Data models and database schema – Documentation detailing the structure, relationships, and constraints of the database tables and data models, assisting developers in database management .
  • Configuration guides – Instructions on how to set up and configure the software environment, ensuring consistent deployment and optimal performance.

For most software developers, writing software documentation is one of the most boring tasks there is. After all, it involves almost none of the creative and analytical thinking that makes being a software engineer fun and challenging, and it involves writing rather boring code and feature descriptions.

However, as we have emphasized in the previous paragraphs, solid documentation is often just as important as high-quality code. That’s why we asked some of our most experienced software engineers to share their tips and best practices for writing good software documentation .

Read also: [ Latest Software Development Trends 2023 ]

software product

1. Define Clear Objectives

First things first – clear objectives.

There are a number of different documents that make up comprehensive software documentation, and each one serves different purposes and users. Defining clear objectives for software documentation means establishing specific purposes and goals for each document. These objectives outline the intended audience, the type of information to be included, and the scope of coverage.

By defining clear objectives, documentation becomes focused and relevant, better meeting the needs of developers, end users, and stakeholders. This approach ensures that the documentation remains focused and aligned with the overall project goals, promoting better understanding and successful project outcomes.

2. View software documentation from the reader’s perspective

When writing any type of software documentation, think about who will read it and how technical that person is.

Is it a user manual? You should use broad language and focus mostly on system functionality. Is it the technical garb of a developer? As the name suggests, you should delve into all the details of the software’s inner workings, since your primary audience will be familiar with all the technical terms.

Adopting a reader-centered approach helps create documentation that resonates with users, making it easier for them to find relevant information and navigate through the content effortlessly. Adopt an approach that anticipates and proactively addresses readers’ questions and concerns by presenting information in a clear, concise, and user-friendly manner.

3. Use a consistent structure

You wouldn’t want to read a book if the author’s writing style changed every chapter. The same is true for software documentation.

When writing documentation, regardless of the audience, you should always use a consistent style and formatting. A concise structure for software documentation provides readers with a familiar and predictable format and greatly improves the overall comprehensibility of the document.

Using standardized headings, subheadings, and formatting throughout all documents makes it easier to navigate and retrieve information. A consistent structure ensures that the documentation is organized logically, allowing users to locate content efficiently. A consistent structure makes the documentation easier to use, promotes collaboration among team members, and enhances the professionalism of the software project.

You can also go a step further and establish a more formal style guide for all developers involved in writing documentation for the project, as this provides a number of valuable benefits.

  • A style guide can help establish a clear and coherent tone for the documentation you write.
  • It can help ensure consistency in the software documentation process.
  • It can help improve the overall quality of any software documentation you create.

programming languages

4. Don’t repeat yourself

If you are at all connected to the custom software development market, you have probably heard of the KISS and DRY principles of software development. The latter translates to “don’t repeat yourself” and should be applied to software documentation as well.

If a particular method or line of code is fairly self-explanatory, there’s no need to include a special explanation in the comments or accompanying documentation. It is a waste of time for both the writer and the reader of software documentation, and in some cases it can lead to more confusion than clarity.

Don’t write by hand in the documentation what can be understood from the source code itself. It’s tedious for a programmer to repeat the same thing in two places, and moreover, it’s easy for it to become disjointed since there could be discrepancies between what was written in the documentation and in the code.

For this reason, avoiding repetition in software documentation can do wonders for the overall clarity and conciseness of the project.

In my opinion, it is better if the documentation is written briefly and concisely without unnecessary beating around the bush.

software components

Repeating the same information in multiple places can lead to confusion and difficulty maintaining accuracy. Instead, focus on providing information in a single, authoritative location, and use cross-references or hyperlinks where appropriate. By adhering to the principle of not repeating yourself, documentation remains streamlined and easier for readers to understand, reducing the risk of inconsistencies and improving its overall effectiveness.

5. Collaborate and review

Sometimes you are not sure what to include in the documentation.

Some information may seem self-explanatory and obvious to you because you’ve worked on a particular feature, but your logic may not be as clear to other team members. For this reason, writing software documentation must be a collaborative effort.

What do we mean by that?

Just like the code itself, the documentation needs to be reviewed. Give it to your colleagues and see if they think it’s easy for them to understand. Get feedback from your customers, too. Wojtek, one of our senior software developers, suggested such an approach:

I recommend an approach, that if someone (user/administrator/programmer) asks about something on Slack or by email, it’s because he does not know what to do and how certain things work. We should be able to refer him to the technical documentation instead of writing back with an answer.

write software documentation

If you have a question about a particular feature or piece of code, it’s very likely that someone else will have the same question soon. If something was incomprehensible to one person, it is likely to be incomprehensible to others.

