How to Create Technical Documentation with Examples
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.
What is 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.
Importance of technical documentation
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.
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.
Documenting, storing, and sharing technical manuals made it easy.
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.
Different Types of Technical Documentation with Examples
Let's dive into the wide and fascinating world of technical documentation. There's a lot to cover, so buckle up!
Technical Documentation in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
This is the stuff that's mostly for the eyes of your developers and team members. It's like the secret recipe that makes your software tick.
System Administrator's Documentation
This one's like the watchdog for your system. It helps enhance and validate security by jotting down the configuration details and the procedures that hold up a security policy. It also covers all the installation and updates stuff, which is pretty handy for a system administrator looking after the product's maintenance.
Product Requirement Documentation
This is like the "what" and "how" manual of your product. It offers a single place where all the technical design input requirements are stored and explains how your product should function to meet customer needs.
User Experience Design Documentation
This one's a living document that tracks your product from its birth to its current release. It's like a treasure trove of valuable stuff - content models, empathy maps, experience maps, mental models, and personas.
Source Code Documentation
This one's crucial for your developers. It makes sure your code isn't like hieroglyphics but something that can be quickly understood and is easy to maintain. It includes code comments that explain the parts of the code that aren't obvious at first glance.
This one's the deal-maker. It helps other developers figure out if your software can solve their problem. If they can work with your API, you've hit the jackpot!
Maintenance Guide Documentation
This is like the user's manual on how to keep the system up and running. It gives the lowdown on the software support environment, and also the roles and responsibilities of the maintenance personnel.
Your Product Documentation
This part is the face of your technical documentation, the stuff your customers see and use.
Product Knowledge Base
Consider this as your product's encyclopedia. It's a library filled with information about your product that helps customers find answers when they want to solve problems independently.
This is the go-to guide for your customers. It provides a deep dive into how to install and operate the product, details about hardware and software requirements, and an explanation of the product's features and how to use them to the fullest.
This is the behind-the-scenes look at the major project details. It's where all the documents needed to implement a project successfully are stored. This can include project proposals, business requirement documents, business cases, project plans, and even project status reports.
Remember, solid technical documentation is the backbone of any successful software product. So take your time with it, and make sure it's as clear and comprehensive as possible!
Roadmap to Creating Effective Technical Documentation
So you're looking to create some killer technical documentation that's both a hit with your users and makes your life easier? Good on ya! Let's break it down into simple steps, shall we?
Step 1: Know your Crowd and Documentation Type
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you need to figure out who's going to be reading your masterpiece. Is it your customers? Other developers? The product team? Different strokes for different folks, right? When you know who your readers are, you can customize the tone and style of your documentation to match their needs. It's like having a GPS for your document; without it, you're just driving blind.
Step 2: Become a Topic Guru
With your audience in mind, it's time to dive deep into the subjects you'll be tackling in your documentation. This stage is all about exploring the depths of your topics, brainstorming with your team, and assigning research tasks. Ask yourselves:
- What areas should our technical documentation cover?
- What's our endgame with this documentation?
- Do we have any existing documents to start with?
Remember, this stage is a group project - you don't need to carry all the weight yourself.
Step 3: Knowledge Hunt
When it comes to writing your documentation, you're probably not going solo. You'll be working with other team members to gather the knowledge that'll form the backbone of your articles. Find the right people in your team to tap into their expertise on various topics. You could even conduct interviews with your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and write up the content yourself. The key is to keep track of your topics and who's contributing what.
Step 4: Get Artsy and Tidy Up
Your documentation isn't just about the words. It's also about how those words are presented. You want your readers to navigate your content as smoothly as a hot knife through butter. Think about your document's layout, structure, and navigation. Make sure your information is neatly arranged into categories and subcategories, and add a search bar for speedy access to specific topics.
Step 5: Write it Out
You've got your research done, you've got your SMEs on board, it's time to get cracking on the writing part. Get your team together, divvy up the writing tasks based on skills, and aim to create documentation that speaks directly to your user.
Start with a high-level outline of your topics and add to it with detailed content and relevant visuals. Write in simple, clear language, and always consider your reader's level of understanding. More isn't always better when it comes to documentation. Be concise and to the point.
Step 6: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Once you've got your first draft, bring in your SMEs again to review your content. You want their feedback on the overall structure and flow of the document at first, not just grammar and typos. After a few drafts, you'll want their detailed critique on your writing.
It's also super helpful to have others in your team try out your documentation. Ask them to highlight areas where they get lost or confused. Use their feedback to polish your document further.
Step 7: Time to Go Live
After some rigorous reviews, it's time to publish your documentation. But your job doesn't end there! Go over your published document to check for any last-minute errors or necessary updates. Consider using a knowledge-base software like Document360, which makes your documentation look good and easy to navigate.
Once your site is live, keep an eye out for user feedback. Perform some checks to ensure everything is running smoothly, like checking for broken links and making sure that navigation elements are functioning properly. Remember, feedback is your friend, so use it to make your documentation even better.
Step 8: Keep it Fresh
Once your documentation is out in the wild, the journey isn't over. In fact, it's just beginning! Thanks to the magic of analytics, you can gauge how effective your content is. Regularly review your documentation for updates and don't let it get stale. Keep it current with new product releases and changes. Set up a regular maintenance schedule based on insights from your analytics, like failed searches or negative article ratings. And a quick pro-tip: using the right software lets you save older versions of your docs, just in case you need to go back to them later.
The Do's and Don'ts of Technical Documentation
Let's round this out with a quick do's and don'ts list for your technical documentation:
- Keep it simple and clear – Avoid over-complicating things or using complex language.
- Always think about your user – Remember who you're writing for.
- Make it visual – A picture's worth a thousand words, right?
- Include a thorough review process – More eyes on your work can catch more issues.
- Assume your audience knows everything – Provide as much context as possible.
- Use passive voice – Be active: “He pressed the button” rather than “the button was pressed by him”.
- Overuse acronyms – If you do use them, explain what they mean.
- Try to be a comedian – Humor can be subjective, and what's funny to you might not be to others.
Wrapping it up
Never underestimate the power of solid technical documentation. It's a critical tool for communication and can save your team loads of time answering repeated questions. Following these steps will set you on the path to creating documentation that's not just informative, but also empowering and enjoyable for your users. Remember, technical documentation doesn't have to be a drag. When done right, it's a win-win for everyone involved!