Documentation exists to explain a product’s functionality, unify project-related information, and allow for discussing all significant questions that arise between stakeholders and developers.
But what’s the best way to deliver these docs to your users?
Undermentioned is an insightful guide with Seven easy steps to help you write software documentation that is relevant, specific and concise for both technical users and end users.
Software Documentation: Why do you need one…
- Everyone will understand your software – In most cases, software products are written in common programming languages, but sometimes developers make lines of code with a narrative, which might not make much sense to everyone. That is why you should provide clear system documentation so that every developer can understand your software.
- You will have flexibility for further developments – Having software documentation means that you don’t necessarily need to contact the original developer if any enhancements or developments are required. Your online documentation software will make sure to reduce any future errors and save you time.
- You will comprehend the compatibility of your systems – Usually, systems have certain requirements when it comes to compatibility with server technology or access devices. These requirements are prone to change, so you need to know the systems’ compatibility. Online documentation software will ensure that you do and avoid a scenario where your system won’t work on a new server.
- You will have control over your system – Without software documentation, you will have to rely on the original developer that created the system. However, having clear documentation will help you be in charge of your systems.
How to write software documentation the right way?
(For technical users)
- Know what information to include.
Software documentation is designed to serve as a manual for user interface designers, programmers, and those who check if the software works the way it was intended to. Taking that into consideration, the following are important things to include in your documentation:
– key files, such as the ones created by the development team, third-party utility programs, and databases which are accessed while the program is operating
– an explanation about what subroutines and functions do, altogether with input and output values
– constants and variables and the way they are used
– The program structure which includes either the description of individual modules of the program (when it comes to disc-based applications) or the description of which files are used by which pages (when it comes to web applications).
- Determine which portion of the documentation will be within the program code and which will be separate
If a large amount of documentation is within the program code, it is easier to update along with it and to document different versions of the original application. The documentation that is within the source code should provide an explanation of the purpose of constants, variables, functions, and subroutines.
If the source code is too long, it can be documented as a help file that can be searched using keywords. Also, bear in mind that Java and some other programming languages have specific standards for code documentation, so you should follow them to determine how much of the software documentation needs to be included within the source code.
- Choose the suitable tool for documentation
Choosing the documentation tool is sometimes determined by the programming language the code is written in, but sometimes, it is determined by which type of documentation is required. Microsoft Word has word processing programs that are suitable for making separate text files if the documentation is short and simple. If the documentation is more complex, many prefer to use Adobe FrameMaker.
(For end users)
- Determine what the business reasons for your documentation are
When it comes to the end users, the primary reason for software documentation is to help them understand and learn how to use the application. However, there might be some other reasons, for instance, improving the company image, helping in software marketing, and reducing costs related to technical support.
Nevertheless, bear in mind that software documentations is by no means a substitute for bad interface design.
- Understand your audience
Usually, software users do not possess great knowledge when it comes to computers, except for the tasks they carry out using applications. That is why you should determine how to meet their needs with the documentation.
- Decide on the suitable format for the documentation
Software documentation is normally structured in 2 formats – the user guide and the reference manual. In some cases, the combination of both is the best solution.
The user guide format is designed to explain how to use the software in order to complete some task. They are often formatted as PDF files or printed guides. They sometimes contain the summary of the tasks that need to be performed.
The reference manual format, on the other hand, explains the individual characteristics of a software application. Help files, especially context-sensitive help which shows a relevant topic when a user clicks on the help button, are usually written in this format.
- Determine which form your software documentation will take
When it comes to end users, your documentation can have a few forms – PDF documents, online help, printed manuals, and help files. Each of these forms shows the user in what way to use the program’s functions. Online help and help files have to be keyword-searchable and indexed with the goal to allow users to find the information they need quickly.
Software documentation has many purposes. Whether it is designed as a technical document that is used by internal users or as a software manual or a help file for end users, software documentation is relevant for understanding how the specific software works. That is why you should follow our tips and make sure you are on the right track when creating your documentation!
Author Bio:- Robin Singh is a Technical Support Executive. He is an expert in knowledge management and various Knowledge base tools. Currently, he is a resident knowledge management expert at ProProfs. In his free time, Robin enjoys reading and traveling.