By embracing collaboration and review practices, software documentation becomes a collective effort that benefits from the expertise of multiple stakeholders. The result is documentation that is accurate, comprehensive, user-centered, and contributes to the overall success of the software project.

6. Don’t ignore glossaries

Another part of software documentation that all devs should remember about are glossaries. Including them in projects ensures greater clarity, consistency, and effective communication throughout the development process.

A glossary serves as a centralized repository of essential terms, acronyms, and technical jargon used in the software, accompanied by their clear and concise definitions. When technical jargon and specialized terminology are defined in a glossary, it becomes easier for readers to comprehend the documentation. A well-maintained glossary supports effective communication and ensures that all team members and users share a common understanding of critical terms within the software context.

From a user perspective, including a glossary in user documentation makes the software more accessible and user-friendly, as it empowers users to grasp technical concepts without having to seek external sources for clarification.

7. Use cross-links

The use of cross-links in software documentation is paramount because it improves navigation, facilitates information retrieval, and promotes a more seamless and cohesive user experience.

Cross-links act as navigational aids by connecting related sections, topics, or documents within the documentation. This connectivity allows users to move effortlessly between different parts of the documentation to access additional context or related information without having to search. For developers, cross-links streamline the process of understanding code dependencies and functionality by linking code references to detailed explanations or documentation sections.

8. Make your codebase self-explanatory

As we now know, the main purpose of technical documentation is to explain to other team members how certain parts of the code work and what they are responsible for.

Let’s take this concept a step further and aim to write software in such a way that other developers don’t have to wade through lengthy doc files to understand the concepts, but can simply read the code to understand how it works. This is the general concept behind clean code – code that is concise, well-written, and most importantly, easy to understand. As a result, other team members will not have to wade through documentation so often to get a full understanding of the code’s logic.

Of course, that’s not enough.

Large software development projects can contain thousands of classes. It is like looking through a multi-volume encyclopedia – even though everything is included in the codebase, we are not sure which class to start reading from.

A sort of bird’s eye view is needed, and that’s the role of developer and technical guides. These should be like entry points into the project for new programmers-describing various caveats and features in a concise way, so that the programmer understands the basic concepts enough to dive deeper into the hundreds of classes and thousands of lines of code in the main project itself.

9. Treat your documentation the same way as your code

Another rule of creating software documentation is that handwritten code documentation should be treated the same as code.

What do we mean by this?

Over the years, there have been countless lists of best practices for software development written by various authors. They include tips on how to format your code to make it look good, what naming conventions to use, and how to emphasize the importance of code reviews. A good rule of thumb is to apply the same best practices to software documentation. Let’s take code reviews, for example. Wojtek suggests that software documentation should be reviewed in the same way as code.

Once your documentation is written, you should read it for yourself once more and refactor it as necessary. Then hand it over to someone else to read and to check whether everything is understandable.

creating software documentation

This sort of practice will help you get to the bottom of what is causing problems and what is still hard to understand. Then you can work on improving the documentation so that the next people will have it easier.

10. Keep your software documentation up to date

Last but not least, let’s talk about updates, because keeping software documentation up-to-date is critical to its accuracy and relevance.

When the software undergoes changes, such as updates or bug fixes, the corresponding documentation must be updated promptly to reflect these changes. Outdated documentation can lead to misunderstandings and hinder development efforts.

Implementing version control mechanisms and regularly reviewing and updating documentation ensures that it remains reliable and reflects the current state of the software. Keeping documentation current increases its value as a trusted resource for users and team members alike, supporting effective decision-making and successful project management.

To streamline the documentation process and improve its quality, various software documentation tools have emerged, each designed to meet specific needs and workflows. Today, there are so many options on the market that it is difficult to choose something suitable for a given project.

In our experience, any software documentation tool will do, as long as the documentation source code is kept in text files in git, and as long as links between sections are possible.

One thing is for sure writing documentation in Word is futile – we’ve been through this – no version/change control in a way that makes sense to the programmer, no way to impose consistent formatting, etc. It’s also important that the rendered documentation be available online, i.e. if someone adds something there in the documentation, someone else can read it right away in a nice form.

