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What is Software Documentation? Its types and Best practices

What is Software Documentation? Its types and Best practices

Last updated on Sep 21, 2021

Today, Internet is considered as a knowledge-base. Anyone can access any kind of information using the Internet, such as documents, view hypertext, and multimedia (audio and video) through web server database.

Also, it has become necessary and critical for any organization to provide public access to corporate web sites, which required constant, reliable, interactive web form, authentic transaction and relevant documents. This has driven the organization to adapt to Web Content Management systems.

Gradually this led to Knowledge Management system and Knowledge Base system.
Although Knowledge management system precede the internet, it became easy for the user to access information using internet, because it was like a distributed database on the internet.

In the due course, distinction between Knowledge management system and Knowledge base system became very minimal. Although these systems are still considered as content repositories, which allows you to store, query and take appropriate decisions.

So, in Knowledge Management System, you just store them (manuals, procedures, policies, best practices, reusable designs and code, etc.) in the database.

In Knowledge based system, you meticulously classify and categorize them (manuals, procedures, policies, best practices, reusable designs and code, etc.) appropriately in meaningful sections, sub sections and groups.

Software Documentation

Software documentation is a part of any software. Good documentation practices are important for the success of the software. Documentation must comprise an interactive User Experience, Information Architecture, and good understanding of your audience.

Note: It is recommended that you suggest building the documentation deliverable into your development process, while attempting to use the Agile methodologies for software development.
 

It needs to serve the purpose of resolving the issues, when encountered by the developer, end user or while during customer facing the knowledge Base.

Appropriate details and description need to be in the documented to achieve the following goals:
• Resolve issue encountered by the developer during the development process
• Help end-user to understand the product
• Assist customers and the support team to find the information.

Documentation can be related to an API documentation (which can be used to either incorporate in the code, or to extend the functionality of the existing application, release notes that serves what bugs had been fixed in the current release, and what code had been refracted) and, or customer-facing help content to easily find required information immediately.

Software documentation helps you to understand the product, interface, capability, ability to fulfill a task, and quickly search and find a particular section within the document, or find resolution when encountered using the product.

Note: Even when there are knowledge workers, yet, 51% of people prefer to receive technical support through a Knowledge Base, and yet producing the relevant documentation is challenging for any companies.

Types of Software Documentation

Many types of documents are required and delivered during the product development life cycle and software development life cycle, like Software documentation, Developer documentation, Software requirement document, and design documentation and audience analysis.

User Documentation

This document is mostly delivered for end-user who actually want use the product themselves, to understand and complete a certain task.

• How-to guides – Guides the user to complete a task or a predetermined goal.
• Tutorials – Learns a concept by following a series of steps concept
• Reference docs – Describes the technical detail of the product (Software requirement specification, software design documents and so on)
• Administration Guide: Enables the administrator to refer to this after installing an application
• Configuration Guide: Allows the administrator to refer to this document for configuration parameters.

Developer Documentation

This documentation refers to system related documentation.
• API documentation –Specifies how to invoke API calls and classes, or how to include API in the code that is being developed.
• Release notes: Describes about the latest software, feature releases, and what bugs have been fixed. Usually this document is a text file with a filename extension (.txt).
• README: A form of documentation, it is usually a simple plain text file called Read Me, READ.ME, README.TXT with A high-level overview of the software, usually alongside the source code.
• System documentation – Describes the system requirements, includes design documents and UML diagrams.

Just-in-time Documentation

Situation may arise, where a just-in-time document quickly serves the support for customer-facing documentation. The user need not have to refer to any documents or FAQs for information.

It is recommended that documentation tools be common across your development team, so that it can be easily accessible within the environment, and you need to initiate that the documentation becomes a mandatory part of the Software development life cycle process. For example, GitHub is a cloud-based do my papers application, which serves the purpose for code developers and authors.

How to choose a software documentation tool.

Documenting your product and its features can be highly time consuming and requires a lot of attention to detail while creating software documentation which can be easily understood by customers and team members. Here are some crucial features to look for in a software documentation tool

Document360 supports the following features:
• Custom Dashboard
• File Manager
• Article Redirect
• Team Management
• Team Auditing
• Secure Hosting
• Backup and Restore
• Custom Security
• In-app Assistance

Overview of Knowledge Base application interface

Apart from the above mentioned essential features Document360 also has some outstanding capabilities that make the knowledge base attractive to the end users.

