Documentation is an important part of software development, and so is test documentation. You need to ensure your software works effectively for your end users and fulfills its intended purpose. Still, many development teams may not consider test documentation the most exciting task on their to-do list.
And yet, manual testers, test engineers, functional testers and QA analysts all need effective documentation to achieve their goals concerning software testing in the Software Testing Lifecycle (STLC).
Testing documentation is essential for software teams who see the value in thoroughly testing their software for bugs, poor functionality, and other issues.
What Is documentation for testing?
You may be familiar with software testing, but what is testing documentation? Test documentation is defined as any documentation that is produced during the testing phase of the software development process, enabling the QA team to test the product and help fulfill requirements effectively.
Software test documentation refers to artifacts that may be produced before, during, and after the testing phase to enable successful testing. It includes records and plans for testing tasks that keep testers informed about the state of the software testing.
Test documentation enables testing teams to formulate a coherent plan for thoroughly testing a software product and systematically check all the boxes for designing tests, implementing tests and recording results.
Importance of documentation for testers and testing
Whether you are a C-level executive, developer, test engineer, QA analyst, or product team member, you must know about test documentation. Having internal documentation also facilitates seamless knowledge sharing within the team, ensuring everyone is on the same page and promoting collaboration for effective testing.
- Documentation should be part of your definition of done. For example, you shouldn’t be able to test a feature until it has the appropriate documentation. Test documentation is a vital part of that process, and receiving the correct documentation from the developers, such as a software requirements spec, is critical for effective testing.
- Test documentation eliminates much of the confusion and anxiety involved in the testing phase of your software product when your entire testing team has access to the appropriate documents. Testing teams understand what needs to be tested and have access to detailed plans of how the testing is intended to be executed.
- Test documentation saves time by clearly articulating the tasks that need to be completed by engineers, analysts, and so on. It prevents testing taking up more resources than it needs, and testers spend less time rehashing topics that have already been decided, improving overall test efficiency.
- You have a record of the changes that have been made to your software and any bugs that have resulted.
- New members of your team can get up to speed with the testing phase through access to comprehensive test documentation.
- Clients may require test documentation to arrive at the successful completion of the software project.
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What documentation do QA teams use?
The most frequently used artifacts used in test documentation are as follows:
A test case is a detailed description of the exact steps a tester needs to go through to evaluate the functionality of a particular feature, including the criteria for passing the test. Test cases result in standardization for different testers conducting the same software test.
A test plan is a comprehensive overview of all the activities involved in the testing phase of the software development cycle. It includes the testing scope, scheduling, and resources to provide a high-level perspective for the QA team when conducting their work.
A test scenario clearly outlines the multiple methods of testing the software, which leads to individual test cases being developed. It involves identifying how the user could misuse the system and planning tests for those outcomes.
A record of the status of each test case that has been run so you can look back on the outcome of each test. The test report gives a broad overview of all the testing activities that have been performed, while a defect report records any feature in the software that fails to work as expected.
A checklist is an alternative to a test case which provides a list of the software features that the tester needs to analyze, alongside a description of their functionality and the test outcome.
One of the primary jobs of a tester is to search for bugs within the software, and a bug report is a log of any bugs identified alongside the process for how to recreate the bug.It includes details of the impact the bug will have on the system and recommendations for prioritizing it.
Also known as a software requirements specification, the requirement is a full description of the functions and features of the software being built to ensure that all teams, including software, product and testing, are fully informed.
When can documentation be too much?
Though we have covered the main advantages of test documentation, a scenario can arise in which documentation is too much for your team. Firstly, it can be very time consuming to maintain the test documentation, which is time that could be spent on other tasks that are more critical to the software development process. Your testing team members may not be best deployed in writing documentation.
- If you don’t use professional writers, the documentation could be poorly written, making it hard for your testers to use the documents in their work and affecting the uptake of the documentation.
- Outdated documentation could create confusion among your test team and slow down the software development process. Inaccuracies can lead to errors and loss of faith in your testing team, who are struggling to fulfill their roles without relevant documentation.
- Finally, the cost of producing and maintaining the test documentation may outweigh its value in the organization, especially if the team uses it sparingly.
That being said, test documentation as a whole increases the chances of success for your testing team and the overall software development project, as long as you can avoid these common pitfalls.
Investing in just enough, rather than too much, documentation is key to an effective testing process.
Best practices for getting best results from documentation for testing
Here are some best practices for writing the best test documentation that performs well in practice.
- Use a knowledge base system as a single source of truth – you want your test documentation to be kept all in one place so every team member knows where to find your documents without wasting time searching. Without a single source of truth, team members may lose faith in the documentation or recreate documents needlessly.
- Keep your test documentation up-to-date in line with shifting requirements – it hardly needs to state that the requirements of a software product are constantly changing, so you’ll need to keep your test documentation in line with these shifts, to reflect the state of the software accurately.
- Keep your documentation private to protect sensitive information from being leaked – another advantage of using dedicated knowledge base software is that you can keep your documentation private, restricted only to your team. High levels of security are available to ensure that no unauthorized parties have access to your documents.
- Educate your team about the importance of test documentation – documentation will only work in your testing team if everyone involved is educated about the importance of documenting your activities. Creating, maintaining, and using documentation are all vital aspects of developing a thriving documentation culture.
- Regularly prune your test documentation for relevancy – documentation gets better results when you frequently remove documents that are no longer useful so that your testing team and other stakeholders get the maximum benefit from the documentation.
- Only document what is directly related to your testing activities – documentation that is too comprehensive ends up being unwieldy and less than useful to your testers. Only document the core activities of your testing team to ensure that each document has a purpose.
- Avoid treating documenting as a box-checking exercise – when your testing team only documents in order to fulfill requirements, it becomes an uninspiring box-checking exercise that feels like a waste of time. Clearly articulate the business-critical reason for documenting and your team will be more motivated.
- Follow a style guide to ensure consistency across documentation – documentation must be consistent across the company no matter who is writing it, and for that you need a style guide that everyone adheres to.
- Make use of version control to track the documentation – opt for a system that keeps track of different versions of your documentation so you always know what changes have been made and by whom. Version control shows how your documentation has changed over time and allows you to revert back if necessary.
Also, Check out our article on Documentation version control
Thus, as we discussed – effective test documentation is vital for successful software testing. But keeping a balance, and not over-doing it is the key.
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