Let’s now very briefly cover some of the most popular tools that help software developers with writing and maintaining software documentation:

create technical documentation

General purpose tools

Numerous collaborative tools are available to aid software development teams in expressing requirements, sharing information, and documenting features and processes. Here are three examples:

  • Atlassian Confluence – It is a team collaboration platform that enables users to create, organize, and share rich content, making it ideal for collaborative software documentation and project knowledge management.
  • Document360 – It is a knowledge base software specifically designed for creating and maintaining software documentation, providing features like versioning, role-based access, and integrations for efficient documentation management.

Markdown editors

Markdown editors are specialized tools for writing and formatting text using simple syntax, which can then be easily converted to various formats such as HTML or PDF. They are popular with developers and technical writers for creating documentation in a lightweight and readable format.

  • Visual Studio Code – An integrated development environment (IDE) with built-in support for Markdown. It provides features like live preview and extensions for enhancing Markdown editing, making it a favorite among developers for writing technical documentation.
  • Typora – A minimalistic, distraction-free Markdown editor with live preview capabilities, allowing users to focus solely on content creation and immediate visual feedback.
  • Quiver – Quiver is a note-taking app designed for programmers, offering a flexible and organized platform to write, edit, and organize code snippets, markdown notes, and rich text, ideal for software developers who need a versatile tool for documenting and managing code-related information.

software documentation tools

Roadmap tools

Another type of software documentation tools are roadmap tools. They help in visualizing and planning the development process, making them useful for documenting the project’s progress, milestones, and future directions. These tools often allow project managers to create timelines, track tasks, and communicate project status to stakeholders.

  • Aha! – is a product roadmap software that provides a suite of tools to manage the entire product management lifecycle, from idea to launch.
  • Jira – A powerful issue and project tracking tool often used in agile software development. It provides project boards, epics, and sprints, enabling teams to create and manage software development roadmaps and documentation.
  • ProductPlan – is a cloud-based product roadmap software that provides features for roadmapping, timeline creation, collaboration, prioritization, and reporting to help businesses develop, share, and manage their product roadmaps in a more efficient and effective way.

Tools for technical writers

Tools designed specifically for technical writers offer advanced features and capabilities that streamline the documentation process. These tools often focus on managing large documentation projects and facilitating collaboration between writers and subject matter experts.

  • MadCap Flare – A comprehensive authoring tool for technical documentation that supports multiple output formats, including HTML, PDF, and online help. It enables writers to create single-sourced content and manage complex documentation projects efficiently.
  • Adobe FrameMaker – A powerful desktop publishing software tool tailored for technical documentation. It provides advanced formatting and layout options, making it suitable for creating professional, print-ready manuals and guides.

API documentation tools

API documentation tools are specialized platforms that automate the process of generating documentation for software APIs. These tools extract relevant information from code comments or annotations and create readable and interactive API documentation.

  • Swagger (now known as OpenAPI) – An open-source framework for designing, building, and documenting APIs. It allows developers to create machine-readable API specifications, which can be converted into human-readable API documentation automatically.
  • Postman – A popular API development and testing platform that includes features for generating API documentation. It allows developers to create and publish interactive API documentation for easy reference and sharing with stakeholders.

Even though many consider it to ba a boring chore, software documentation in reality is the art of capturing the essence of a project, transcending the lines of code, and transforming technical complexities into a language that bridges the gap between developers, stakeholders, and end-users.

Culture of meticulous documentation elevates custom software development projects to new heights, resulting in faster delivery, improved collaboration, and software solutions that surpass client expectations, standing the test of time in the dynamic and ever-changing technology landscape.

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10 Best Technical Documentation Software in 2024

Robert Hales

ClickUp Contributor

February 13, 2024

Good technical documentation is like a superpower for your product. It allows your team to track changes and create process documentation . But building technical documentation and keeping it up to date can be tedious.

The right technical documentation software can make all the difference in this process. Whether crafting simple manuals or complex knowledge bases, technical documentation software helps you create clear, concise, and user-friendly documents.

Many of these solutions can even automate your documentation workflow, freeing up your team’s time to focus on building the next big thing instead of spending hours writing technical documentation.

Get ready to learn more about technical documentation software, what to look for in the best technical documentation software solutions, and the 10 best-rated options!

What is Technical Documentation Software?

What should you look for in technical documentation tools .

  • 1. ClickUp 

2. ProProfs Knowledge Base 

3. nuclino , 4. whatfix , 5. document360 , 6. bit , 7. confluence , 8. scribe , 9. gitbook , 10. bookstack .

Technical documentation software helps you create and manage documents that explain how to use a product or service. A technical document might be a user manual, application programming interface, knowledge base, or wiki.

