What Is Software Documentation? Goals, Types, Examples

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Software documentation is a necessary part of any software project, but it can be a daunting task. It’s time-consuming, tedious at times, and not the most exciting part of creating a new piece of software. Still, it’s essential for getting your product off the ground.

Whether you’re producing your company’s first or hundredth piece of software documentation, don’t rely on guesswork or copying what others have done it. Poor software documentation can scare away potential customers and waste your internal resources. Instead, follow best practices such as leveraging your internal expertise and avoiding jargon to produce technical documentation that lifts your software up rather than dragging it down.

Here’s an overview of some key considerations when producing software documentation to help you make your next documentation project a success.

What Is Software Documentation?

Software documentation is any documentation created to help users or developers understand a piece of software’s features and functions. This type of technical documentation consists of written tutorials, videos, user guides, and training manuals, which aim to aid users in comprehending a piece of software’s features, operations, and functionality.

Software documentation has two target audiences: software engineers and the end-users of a product. In software engineering, documentation describes materials and documents that help engineers understand the design, code, and implementation behind a product. This documentation allows developers to understand, update, and customize a piece of software from the inside out. For end-users, documentation refers to a straightforward set of resources that explain how to set up and use a piece of software.

Types of Software Documentation

Software documentation can take different forms depending on its target audience. Listed below are some common examples:

1. Administrative Documentation

Creating software requires documentation for everyone working on the project, including product and project managers who oversee and steer the process. Administrative documentation can include project documentation like guidelines, roadmaps, product requirements, and information about the project, such as status reports and meeting notes.

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Above: Example of product requirements documentation from Product Hunt.

2. End-User Documentation

Software end-user documentation is a form of process documentation that provides instructions on using, installing, and configuring your software. Having this kind of documentation available makes it easier for people to understand how to use your software. End-user documentation includes user guides, knowledge bases, tutorials, troubleshooting manuals, reference guides, and release notes.

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Above: Example of in-app user documentation powered by Whatfix.

3. Developer Documentation

Developer documentation is product documentation that explains how your software should work, so developers know what they’re building. These documents include build requirements that contain what the software is supposed to do, architecture information that explains the components and functions of the software, and checklists that guide developers through the process of building the software.

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Above: Example of developer documentation

4. “Just-In-Time” Documentation

The ‘just-in-time’ (JIT) method of documentation involves creating documentation as it’s needed, and provides users with support documentation at the moment of need. It’s based on agile methodology and relies on feedback from users. Instead of creating a library of content based on assumptions about what your users need help with, you create a minimum amount of documentation when you launch a piece of software. Then when your users have questions or problems, you add those answers to your documentation – and provide those resources to users in their workflows, allowing them to keep productivity high and become self-reliant users of your product.

JIT documents can be knowledge bases, FAQ pages, how-to documents, or documentation that explains how to add functionality. Using the just-in-time method, you can update your software without creating a whole new documentation set.

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Create "just-in-time" user documentation for your products with Whatfix

Whatfix empowers your users with contextual flows and self-help widgets, improving productivity and proficiency while cutting training and support costs.

What Are the Goals of Software Documentation?

When creating software documentation, the primary goal should be to make life easier for users and developers. You should also strive to achieve the following objectives:

1. Deliver Useful End-User Support

Documentation is often your user’s first point of contact with your software. It should help your users understand how they can set up your software and use its features. Your documentation also needs to be straightforward and well organized. By providing all the information users need in one place, they won’t have to jump around from website to website trying to determine how your software works.

2. Provide Developers With Documentation Notes

Developers are more likely to accomplish your project’s objectives if they have documentation notes at hand. These documents guide them in the right direction and save time because they don’t need as much assistance from project managers or other stakeholders.

3. Surface Vital Product Information

Software documentation needs to bring important information about your software to light for both users and developers. For example, your software should describe critical features, required hardware and software, compatibility details, and installation steps, as well and any other relevant information they may need to know.

Benefits of Effective Software Documentation

When creating software documentation, the primary goal should be to make life easier for users and developers. You should also strive to achieve the following objectives:

1. Drives User Adoption

Well-crafted documentation helps your users get started quickly with more effective user onboarding and more easily take advantage of all the features your software has to offer. When your users find the answers they need and don’t have to stop what they’re doing to get help, they will be more likely to continue using your software – improving your product’s rate of digital adoption.

What Is a Digital Adoption Platform?

2. Provides Developers With Instructional Guidance

Software documentation allows developers to explain the decisions they made when the software was written. Instructions can help them remember why they wrote a particular bit of code when they go back to look at it at a later date. It’s also a big help to other developers who end up working on the same piece of software.

3. Reduces Burden on Software Support Teams

Support teams benefit from software documentation by reducing the number of support tickets and calls from users. It also improves troubleshooting — when information is readily accessible to them in the form of customer self-service formats, they can provide faster and more detailed customer support.

4. More Proficient Users and Happier Customers

Software documentation helps your users understand all the ins and outs of your software, making them more productive and efficient. When customers are satisfied with your software, they become co-owners who invest in your success and become your best champions.

Best Practices for Software Documentation

When creating your documentation, it’s essential to follow best practices to ensure that you’ve documented everything in a way that’s easy to understand, provides value for users, and aligns with your project goals. Keep these best practices in mind when writing your documentation:

  • Write simple-to-read documentation — your software documentation should be written in plain language and avoid industry jargon. It should also suit your intended audience. For example, when writing technical documentation, use terms and phrases developers would use.
  • Study your users — uncover your users’ needs and pain points so you can better describe how your software will help them.
  • Leverage internal employees who are subject-matter experts — involve product owners, stakeholders, and other team members with advanced knowledge of your software to ensure your documentation is accurate and relevant.
  • Use a mix of different content formats — break up your text with interactive content such as video, surveys, or polls that encourage users to engage.
  • Ask for user feedback — ask your users about their experiences with your software, including what they like and dislike about it, so that you can work their input into your documentation.
Remember, Documentation Is a Continuous Process

Your software documentation needs to be continuously updated to maintain its value for developers and end-users, so you need to establish a process for updates and a system for determining when it needs to be updated.

Your teams should constantly be thinking about how your documentation can improve or what problems exist that it can help solve. You’ll also want to look at your usage analytics to identify which parts of your software are more popular than others. These steps will allow your team to focus their energy on the areas where new documentation will be most beneficial.

Schedule a demo with our experts to discover how Whatfix can assist you in creating more effective software documentation today.

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