First Impressions Count - Why Doesn’t Your Github Repo Have a ReadMe File?

Jennifer Bland
Jan 14, 2017 · 4 min read

You only get one chance to make a positive first impression with potential employers. For software engineers, the way to do this is through the README file in your Github repo. Is your README file leaving the wrong impression?

The Most Important Code Isn’t Code

Your README file is the most important part of your Github repo. When people visit your repo, this will be the first thing that they look at.

If your README file does not define what your code does, then most users will just skip right over it. In other words, you failed at your chance of making a good impression.

What Makes a Good README File?

A good README file should include the following two items:

The description tells visitors exactly what your code does. It does not have to be an epic description that is on par with the length of War and Peace but it should be precise in describing the features found in your code.

I would recommend using short sentences in your description. You can use a bulleted list if you want. Lengthwise it should be between 3–7 sentences long coupled into 1–2 paragraphs.

If people want to use your code, then they will need to know how to install it. Does your code need dependencies or need to run install scripts using npm, bower or grunt? If so include the instructions on how to install them here.

Github markdown gives you the option to highlight code. I suggest you use this to provide the exact steps needed to install your code.

Making Your README File Great

With a little bit of effort you can make a great README file. A great README file would include most of the following items:

This section will cover all the dependencies required to run your code. Do you require specific version of certain modules in order for your application to run properly? For example, if you relied on functions in Lodash version 3 that no longer exist in Lodash version 4, you should include a notice here that you must use Lodash version 3.

Before I go through the process of forking, cloning, and installing your repo, it would be great if I could just click on a link to actually see it working.

It is easy to upload your code to free sites like Heroku, Azure, or Cloud9. Provide a link in your README file so people can click on the link and see your code in action. Make sure to put the link also in the website field in the description of your repo.

Most code is open source if it is available on Github. Visitors to your repo might have suggestions on how to improve your code or report a problem. Provide detailed instructions on how they can do both.

If you are releasing your code as open source, you need to provide a license. The license will tell users what they can and cannot do with your code.

It is easy to create screenshots showing your code in use. You can create a folder called screenshots that you commit to your Github repo. You can then link to these screenshot images in your README file.

If many people were responsible for creating the code, list their names here. If possible I would include links — twitter, github, website, email — to how you can reach each author. If somebody contributed to the source code, list their names here.

Github Markup language allows you to create links to sections in the README file. The Table of Contents provides an outline of the file’s contents and visitors can click on any entry to go to that section of the README file.

Most users are weary of using open source code if the author(s) do not include tests. Without tests there is no verification that the code actually works. The testing section of the README file describes what tests you have created and how to run them.

Example of a Great README file

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Jennifer Bland

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Software Engineer. Google Developers Expert. Keynote Speaker. Entrepreneur. Mountain Climber. Neil Diamond fan. World traveler. &