Various industries use technical documentation software, including software developers, hardware companies, and information technology departments. It makes users more efficient at putting a product or service to work. And it helps users troubleshoot their roadblocks, which is a win-win for users and creators.

With technical documentation, you can help users better understand how to make the most of your product or service autonomously, reducing the pressure on your internal resources and guiding your onboarding or troubleshooting processes.

Choosing the right software is essential for the technical documentation process. When searching for the best technical documentation software, look for tools that offer:

  • Easy-to-use interfaces: The technical documentation software you choose should be easy to use, especially if you have team members contributing to the documentation who may not have much technical expertise
  • Collaboration features : The technical documentation process is rarely a one-person job. Look for a knowledge management tool that allows multiple users to edit documentation simultaneously, including adding comments
  • Lots of customization options: No two technical documents look the same, and that’s good. Your documentation should reflect your brand and align with your company’s aesthetic, allowing for rich text formatting, multimedia, and various ways to structure your document
  • Robust integration options: The more a technical documentation tool can plug into your existing tech stack, the more valuable it will be. Look for tools that integrate with other apps in your software development process, such as content management systems or project management and communication tools
  • Extensive publishing options: The best software documentation tools will allow you to publish documentation differently with online and offline options. That might mean hosting technical documentation in a private domain, printing it as a PDF, or using other sharable options

Many technical documentation software options offer free plans or trial periods. This is great for testing the software, allowing your technical writers to try it out and see how it fits into your team’s workflow .

The 10 Best Tools for Internal and External Documentation in 2024

1. clickup  .

ClickUp has a ton of features that make it a fantastic tool for project management and a dream for technical writers. ClickUp Docs is the perfect place to build your technical documentation, allowing you to connect your documents with workflows and tasks to speed up the documentation process. The rich text editor gives you plenty of customization options, and the intuitive user interface will have you sailing through documents in no time.

Need more help? Check out the ClickUp AI interface, which can help you summarize, expand, or shorten copy as needed.

ClickUp best features

  • Numerous templates to jumpstart your documentation, whether you’re writing user manuals, source code documentation, or product documentation
  • AI functions to speed up your writing process, including handy tools for summarizing documents or expanding on sections within your documentation
  • Extensive collaboration features so teams can work on documentation simultaneously, including leaving comments or creating custom Dashboards

ClickUp limitations

  • ClickUp AI is only available as a paid option, so if you want to keep your subscription free, you’ll have to write your documents without AI assistance
  • Not all of ClickUp’s robust features are available on its mobile app

ClickUp pricing

  • Free Forever
  • Unlimited : $7/month per user
  • Business : $12/month per user
  • Enterprise : Contact for pricing
  • ClickUp AI is available for purchase on all paid plans at the price of $5 per Workspace member and internal guest per month

ClickUp ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 (8,900+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.7/5 (3,800+ reviews)

ProProfs Knowledge Base documentation software

ProProfs Knowledge Base is a cloud-based software that allows you to create and publish technical documentation easily. Its comprehensive editor lets you format text and add images, videos, and code snippets to your document.

ProProfs Knowledge Base seamlessly integrates with several tools you might already have in your tech stack, such as Google Drive, Microsoft Office, and Salesforce, simplifying the process of compiling and creating technical documentation. The platform allows you to export documents in various formats, including PDF, Markdown files, and HTML, making it easy to share or publish your documentation as a website.

ProProfs Knowledge Base best features

  • Great content authoring tools for adding images, videos, and code snippets to create more engaging and useful documentation
  • Advanced search feature for users to find the information they need quickly
  • Great integration options to compile documentation more easily

ProProfs Knowledge Base limitations

  • The platform doesn’t have many built-in automation features, so you may find yourself doing a lot of the work manually

ProProfs Knowledge Base pricing

  • Free: for up to 25 articles
  • Business: $29.99/month for 100 articles a month
  • Custom Domain and White Label: $30/month

ProProfs Knowledge Base ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.6/5 (25+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.6/5 (25+ reviews)

Nuclino documentation software

Nuclino is a cloud-based collaboration platform and powerful documentation solution. The platform acts as a central hub and knowledge management tool, giving your team a place to start compiling technical documentation. The real-time collaboration tools and structured content options make it stand out.

