What is Software Documentation?

Are you wondering what software documentation is? Then keep reading on.

Software documentation is information that defines the product to the people who use, develop, and deploy it.

It incorporates technical manuals and digital material, such as help capabilities and online versions of manuals. In addition, the word refers to reference information about the product in code comments, design documentation, white papers, and session notes.


Software Documentation Task Categories

Software documentation shows what the working software developers did when creating the software and what IT staff and software users must do when using and deploying it. 

Documentation is normally incorporated into the software’s user interface and included as part of help documentation. 

The information exists in different task categories, including the following:

  • Evaluating
  • Planning
  • Setting up or installing
  • Customizing
  • Administering
  • Using
  • Maintaining

Importance of Software Documentation

Software documentation tool provides information about a software program for everyone involved in its creation, deployment, and use. 

Comprehensive documentation records and guides the development process. Moreover, it assists with general tasks such as troubleshooting and installation.

Productive documentation familiarizes users with the software and makes them mindful of the features. As a result, it can have an important role in driving user acceptance and comfort. Documentation can also lower the burden on customer support teams because it gives the users the power to troubleshoot problems.

Software documentation is a live document that keeps updating over the software development cycle. The use and communication it enables with users equip developers with information on users’ problems with working with the software and what additional features they need. 

As a result, developers can respond with software updates, improving customer satisfaction and user experience.

Software Documentation Types

The two main software documentation types are internal and external.

Internal software documentation is when developers and software engineers create internal documentation used inside a company. For example, internal documentation includes the following:

  • Administrative documentation: This is the high-level guidelines, administrative roadmaps, and product requirements for the project managers and the software development team working on the software. It also includes meeting notes and status reports.
  • Developer documentation: This provides a step-by-step guide to developers for building the software and navigates them through the development cycle. It includes requirements documentation explaining how the software will work when tested. Furthermore, it includes architectural documentation that concentrates on how all the features and components work together and details data flows throughout the product.

External software documentation is when software developers create this documentation to provide end users and IT managers with information on how to use and deploy the software. External documentation includes:

  • End-user documentation: This gives end users basic instructions on installing, using, and troubleshooting the software. It provides resources, such as knowledge bases, user guides, release notes, and tutorials.
  • Enterprise user documentation: Enterprise software has documentation for the IT staff who deploys the software across the business. It also provides documentation for the final users of the software.
  • Just-in-time documentation: This provides users with documentation support at the precise time they will need it. This allows developers to create a minimum amount of documentation at the release of a software product and add documentation as the latest features are added on. It is on Agile software development. These can be how-to documents, knowledge bases, and FAQ pages.

How to Write a Product System Documentation

The best approach is to compose a requirement document using a single, uniform template that all team members stick to. The one web page form will assist you in keeping the document succinct and preserve the time spent accessing the details.

Here are the main suggestions to follow:

  1. Responsibilities: Begin your document with the details about project participants, including stakeholders, a product owner, and group members. These details will simplify responsibilities and communicate the target goals for each group member.
  2. Business objective and team goals: Describe the most important goals in a brief form.
  3. Strategic fit and background: Provide a concise explanation of the strategic purpose of your actions. Why are you creating the product? How do your measures affect the outcome of the product and align with the company’s objectives?
  4. Assumptions: Create a list of business or technical assumptions the team can make.
  5. User Stories: Link or list user stories that are important for the undertaking. A user story is a composition written from the point of view of an individual using your software creation. The user story is a short explanation of consumer actions and the impacts they aspire to get.
  6. Design and user interaction: Link the wireframes and design explorations to the page.
  7. Queries: As the team handles the issues along the task progression, they undeniably have multiple questions arising. A useful practice is to document all the inquiries and track them.
  8. Currently not doing: List the things you are not handling now but plan on doing eventually. A list like this will help you prioritize features and organize your teamwork.

Make all this information elaborate by using the following practices:

  • Use anchors and links: They will help you make the document easier to read and search as readers will be able to comprehend the information gradually. For instance, you can provide links to customer interviews and anchors to previous discussions or other external information related to the project.
  • Use diagramming tools to better communicate the problems to your team. People are more likely to perceive information by looking at images than by reading an elaborate document. Differing visual models will help in performing this task and highlight requirements in a better way. You can include diagrams into your conditions process using the subsequent software diagramming instruments: Visio, Gliffy, Balsamiq, Axure, or SmartArt in Microsoft Office.

How to Write User Documentation

As the name suggests, user documentation is for product users. However, their categories can also differ. So, you need to structure user documentation covers manuals according to the different user tasks and different levels of their experience.

Generally, user documentation targets two large categories:

  • end-users
  • system administrators

The documentation created for end-users needs to explain in a concise way how it is possible that the software can help address their concerns. Some features of user documentation, such as onboarding and tutorials, in many extensive customer-based products substitute onboarding training. However, there are always complicated systems remaining that demand documented user guides.

