Why Software Documentation Is Important. Steps to Create It in 2023
Technical documentation for software serves as the cornerstone of efficient communication between software engineers, users, and stakeholders. It bridges the gap between complex code and clear instructions, allowing seamless collaboration and facilitating smooth software implementation.
Why Create Software Documentation
Developing any software also means generating information about it during the development process. This data is valuable for devs, customers, and potential users and by recording it properly, you can lose, misinterpret it or forget about some parts. It is beneficial for large-scale or complex projects. Software documentation includes crucial details about both the process and the product.
The consequences of overlooking software documentation include disrupted maintenance, scaling, and updating the system. You may also face problems transferring the project to a new team or onboarding new employees if your documentation is poor-quality or insufficient.
Apart from that, you may also end up going beyond budget, missing deadlines, or developing new features with errors. Often when software documentation isn’t standardized and organized, the team realizes how critical the issue is only when there already is some damage. Low-quality documentation can cause slowing down the development process and, accordingly, the client’s financial losses and dissatisfaction. As the surveys state, 34.7% of software engineers consider poor documentation one of their biggest challenges.
What Technical Documentation for Software Means
Technical documentation in software development includes information about the features, specifics, and the development process. It comes in the form of text and may contain images as well.
There are several components of software documentation in software engineering:
- Software requirements documentation includes information about the software features and capabilities, and business logic.
- Technical documentation includes information about the code, algorithms, and APIs. It also contains information about how the system was developed and designed.
- End-user documentation consists of instructions, manuals, and guidelines for users.
When it comes to types of documentation in software development, one can single out two of them:
- Software process documentation covers all the phases of the development process from planning and system analysis to implementation and deployment.
- Product documentation describes the software components, specifics, and the development principles.
We are going to focus our article on technical documentation. We won’t touch upon other types like project management documentation since they deserve to be covered in a separate article. Here we are going to tell you how to create technical documentation, what it includes, and how to work with it. Let’s get started!
The Main Types of Technical Documentation
In a nutshell, technical documentation consists of several documents, each having different content, format, and objectives.
Software architecture design documentation. It includes documents that state the principles of system development, its key elements, and objectives. It also covers the connection the system has with the environment and outlines data flows within it. Architecture design documentation lists the main architectural solutions and decisions, gives extensive tech specifications, and describes the design principles. Listing the main choices for architectural solutions and explaining the roles of each element is critical. As a rule, it includes schemes, tables, and textual components.
UI/UX design documentation. UX documentation covers all the stages of user experience. It also contains UX style guides, user personas, scenarios, prototypes, wireframes, and user story maps. UI documentation is focused on user interactions with the software. It lists all the possible interactions and includes visual, audio, and other elements of it in documents like style guides, prototypes, and page layouts.
API documentation. It includes the list of APIs used throughout the development process and guides on how to connect to them properly. You may consider some tools like Swagger to create and update your API documentation automatically. Furthermore, you can list APIs that could be useful in upgrading your software and add specifications for integrating them. Apart from API documentation, it’s recommended that you create documentation on all software development tools as well.
Source code and tech stack documentation. It explains how the code works and how the system was developed. This software documentation should cover all the front-end and back-end frameworks, and apart from this:
- CMS and CMF if they were used during the development;
- Plug-ins, tools, and other systems that come from external sources;
- Principles, internal dependencies, and relations between system components;
- Security measures.
Installation and deployment documentation. They are must-haves for products that are already being released. This document contains information about the systems and databases your product is integrated with.
Quality assurance documentation. It includes information about the product’s quality and all the testing activities. These documents contain a list of requirements and principles your product has to meet. You also need to add the rules of test execution, a test plan, quality management instructions, and test results there. However, this type of documentation is diverse and complex and it deserves a more thorough discussion in a separate article.
Maintenance documentation. Basically, these are instructions and recommendations for the software maintenance team. It includes the most common issues that emerged with this product and suggests ways to manage them. You also need to add any internal and external connections to the system. There are no strict rules to creating this type of documentation, you just need to make sure that your team is satisfied with the format. You can adjust it for different tech specialists so that it’s convenient for them.
This is only a brief explanation of what different types of software documentation include. Their format, content, and number are individual for different project scopes and requirements. For example, not every project requires creating all the above-mentioned documentation, and, in some cases, you need to bother creating only beneficial documents. And the larger your project is, the more documentation you will need to create.
How to Create Documentation For a Software Project. Samples and Templates
Now that we know about the importance of documentation in software development and its different types, it’s time to get more practical. Large-scale companies prefer their own templates while other companies can choose their own templates. Ask your potential development partner for an example of documentation and it will say a lot about their expertise and competence.
Here are some examples of tools that allow you to create customizable documentation templates.
Moreover, you can go for using modeling languages or notation systems to present your documentation using graphic means. We can mention Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) as an example of software documentation with graphical representation. Its elements are represented in charts, diagrams, and schemes, which are useful for explaining the tech aspect.
One more tool, Unified Modeling Language (UML) also utilizes diagrams to explain how a certain system works. Using such tools is essential for creating high-quality software process documentation. Besides, creating documentation is a changing process, so you can adjust it whenever you feel it is necessary.
Things You Need to Know About Creating Software Documentation
Dealing with technical documentation can be daunting, especially if you don’t have enough experience. Here are a few pieces of advice for creating software documentation.
- Avoid duplicating your documentation. Although documents should include extensive information about your product and development process, make sure you don’t repeat the same information in different places. Make sure all the documentation is structured, well-thought-out, and clear.
- Make sure it’s understandable. Think about the way you would like to receive your documentation. Write documentation clearly and in simple language. Review the information until it looks straightforward and contains beneficial visual elements.
- Define who the document is for. You need to clearly understand the purpose and the target audience of your documents. Based on this, you can choose relevant terms to use and give only necessary information for each team member.
- Access your software documentation regularly. Make sure you add the changes made on each development stage and add information about improvements.
- Choose a reliable storage. We recommend keeping your technical documentation in a safe location and make backup copies as well.
- Use the best and most up-to-date tools for creating documentation. Try different tools and settle on the one that works best for your team’s needs. For instance, you can use Swagger to create documentation your APIs.
- A detailed and high-quality documentation tells much about development team. Bring up the topic of software documentation wile discussing your potential partnership with a software development team. This will be especially important when you are planning to transfer your project from one vendor to another. In any case, it is your resources that will be spent if your documentation is insufficient, low-quality, or missing at all.
Let’s sum up all these ponts. Having a well-thought, organized and thorough software documentation gives you a solid backup in many cases, especially if you transfer the project to another development team. In some cases, lack of necessary documentation can lead to unpredictable situations and negative consequences.
Keep in mind that you can make changes and fill the gaps in your software documentation while preparing for a project handover. The key indicator of documentation quality is that it’s sufficient for maintaining, supporting and further scaling the product. And you need to make changes in it until you see that it’s good enough for performing any of these actions.
The Final Note On Technical Documentation For Software
In this article, we’ve covered the key types of software documentation and things they include. We have also shared some tips on how to create technical documentation for software. We hope that it helped you create a high-quality documentation for your product.
At SECL group, we pay much attention to software documentation and consider it a critical part of product development. If you still feel you don’t have enough information about software documentation, feel free to contact us for a consultation.