Nuclino best features

  • The structured content system of interconnected items makes it easy to organize and link documentation
  • Great collaboration features for knowledge sharing are especially helpful for teams working asynchronously
  • Powerful search options make it easy to find information, even in large knowledge bases

Nuclino limitations

  • There is no automation for code-based documentation, so you’ll need to compile that information manually or use other existing tools

Nuclino pricing

  • Standard: $5/per user per month
  • Premium: $10/per user per month

Nuclino ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 (20+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.8/5 (60+ reviews)

Whatfix documentation software

Whatfix is a digital adoption platform, so while it might not be a traditional choice for technical documentation, it’s a handy software documentation tool. The platform allows you to create and share interactive walkthroughs and product guides, showing users how to perform specific tasks or workflows. These guides can help you create incredibly rich technical documentation for software, hardware, and websites.

Whatfix best features

  • Customizable walkthroughs based on task, workflow, or even a user’s role or device, making resources more relevant and useful
  • Integration with other tools to create more comprehensive documentation, including customer relationship management, help desks, and learning management systems
  • Simple-to-use interface, even for those without a lot of technical expertise

Whatfix limitations

  • There are limited branding options, so you may not be able to create walkthroughs that meet your organization’s aesthetic guidelines

Whatfix pricing

  • Contact for a custom price

Whatfix ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.6/5 (290+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.6/5 (75+ reviews)

Document360 documentation platform

Document360 is a cloud-based knowledge base software that helps organizations create and share high-quality technical documentation. It offers powerful version controls and collaboration tools and integrates with over 1,000 other tools, including Google Drive and GitHub.

Document360 best features

  • Excellent knowledge base editor allows you to create documentation with text, images, videos, code snippets, and more
  • Robust search controls make it easy to find specific information in large knowledge bases, enhancing user friendliness
  • Exporting options allow you to publish technical documentation in various formats, including HTML, PDF, and Markdown

Document360 limitations

  • Pricing can increase quickly, especially if you need more advanced functions for multiple instances of project documentation

Document360 pricing

  • Standard: $199/per project per month
  • Professional: $399/per project per month
  • Business: $529/per project per month
  • Enterprise: $599/per project per month

Document360 ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 (360+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.7/5 (190+ reviews)

Bit documentation software

Bit is a cloud-based knowledge management platform. The centralized knowledge base makes it easy to create user manuals, technical docs, client portals, and more. Collaboration features allow teams to create living documents with templates and robust customization options.

Bit best features

  • Dozens of templates kickstart documentation, and you can use customized themes to align them with your branding
  • Smart widgets make it a snap to add text blocks, code blocks, math equations, and more
  • Document tracking allows you to add team members for collaboration while keeping an eye on version control

Bit limitations

  • Phone support isn’t available to all users, so be prepared to search help forums if you hit a roadblock

Bit pricing

  • Pro Plan: $8/per member per month
  • Business Plan: $15/per member per month

Bit ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4/5 (20+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 5/5 (5+ reviews)

Confluence from Atlassian documentation software

Confluence is part of the widely used Atlassian ecosystem, making it an excellent option for creating technical documents if you’ve already used platforms such as Jira or Trello. Confluence makes creating software documentation easy with macros and templates that speed up the creation process. The platform is simple to use but packed with features that everyone, from technical writers to project managers, will love.

Confluence best features

  • Web-based app is easy to use from anywhere with internet access, making it useful for modern remote teams
  • Great text editor and page hierarchy make it easy to create and structure your technical documentation
  • Great traceability allows you to see who made changes and when, so version control is a snap

Confluence limitations

  • Automation options with products outside of the Atlassian ecosystem can be cumbersome and limited

Confluence pricing

  • Free: for up to 10 users and 2 GB file storage
  • Standard: $5.75/per user per month
  • Premium: $11/per user per month 
  • Enterprise: Call for a custom price

Confluence ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.1/5 (3,600+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.5/5 (3,000+ reviews)

Scribe documentation software

If you want to harness the power of AI to make process documentation easier, Scribe is the platform for you. Scribe automatically creates step-by-step guides for up-to-date documentation in minutes.

Scribe best features

  • Helps you document your processes step-by-step with AI so your documentation stays current without hours of time investment
  • Allows you to create user manuals to help answer common questions in your support tickets
  • Makes it easy to record and share a process in seconds with a point-and-click interface

Scribe limitations

  • An excellent tool for documenting your process, but it may lack the features for more robust technical documentation needs

Scribe pricing

  • Basic: Free
  • Pro Personal: $23/per seat per month
  • Pro Team: $12/per seat per month with a five-seat minimum
  • Enterprise: Schedule a demo for a custom price

Scribe ratings and reviews

  • Capterra: 4.9/5 (5+ reviews)

GitBook documentation software

GitBook is a knowledge base solution that makes it easy to create software documentation in a collaborative process. It’s great for developing easy-to-use, easy-to-search resources for end users.