The digital form of user documentation needs technical writers to be more creative. Online end-user documentation must include the following sections:

  • FAQs
  • Video tutorials
  • Embedded assistance
  • Support Portals
  • Software Documentation Templates

To provide the best service for end-users, organize your customer feedback constantly. The wiki system is more practical. First, it helps to retain the existing documentation. If you use the wiki system, you will not need to export records to presentable forms and upload them to the servers. Instead, you can create your wiki pages using markup terminology and HTML code.

System administrators’ documents do not require supplying information about how to use the software. Instead, administration papers cover installation and updates that help an administrator with product supervision. Here are typical system administrators’ papers:

  • Functional description — explains the functionalities of the product. Most of this document finishes after consultation with a user or owner.
  • System admin guide — explains various types of system behaviors in different environments and with other systems. It also needs to provide instructions on how to deal with malfunction situations.

Software Documentation’s Best Practices

There are six best common practices for developing software documentation. They are the following:

  1. Comprehend user needs: Developers must apprehend user needs and pain points from the beginning of the development cycle. The documentation needs to manage those needs and supply help around pain points.
  2. Write readily understood documentation: Documentation must be simple, concise, and avoid complex jargon. Use phrases and terms that the intended audience will utilize.
  3. Include inner subject matter specialists: It can assist in having experienced team members and subject matter aces in the software documentation process to make sure that it is valid.
  4. Employ analytics feedback: Analytics applications deliver important feedback that can integrate into documentation.
  5. Request for user feedback: After a release, ask the users about what they enjoyed and had a problem with within a software product and use the information to work on both the product and its documentation.
  6. Provide ongoing maintenance: As software is revised and maintained, the accompanying documentation must also be a part of that update. Teams must continually enhance documentation as IT, and user questions reveal further needs.

Moreover, the general practices for all types of documents are: 

Write Just Enough Documentation

You must find a balance between excessive and no documentation. Poor documentation creates multiple errors and reduces effectiveness in every phase of software product development. 

Simultaneously, there is no need to supply a surplus of documentation and duplicate information in several papers. Instead, document only the most relevant and necessary information. Discovering the right balance also includes analyzing the task’s intricacy before development starts.

Documentation is an Ongoing Process

This means that you need to keep your documentation current. It is absolutely necessary as documents that are not current and up to date automatically lose their worth and value. Additionally, if requirements shift during software development, you need to ensure that there is a systematic documentation update method containing information that has changed. You can use automated rendition control to manage this process in a faster way.

Documentation is an Integrated Team Effort

An agile method is a collaborative way to create documentation. If you want to get efficiency, interview testers and programmers about the working of the software. Then, after you have stated some documentation, share it with your group and get feedback. Try asking questions, commenting, and encouraging others to share their ideas and thoughts to get more information. Every team member can make a valuable contribution to the documents you produce.

Hire a Tech Writer

If you can, it is worth hiring an individual who will take care of the note-taking and documentation. People who generally do this job are called technical writers. A tech writer can come from any background, but someone with engineering experience can collect details from developers without needing somebody to define in detail what is happening. It is also worth letting a technical writer join as a team member and putting this person in the same office to ensure close cooperation. They will be able to take part in regular meetings and discussions.

Software Documentation Examples

A few examples of software documentation include the following:

  • System documentation: This includes architectural diagrams detailing technical design and the software’s structure.
  • Application programming interface documentation. This is the reference documentation for calling these APIs. It creates standards for API rapport and makes sure that diverse APIs work perfectly together.
  • README files: A README file is an effective representation of software that comes along with the source code.
  • Release notes: Release notes scan each software program release’s recent features and bug fixes.
  • How-to guides: These take end users or IT staff through the journey needed to use or deploy the software.
  • Tutorials: Tutorials bring users through a string of steps to comprehend how to use the software or about a specific component.
  • Reference documents: These provide end users and IT with technical documentation of the software.
  • Explanations: These explain a particular element of the software for the user.

Software Documentation Tools

Various tools help developers and vendors automate the documentation procedure. 

Some essential features of directing software documentation tools incorporate the following:

  • Markdown and HTML support: These are the two common programming languages for software documentation. Markdown is a shorter form of HTML.
  • Feedback: A good documentation device will have the prospect of collecting and reviewing user feedback. In a few cases, users contribute real code examples. This feature ties users and developers via email or a comments feature. Some tools allow users to view and make alterations to a select few codes.
  • Access control: This feature lets multiple documentation writers contribute together in one piece of documentation. It controls access with permissions and roles.
  • Click-button APIs: With this capacity, users are able to run APIs from the documentation.
  • Table of contents: Documentation tools must enable writers to create a table of contents to simplify navigation.
  • Publishing control: Writers can publish as well as unpublish pages as per their needs.

Some of the examples of documentation tools consist of the following:

How is Software Documentation Changing Now?

Currently, numerous changes are happening amidst the cloud’s shifting environment. Some of the notable changes within the world of software documentation are:

Dev Environments Will Move to the Cloud

As a developer starts a recent job, it is typical for them to spend as much as a fortnight just getting the application they are working on working on their device. This process is not just a huge waste of time for the new engineer but also for experienced engineers who are onboarding them through this. As software projects get more complicated, the onboarding process becomes tougher.

