Technical documentation is an old strategy but essential in web development. However, it’s often a neglected part of the software development process. When done well, it can make a huge difference in the usability and quality of a product. But unfortunately, many developers view documentation as a necessary evil at best and something to be avoided at all costs.
There are several reasons for this attitude. The most common one is that documentation is time-consuming, and it can be hard to see the benefits compared to the cost.
However, the reality is that good documentation can save both onsite and remote software developers a lot of time in the long run, encouraging productivity and saving on operational costs.
What is Technical Documentation?
In a nutshell, technical documentation in software development is any document that describes the microservice architecture or use of a software product. It explains the features, APIs, source code, and other components that make up the system’s technical side. In short, it enables proper knowledge management in software development activities.
Technical documentation has developed substantially since the inception of computers and then the internet, and experts expect this evolution to push software development a notch higher in the coming years. Today, it’s done through the collaboration of technical writers, project managers, and software developers. It aims to help software engineers, developers, and information technology (IT) specialists understand everything about the system. Developers can use it to troubleshoot issues that may arise.
Why Is Technical Documentation Important for Developers?
Technical documentation helps capture ideas from developers during the development process. In addition, it helps other developers who can use it as a point of reference to understand the code they are working on.
Without documentation, web developers would have more difficulty understanding the codebase and would be more likely to make mistakes or take more time.
Documentation can take many forms, from detailed design documents to simple README files. The format will depend on the product, system, or service described. Whatever the form, technical documentation should help a developer solve issues without needing other research.
What Are the Types of Technical Documentation for Web Developers?
There are many types of technical documentation for developers, ranging from simple how-tos to more complex API references. Some common types of technical documentation include:
Application Protocol Interface(API) Documentation
An API document allows developers to understand how a program’s interface works. It includes detailed information about an API, including its methods, parameters, and return values. It may come in the form of tutorials or guides.
Software Development Kit (SDK) Documentation
SDK documentation is a set of instructions that helps developers integrate new software into an existing application. It includes information on how to use the software, what it can do, and how it interacts with other applications. SDK documentation is essential for developers who want to add new app features or functionality.
Source Code Documentation
A source code document includes code snippets to show developers how to use the software. You don’t have to highlight everything; instead, focus on the parts that you feel need interpretation or comment.
Release notes are technical documents that describe the changes made to a product in a new release. They typically include information on new features, bug fixes, and known issues. Developers and testers often use release notes to understand what has changed in a new product.
Knowledge Base Documentation
Knowledge base documentation includes a collection of knowledge developers can use to develop and maintain software. In addition, this document can be helpful in the onboarding process.
The document includes software development tools, programming languages, methodologies, and design principles. Furthermore, it provides how-to-guide, troubleshooting steps, and frequently asked questions.
These documents help developers to share knowledge and improve the efficiency of software development.
Qualities of Good Technical Documentation?
Writing technical documents is not a walk in the park. It needs a lot of dedication. However, unlike in the early days when programmers believed these documents were never used, today’s developers see them as the backbone of any software.
This means it should be top-quality, as others will depend on it for some guidance. In addition, ensure the document is part of your software and not stored somewhere on your computer.
Good technical documentation should be :
- Accurate: Technical documentation must be correct to be valid. Documentation that contains errors can lead to confusion, wasted time, and loss of customers. For this reason, it is essential to check accuracy carefully before publishing.
- Clear: Ensure your document is clear and avoid assumptions. This means using clear-cut language and providing enough detail to enable readers to understand the information. So, make it easy to read, free from jargon and acronyms.
- Concise: Ensure you cover all scope/information that is necessary and avoid unnecessary details. Also, ensure your readers will find the information they need quickly and easily.
- Complete: Technical documentation should be comprehensive. It should cover all aspects of the software.
- Up-to-date: As technologies change, so too must the documentation. Outdated documentation can be misleading and can lead to frustration. For this reason, reviewing and updating it as needed is essential.
- Well-organized: Technical documentation should be well-organized so readers can easily find the necessary information. Use headings and subheadings in your document to divide the content. You can use bullet points and lists to make complex information easier to digest.
Available Tools for Technical Documentation?
Many tools are available for technical documentation, each with its strengths and weaknesses, so choosing the tool that best suits your needs is important. Here are some technical documentation software available on the market today:
- ClickHelp: A popular tool among technical writers that offers a wide range of features, including a powerful editor, flexible templates, and detailed reports.
- Adobe RoboHelp: It’s a great tool with features for authoring and publishing help documentation, including a knowledge base.
- MadCapFlare: A high-quality technical authoring and multi-channel publishing tool with multilingual options and vast resources, allowing you to publish content in different formats.
- GitHub: GitHub is a great tool for most web developers. It offers a convenient way to collaborate with others on writing and editing documents.
- Confluence: Confluence is the most popular option that provides an easy-to-use interface for creating and editing documents. It is mainly known for its collaborative wiki system.
- Tettra: Tettra is an excellent option for writing documentation that needs to be well organized and searchable.
- Document 360: A self-service tool for creating knowledge-based documentation. It’s also a good choice for creating interactive documents.
The list of technical documentation tools is vast, and choosing the best is crucial. It’s also a good idea to test if a platform is right for you before paying for a subscription since these tools offer trial versions.