GitBook best features

  • You can start technical documentation projects easily by importing existing content and templates
  • Every team can contribute to the knowledge base with collaboration features, and stakeholders can sign off along the way
  • You can easily make changes and track them with the user-friendly interface, so you can always revert to an older version if needed

GitBook limitations

  • If you opt for a free account, anyone will be able to access your content, so don’t publish any sensitive content there

GitBook pricing

  • Personal: Free Forever
  • Plus: $6.70/per user per month
  • Pro: $12.50/per user per month
  • Enterprise: Contact for a custom price

GitBook ratings and reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 (130+ reviews)
  • Capterra: 4.5/5 (15+ reviews)

BookStack documentation software

If you want to create technical documentation for free, then BookStack is worth exploring. This free, open-source platform has a stripped-down interface that even non-technical users can navigate, and plenty of advanced features exist for those who need them.

BookStack best features

  • WYSIWYG interface allows you to break your documentation down into books, chapters, and pages and easily edit your text
  • Good customization options allow you to insert your own branding into the documentation
  • Minimal system requirements ensure the software won’t slow down your desktop

BookStack limitations

  • It has very few collaborative features, so it might not be suitable for teams that need to edit documentation simultaneously

BookStack pricing

Bookstack ratings and reviews.

  • Capterra: 5/5 (2+ reviews)

Streamline Your Technical Documentation Process With ClickUp

Good technical documentation software is essential to any organization that depends on users understanding how to make the most of complex products and services. Comprehensive technical documentation content can guide internal and external users, giving them clear, concise instructions for using your projects and services while saving time and frustration.

The right software can save your organization a lot of time and frustration, too. If you’re looking for a powerful and versatile technical documentation software solution, check out Clickup. ClickUp’s comprehensive documentation editor supports various content types, allows real-time collaboration, and integrates with your favorite tools and apps.

ClickUp also offers a Free Forever plan, so you can ensure it fits into your technical writing process before committing to a paid plan. And if you already use ClickUp as a project management tool, you can expand its functionality for writing technical documentation in just a few clicks.

Create an account today to learn more about ClickUp and how it can help you create better technical documentation.

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How to Contribute to Open Source – a Guide for Technical Writers

Contributing to open source can be a daunting prospect, especially if you haven't done so before, or if you're used to working on documentation rather than code.

This guide will help technical writers get started contributing to open-source projects, and outline some of the common pitfalls you might encounter when starting to contribute.

It'll also highlight some of the benefits of contributing to open source, and provide some additional resources for getting started with contributing to open source as a technical writer.

What You Will Learn

This post will cover how technical writers can contribute to open source, what the benefits are, and some of the potential drawbacks. We'll also go over a few resources for getting started.

What is Open Source?

Open source is a collaborative way of developing and distributing software. People all over the world contribute to open-source projects by adding features, fixing bugs, answering questions, translating text, or writing tutorials.

Why Contribute?

Contributing to open-source software is one of the best ways for technical writers and other knowledge workers to give back and make a difference.

You can help improve the software you use every day, or you can learn from the example of others who have contributed before you. Plus, it's a great way to meet people with common interests. And when your contributions are appreciated, you'll feel like part of the community.

You might be wondering – when should you contribute? Well, if you're new to open source, contribute at your own pace—don't worry about trying to do too much too soon. You'll find what you're comfortable with.

Contributing to open-source will not only increase your skill set but also allow you to develop contacts within the community and even create opportunities for freelance work.

It takes some time to build up the knowledge and skills necessary to become an active contributor (especially because documentation often requires a different skill set than programming), but it’s worth the investment.

Challenges of Contributing

Technical writers can face several challenges when they start contributing to open-source projects. One of the most common is not being sure how best to contribute, especially if you don't know anything about the project yet.

You might also be unsure about where your work should go or what is expected from contributors. There are a couple of ways around this problem: you can read the project's README file and/or documentation to see if they have contribution guidelines. You can also get in touch with the team behind the project and ask for help.

How to Contribute to Open-Source Projects

First, you'll want to find a project on GitHub you want to contribute to. You can read this tutorial about how to search GitHub and find projects.

Next, you'll want to open the README and make sure you understand the given instructions.

Then, fork the repo by clicking on Fork located at the top right corner of your screen.