To varying degrees, companies are seeking to deal with this problem through tooling and documentation but haven’t been completely successful. Developers can sometimes be very firm about the technology they utilize for their jobs. Operating systems, hardware, and even coding editors can differ dramatically, even among the developers working on the exact project.

Adding to this is the fact that developer settings increasingly require to support both Intel architectures and M1 chips, alongside remote work, adding further intricacy to running local development conditions.

Local development settings are now increasingly the only part of the software development lifecycle time that happens on a developer’s device. Staging environments, automated builds, and running production applications have moved from local computers to the cloud.

Amazon and Microsoft have both worked hard to address this problem. This year, Microsoft released GitHub Codespaces for everyone. This offers full development environments that are accessible using just a browser that starts in seconds. The service allows technology crews who keep their code in Microsoft’s GitHub service to devise using their Visual Studio Code editor completely in the cloud.

Amazon has its own solution to this issue, with AWS Cloud9 allowing developers to run and edit their code from the cloud. In addition, startups are forming to confront this problem – Gitpod announced it raised 13 million dollars for its solution to move software development to the cloud.

Undoubtedly, we can expect to see increased adoption of these technologies soon.

DevOps Will Become More Scientific

DevOps Research and Assessment team, Google’s DORA, has conducted research that has tied technology organization performance to business results. 

Their study found that businesses with the best functioning and performing engineering organizations are more likely to achieve their organizational goals and achieve a 50 percent higher growth rate over three years.

The 2021 standards conducted by Google’s DORA team and independently by Puppet have unfailingly shown that the software development industry is highly competitive. The number of elite-performing engineering teams is rising, while the ratio of low-performing teams is falling. A poll of UK software developers conducted with Analytics and Survation found that software developers say they can reliably produce new features typically on the same day, if not in just a few hours.

To deliver new functionality reliably and quickly without developers burning out, software development teams have to make sure their tools and processes are as polished as they can be. So developers’ productivity is seen as important that companies like Netflix have a devoted Developer Productivity team, while Google employs numerous engineers in its Engineering Productivity function.

Before improving any specific part of the software development method, it is crucial to focus on where the pain points are. In the last year, a sum of companies secured funding to build developer analytics platforms to highlight these bottlenecks. Developer analytics organizations that have successfully acquired funding over 2021 include LinearB, Haystack Analytics, Swarmia, and CodeClimate.

Remote Work Will Be Permanent

GitHub’s State of the Octoverse report found that while 41 percent of respondents were co-locating in an office pre-pandemic, only 10.7 percent expected to remain in the office after the pandemic. This represents a 74 percent decrease in the number of people working in co-located offices.

The document also found that developers expect a 41 percent hike in hybrid working, where some staff works completely remotely, and some come into the office. In addition, companies employing fully remote workers can expect to increase by 46 percent compared to before the pandemic.

As per GitHub, productivity is rising back up to pre-pandemic levels, but it is apparent that more has to be accomplished to seal the gaps left by co-located office working. For instance, a poll of UK software developers led by Survation and Haystack Analytics concluded that 83 percent of software engineers are struggling with increased levels of exhaustion during the pandemic, 30 percent conveyed that the lack of contact with coworkers was a cause. In comparison, 27 percent informed having to work from home as a cause.

Over this year, it is fair for us to envision finding fresh ways for coworkers to not only perform together online but also link offline. For example, a number of in-person developer conferences have restarted for the coming year, with some even adopting a hybrid approach. Likewise, we see companies adopting their workspaces as places for periodic collaboration rather than constant work.

As remote work is becoming permanent, we expect developers to find alternate ways to accomplish what they miss from in-person connection to support the best of both worlds. Meetings and reformed office spaces will play an integral in this transformation.

The developer world will certainly see persisting evolution over the coming year. With the onslaught of the pandemic, the future is far from confirmed, but these are the three key trends impacting the developer community. Each of the three developments will bring innovative advances in developer wellbeing and productivity, helping to rev software delivery in spite of a constraint in the supply of software engineers.


Remember, comprehensive software documentation is a continuous process, so your software documentation needs to be continually reworked to hold its value for developers and end-users, so you need to specify a method for updates and a procedure for determining when it needs to be updated.

Software documentation aids developers in creating better software. It also allows end-users to make better use of the software. However, creating software documentation is a complicated process as design-wise, it caters to different audiences, needs input from various stakeholders, and requires supervision and version control.

Software documentation tools help reduce the complexity related to software documentation development. They also sustain many other elements that make cooperation easier and documentation design easier and more immediate.

Your teams need to constantly think about how your documentation can perform better or what concerns exist that it can help unravel. You will also want to examine your usage analytics to pinpoint which domains of your software take preference over others. These actions will allow your group to focus their vitality on the places where new documentation will be most useful.