Software Documentation: All You Need to Know

BY IT GLUE | September 21, 2021

In this digital age, access to knowledge is just a click away. Anyone can use the internet to access public knowledge libraries and gain reliable information in no time. But, what about the information you require within an organization? This is where a documentation system that encompasses all written documents comes in handy. Software documentation is just one part of an organization’s overall documentation infrastructure and deals specifically with a software product’s development and usage.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the different aspects of software documentation and how you can make the most out of it to benefit your organization.

What Is Software Documentation?

Software documentation refers to any writings, video messages or images that typically accompany a software product. It exists mainly to help users understand the product, interface, capability, benefits and more. Most importantly, it also answers significant questions that may arise when using the product.

Why do we need software documentation?

Documentation is an integral part of any software development process. During software development, developers usually write down everything including API documentation, release notes, build notes and other instructions. These documents play a critical role in the maintenance stage of the software development life cycle.

Without proper documentation, future developers who work on a software product will have a tough time understanding its information architecture, user experience and more. When the information is hard to locate, your support team will have a tough time assisting your customers. In short, proper documentation could be the difference between success and failure in achieving your communication goals.

What should software documentation include?

The documentation you create should achieve these goals – facilitate understanding for end-users, assist the support team and consumers in finding relevant information, and resolve issues that may be encountered during the software development process. Based on these goals, you need to document everything relevant to your software.

For instance, if a module in a software product needs to be extended, its existing model and architecture need to be understood by the developer in detail. Similarly, identifying common bugs and causes is essential to ensure faster resolution of issues. Your software documentation should include all this information in detail so that it is easily understood by future stakeholders.

What Are the Different Types of Software Documentation?

There are several types of software documentation available depending upon the target audience they are created for. They all perform a critical role during the software development life cycle. For our understanding, let’s focus on the four main types of documentation associated with the software development process.

Requirements Documentation

This is typically done at the beginning of the software development process. This outlines the expectations behind the development of the software product including what it does, what goals it serves, which environment is ideal for its operation, etc. It also focuses on the functional requirements, compatibility requirements, limitations, configurations, hardware requirements, software requirements and more.

Architecture Documentation

This document outlines the high-level architecture of the software being developed. This mostly concerns the design element of the software development process. It provides information about the components in the software, their roles, their functionalities and the data flows among various components. Since it is associated with design, this documentation doesn’t have much code.

Technical Documentation

This concerns all the technical details of software development. It is mainly intended for a technical audience like software developers. This usually includes API documentation, release notes, a high-level overview of the software and system documentation. The quality of technical documentation is extremely important in any software development. Any errors in documentation may lead to inadequate solutions that don’t meet the expectations of stakeholders.

User Documentation

This documentation is intended for the end-users who actually use the software product. Since this is created for non-technical people, it should be simple and detailed. Some of the examples include how-to guides, tutorials, user manuals, reference docs, configuration guides, etc.

Software Documentation Best Practices

The purpose of any documentation is to transfer knowledge. Since the success of a software product requires comprehension of its usage, software documentation can make or break a product. To ensure you document everything the right way, you need to follow these best practices.

  • Prioritize Documentation: Documentation should not be just an afterthought in any software development process. You need to actively prioritize documentation to save your valuable time and effort. When you document correctly, you don’t have to remember every little detail and you can eliminate errors in the process.
  • Know Your Audience: Focusing on your audience is the best way to document everything. For instance, your technical documentation intended for developers can have complex terms and jargon. However, this should not be the case for user documentation. You need to create documentation based on the audience you are trying to appeal to.
  • Create a Content Strategy: Documentation is not a one-off approach. It is a continuous process that follows the evolution of a software product. You need to create a content strategy to appeal to your target audience. Think about the types of content you can create and think about the delivery methods to reach your target audience.
  • Use the Agile Approach: An agile approach offers a lot of benefits for software documentation. Many firms already use agile subsets like Just in Time documentation, Docs Like Code, etc., to ensure collaboration among all stakeholders. This also provides you with better control over document versions and sources.
  • Work With Experts: When creating technical documentation, you need the expertise of developers to come up with the right documentation. Make sure you have a way to ensure collaboration between experts and other stakeholders.
  • Use the Right Documentation Tool: Manual documentation is not only tedious but also allows room for lots of errors. You need a powerful documentation tool that automates the documentation process and boosts efficiency. You can try tools like IT Glue to easily create all the required documentation and share it with the concerned stakeholders.
  • Incorporate Customer Feedback: When you create documentation for end-users, your customers’ feedback becomes critical in understanding their concerns and difficulties. You need to collect customer feedback and figure out a way to incorporate it into your development process.

What to Look for in a Software Documentation Tool

Manual documentation is a time-consuming process and takes a lot of effort. To ensure optimal use of your resources, you need a documentation tool that can automate the process and bring structure to your documentation infrastructure. Some of the key features to look for in a software documentation tool include the following.

  • Structured Organization: The info you enter into your documentation tool should be automatically structured. By using a common framework, you can organize information effectively and ensure instant retrieval.
  • Secure Access: Multiple people in your organization are likely to use your documentation tool. Your software needs to provide secure access to everyone without compromising security.
  • Password Management: There should be a fully integrated password engine linked with all your documentation. This ensures the effective retrieval of user passwords.
  • Relationship Mapping: This feature brings related items together and ensures easy access to all relevant information at your fingertips. When related items are grouped together, you don’t have to search for them when performing a complex task.
  • Integration: Your documentation software needs to be easily integrated with other major platforms and third-party applications. This is an essential feature when you are working with multiple disparate tools.
  • Enterprise-Grade Security: Security is a major requirement in this age of rising cyberthreats and ransomware. When your documentation tool is loaded with security features like access control, password vault, multifactor authentication, etc., you can rest assured that your information is always safe.

Software Documentation With IT Glue

IT Glue is a leading, cloud-based documentation platform that can document your most valued assets into knowledge and information. The knowledge you and your team gather in your everyday tasks can be easily consolidated and related to hardware and software information. This means everything can be accessed from a single pane of glass, putting everything at your fingertips.

IT Glue’s SOC 2-compliant documentation platform features an immutable audit trail, multifactor authentication and next-generation password management engine, all of which are fully integrated and linked with all your documentation.

To know more about how IT Glue can help with software documentation, request a demo!

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