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Clone the forked repo in your local computer using the following command:

You'll see the repo link when you click on the code dropdown.

Once you've cloned it, open up the directory containing your new fork and start adding your contribution.

When done push your changes on GitHub by using the following instructions:

You will be prompted by GitHub to create a pull request after pushing your changes to the cloned repo. Go ahead and create the pull request and wait for the maintainers to merge your cloned repo to the main repo.

Make sure to incorporate upstream modifications into your local repository if you forked the project a while ago.

If you encounter a large file, install git-lfs if it is not already installed with the following command: brew install git-lfs

By downloading the appropriate versions of huge files slowly, the Git LFS (Large File Storage) extension, created by Atlassian, GitHub, and a few other open-source contributors, lessens the impact of large files in your repository

You can also use the following documentation to install git-lfs .

Best practices when contributing to open-source

  • Identify an area where you could be of assistance and find the relevant project on GitHub.
  • Read the documentation for any projects or programs that may be similar to the one you're interested in. This will give you a better understanding of what is involved in contributing and what other people have contributed.
  • Search for issues labeled good first issue and read through them – these are typically fairly easy to solve.
  • Get your code ready by following the contribution guidelines of the project.
  • Write up a pull request with your solution and explain why it solves the problem at hand. Include links to related resources like tutorials if necessary.
  • Submit your pull request for review. The team will discuss whether it should be accepted into the repository and update you about their decision.
  • If they decide not to accept your pull request ask them how you might go about addressing their concerns so that they'll reconsider acceptance at a later date.
  • If they do accept your pull request then thank them!
  • Continue searching for new problems to solve and share your progress along the way!

What Types of Contributions Can I Make?

You can contribute to these projects in many ways, including submitting pull requests for bug fixes or feature additions, writing documentation about how to use the software, improving the current documentation, translating the text into another language, and fixing typos.

You should get involved by picking a project you're interested in and reading through its documentation before diving right in.

Writing for an open-source project is a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and position yourself for future freelance opportunities.

One thing that technical writers should always keep in mind when writing for open-source projects is that their audience is primarily developers. This means that they need more technical details than what you would find in other types of writing.

Where Can I Find Open Source Projects?

There are a variety of places you can find open-source projects. GitHub is the most popular place for open-source projects, but there are also repositories on BitBucket, Gitlab and other sites.

If you have an idea for an open-source project that doesn't exist yet, start by putting together your plan in a README file. If you're not sure how to get started with contributing to an existing project, check out its documentation or read through some pull requests before submitting one of your own.

Sample Projects

  • The HTML5 Boilerplate project is a popular open-source project for web developers that provides HTML, CSS, and Javascript code for building a website or web application.
  • The Bootstrap framework, also an open-source project, is a collection of tools to help developers quickly create responsive websites.
  • Jekyll is a static site generator written in Ruby, designed for personal blogs.
  • React.js  documentation - React.js documentation provides official information on how to use react.js
  • GitHub pages - They contain everything you need to know about GitHub.
  • Galaxy project (training material) -A collection of training materials about the Galaxy project which is a web-based open platform for data-intensive computational research that extends beyond the biological sciences.
  • CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) -CNCF is open-source cloud-native computing that hosts projects such as Kubernetes and Prometheus to make cloud-native ubiquitous and sustainable.

You can also check out Google Season of Docs which provides assistance to open-source projects in improving their documentation and allows skilled technical writers to acquire experience in open-source.

There are many different ways you can contribute, which means there is something out there for everyone.

Contributing to open source is a great way for technical writers and other content creators to share their knowledge with the world.

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IMAGES

  1. Technical Documentation in Software Development: Types and Tools

    technical writing documentation on software projects

  2. 20+ Software Documentation Examples to Inspire You

    technical writing documentation on software projects

  3. Technical Documentation in Software Development: Types and Tools

    technical writing documentation on software projects

  4. How to Create Technical Documentation (Guide + Free Template)

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  5. Course Preview: Technical Writing: Documentation on Software Projects

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  6. What is Technical Documentation? Examples and Tips

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VIDEO

  1. Project Documents

  2. What Does a Technical Writer Do

  3. Technical Writing Certifications

  4. How to Improve Technical Writing for Clear and Concise Documentation?

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  1. How to write technical documentation

    Writing technical documentation is an essential part of any software development workflow. It doesn't just help developers and other stakeholders understand what you built — but also why and how you built it. Here, we'll explore what technical documentation is and why it's important.