Build Multilingual Knowledge Base

The Localization feature in a knowledge base system , which enables you to build multilingual knowledge base documents for the different customer base. For example, your international customers across the globe may want to read the document in their own native language, even when the document is available in English.

 

Choosing a language for the facing page.
                               Choosing a language for the facing page.

You can take the help of an in-house translator to translate the article manually for public facing page or use Google translator to translate the copied content from the source, and then paste the translated content back in to the editor.

Look for knowledge base software that includes built-in Machine Translation, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to instantly transform the material for better results. If you are dissatisfied with the 3rd party translation tools                 

An intuitive knowledge base software to easily add your content and integrate it with any application. Give Document360 a try!

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Create custom Site of Knowledge Base

When you create a document in Document360, you can have a public facing URL, which can help user(s) to access to your Knowledge Base.
You can perform the following in the Site Domain page:
• Site Domain Hosting: You can create a custom URL for an existing URL
• Sub-Folder Hosting: Customized URL. You can use sub-folder as a hosting page to mark these documents internally within the organization. For example, https://docs.startup.com to https://startup.com/docs


The following screen displays the Site Domain page.

Site Domain Hosting and Sub-Folder Hosting page
             Site Domain Hosting and Sub-Folder Hosting page

Backup and Restore your Knowledge Base

It is necessary to keep your data secure each day. The Backup and Restore function is integrated with Dcoument360, which can help you restore earlier versions of your document from the backup list.

 

Note: You can also backup manually. Also, when you have incorporated large changes in a document, you can click on the Create new backup button by specifying a meaningful name, to help you identify the content that is related to the context it was created.

Best Practices in creating Software Documentation

Quickly Adapt to Agile or DevOps Methodology for documentation

Most of the companies adapt or have adapted to Agile and DevOps methodology from the traditional Waterfall method. The waterfall method was found to be inappropriate because it was difficult to incorporate any new desired changes to the existing product design. This led to Agile methodology, where modular development was considered and new changes could be implemented during the development process.

This approach was well accepted in today’s software development life cycle and documentation development life cycle.

Regularly Interact with Subject-Matter Experts (SME)

The developers have in-depth knowledge about the product, so, writers often find hard to approach them quite often to get information for the related document. So, one possible way is to, synchronize the effort estimate of documentation with the Software development process, so that the resources (documentation team, engineers, document reviewers and support) can collaborate regularly, and acquire substantial knowledge to meet the documentation goal.

When you get to a certain point in your documentation, you need to seriously consider how people with different needs consider using your documentation

Constantly Improve and update document(s) Knowledge Base

Documentation is an iterative process. It may need to be improved based on customer feedback or may require refracting some content already included in the document. The Knowledge Base can include customers frequently asked questions or more references to solutions that may need to be included to increase efficiency, productivity, and reduce cost to the company. 

Discover how customer reached your Knowledgebase content

Your Knowledge Base software should be indexable by search engines, with all the correct meta tags. You should also link to your documentation from your software app, since this is where users will naturally get stuck.

Few customers will consider your Knowledge Base as a whole, and hardly anyone will arrive at your carefully constructed homepage.

Periodically update information in Knowledgebase using Customer Feedback loop

Before the first release of the product, the organization invites and shares the beta product to the customers and users to perform testing. Based on their feedback, and subsequent feedback after the release, the documentation must be updated to complement the latest product release.

There are several ways to collect feedback:
• Using a Web form or an Interactive form
• Activate inline comments in the documentation before sharing to the customers
• Receive ratings about the usefulness of the content on specific page

Create your own Style Guide to create consistent document

There are couple of ways to create consistent look and feel of your document.
• Template: Create a template with predetermines styles prior to creating a document.
• Define a style sheet: Create different levels and structure the document manually by applying the relevant style to the content.

Note: You can refer standard software style guides like the Microsoft Style Guide or Chicago Style Guide.

Final Thoughts:

If you adapt to agile methodology, it makes you produce documentation just-in-time. It becomes obligatory to produce good Software Documentation to sync programmers, testers, and end-user’s thought and goals in exercising a piece of software. Need to remember that any good Software documentation is specific, concise, and relevant.

 

An intuitive knowledge base software to easily add your content and integrate it with any application. Give Document360 a try!

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