  2. Technical Writing: Documentation on Software Projects

    In this course, Technical Writing: Documentation on Software Projects, you'll learn how to write documentation for a software project, including requirements, the architecture/design document, code documentation, test plans and test cases, and end-user documentation.

  3. How to Write Software Documentation in 7 Simple Steps

    Process the research data into usable information, compile it over your outline, and provide references wherever necessary to add credibility to your writing (if it applies). 5. Write Documentation Drafts. Now that you've laid a strong foundation for your technical document, all that's left to do is to draft it.

  4. How to Write Documentation For Your Next Software Development Project

    Technical documentation can make or break a project. If every step of the way for a project is well-documented, it can run smoothly and save time. No one-on-one conversations to give the right people the right information, and with that, no misunderstandings. Why write project documentation? Your project will depend less on individual people

  5. Software Documentation Best Practices [With Examples]

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  6. Technical Documentation in Software Development: Types and T

    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.

  7. How to Create Technical Documentation with Examples

    Technical documentation is a vital aspect of working software, and should not be skipped during the release cycle. Whether it's release notes, knowledge bases, or user manuals, remember that 51% of customers want to see a FAQs section on a website when making an online purchase.

  8. A Guide to Writing Your First Software Documentation

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  9. 5 Steps to Create Technical Documentation That's (Actually) Helpful

    Technical documentation refers to any document that explains the use, functionality, creation, or architecture of a product. Think of it as a nuts-and-bolts "how to" guide for your users, new hires, administrators, and anyone else who needs to know how your product works. But while that sounds pretty straightforward, the results rarely are.

  10. How to Write Technical Documentation for Your Next Software Project

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  11. Technical Writing: Documentation on Software Projects: An Online Course

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  12. Technical Documentation Plan: Easy Learn How to Write It

    Every software project should ideally be accompanied by comprehensive technical documentation, detailing all the inner workings of the codebase, and explaining the software's architecture, design choices, and coding conventions. As such, they're highly useful documents and invaluable assets to software development teams.

  13. 10 Best Practices for Writing Software Documentation

    First things first - clear objectives. There are a number of different documents that make up comprehensive software documentation, and each one serves different purposes and users. Defining clear objectives for software documentation means establishing specific purposes and goals for each document.

  14. 20+ Software Documentation Examples to Inspire You

    Components of the software test documentation include: Master Test Plan (MTP): contains the overall test plan. Level Test Plan (LTP): contains the approach, resources, and schedule of the testing activities for each LTP. Level Test Design (LTD): contains details for the test cases and test pass criteria.

  15. How to Write Technical Documentation: 6 Ways to Impress Teams

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  17. Technical writing resources

    Documentation as part of software engineering. The book Docs for Developers: An Engineer's Field Guide to Technical Writing is a practical guide to creating, measuring, and maintaining docs using examples, templates, and principles that you can adapt to the needs of your organization. Written by experienced writers and developers from Google ...

  18. How to Write Software Documentation

    Component authoring allows your writing team to create new publications while utilizing the same or comparable code and text parts repeatedly. This approach frees up time and resources for developing new products and creative projects. This blog will describe the key components of effective software documentation and explain how to create it.

  19. Technical Writing: How to Write Software Documentation

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    User Guides - Targeted documentation tailored to specific user roles or use cases, providing focused guidance based on user needs. Video Tutorials - These are visual guides in the form of videos, demonstrating software functionalities and guiding users through specific tasks. 4. Architecture design documentation.

  21. Technical Writing: How to Write Software Documentation

    You will be able to perform the needed steps and start writing documentation as a technical writer. You will be able to explain the process for preparing, organizing, and delivering software documentation for the users of software products. You will be able to create instructional images and graphics needed in your documentation using Canva.

  22. 18 Best Technical Writing Software Tools (2024)

    18 Best Technical Writing Software in 2024 Here are the best and most popular technical writing software tools for creating technical documentation in 2024: 1. Whatfix Whatfix signifies a paradigm shift in the way help documentation is presented online.

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    The 10 Best Tools for Internal and External Documentation in 2024. 1. ClickUp. Use ClickUp's Docs to create and connect beautiful documents, wikis, and more for seamless idea execution with your team. ClickUp has a ton of features that make it a fantastic tool for project management and a dream for technical writers.

  24. How to Contribute to Open Source

    How to Contribute to Open-Source Projects. First, you'll want to find a project on GitHub you want to contribute to. You can read this tutorial about how to search GitHub and find projects. Next, you'll want to open the README and make sure you understand the given instructions. Then, fork the repo by clicking on Fork located at the top right ...

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