Software Development Documentation: Types and Best Practices


The development of software is a complex process that requires multiple stakeholders to work together to produce high-quality results. To ensure that all parties understand the requirements and expectations, all stakeholders must receive regular feedback from one another.

Additionally, the team members can also help you out by providing feedback and necessary advice for each other’s work. This is where software development documentation comes into play. It can help with many aspects of custom software development including:

  • Clarify requirements and expectations between teams and stakeholders.
  • Project planning by providing an overview of a project plan so that everyone knows what is expected of them by the end date or milestone.
  • Communicate information between teams, which makes it easier for communication problems to be identified early on so they can be addressed sooner rather than later.

Now that you know how important software development documentation is, let us now discuss its types and best practices.

Two major types of Software Development Documentation

User documentation

User documentation is the information that explains how to use the software. The user documentation includes the following:

  • How to use the application.
  • How to use each feature or function in the application.
  • How to access special features and functions of the application that are available in just one part of it and nowhere else.

The end goal for generating user documentation is to render users with an easy-to-follow and pre-guided path for every step of using their software.

User documentation should be written in plain English, using basic terms and concepts, but avoiding technical terms that may confuse users. It should also provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task. For example, if a program has two options for entering data, both options must be explained and described in detail so that users know what each option does, how it works, and when they should choose one over another.

Developer documentation

Developer documentation is the documentation that a developer uses to know how to work with the software.

The developer documentation should be written in such a way that it can be easily understood by anyone familiar with the subject matter. The developer documentation also has to be written in a language that is easy for developers to understand.

The cost of producing good developer documentation depends on several factors such as the quality of your product, the number and type of developers involved, and how much time they will need to read it.

The developer documentation is a direct result of the end-user documentation. It’s the next step in the process after the end-user website is built and tested. The developer documentation is created by developers, who know how to work with the code and build things.

Software Development Documentation Best Practices

Identify your audience

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your documentation is accessible and useful is by identifying your audience. If you’ve already done so, great! But if not, it’s time to start.

The first step in this process is to decide who you want to write for. This can vary from individuals to large organizations and businesses. For example, if you’re writing a user guide for a specific piece of software, then it’s likely that you’ll want to target people who are familiar with that program specifically. However, if you’re writing a user guide that will be used by many different types of users (for example someone who owns a new computer or someone who’s just started using computers), then it might make more sense to target all users rather than just one specific group of people.

Once you’ve established who your audience is going to be, think about what they need from your documentation. What are their expectations? Will they understand it all from your way of explanation? Are there any specific examples or screenshots that would help them understand the topic better? These are all questions that should be answered before starting any project; otherwise, there may be unnecessary delays or mistakes made during the design phase.

Focus on key issues

The best practice for software documentation is a balance between keeping the documentation up to date, and not being too overbearing about it.

The key to making effective documentation is to focus on the key issues. If you have a problem with a particular feature or functionality in your software, then make sure that you document it and fix it. If there’s something else that needs to be documented, then find a way to do so, even if it means making changes elsewhere in your software.

This will ensure that your customers are happy with their experience with your software and will be more likely to recommend it. There are certain aspects of software documentation that you should not overlook. For example:

  • How will the text be presented?
  • What is the purpose of the documentation?
  • How will the users be able to find it?
  • What special features does your software provide?
  • What is the right way to describe those features?

Be visual

Visuals are an important part of providing clear communication. Visuals help users understand how things work, which facilitates learning and improves user experience. They also help programmers remember what they have learned about interfaces or code chunks because they can see it right in front of them when they look at their work or that of others.

The most important thing you can do to improve your documentation is to be visual.

I’ve found that the best way to learn something is by seeing it in action, so take pictures of everything and tell me how you thought it worked. Make sure you test your assumptions too (that’s what testing is for).

Here are some other tips:

  • Use a tool like Google Docs or Dropbox where possible. You’ll find this makes collaboration easier while keeping your work private and secure.
  • If you have time, write out a detailed specification before starting on the actual code. This will save time later when it’s time to implement it or make changes based on user feedback.

Provide guidance exactly where it’s needed

The best software documentation is the one that guides the user to where they need it. If you’re not providing guidance exactly where it’s needed, it will get ignored. You have to make your documents clear and concise so that it will be easy for the readers to read and understand them. 

As such, keep your documentation short and sweet; don’t make people read a bunch of information just because someone else said so. Provide guidance exactly where it’s needed and provide multiple ways for users to get there.

Providing guidance exactly where it’s needed is one of the best ways to help people get the most out of your documentation. For example, you may offer a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) in your documentation, but if someone wants to know how to set up a new project from scratch, then they should be able to find that information in your Help Center.

You can also provide links to relevant content on your website or on another external site that may be easier for users to navigate than your documentation.

Get continuous feedback

To get the most out of your documentation, you need to be able to test it. You can’t just assume that your users will read and understand it. They may not have any experience with your product or service, so you need to make sure that everything is written in a way that makes sense to them.

The best way to get continuous feedback is by involving your customers in the process from start to finish. You can use surveys, surveys, and more surveys but make sure that you’re collecting useful data and not just ticking boxes on a survey form. If you’ve got a lot of features, ask questions about each one of them so that you can get an idea of how people feel about it.

Keep documentation up to date

A good developer will always keep their documentation up to date. This is a part of their job, and it’s not just something they do when they’re too lazy or when they have nothing else to do. They do this because it makes the code easier to maintain for them and others and because it allows them to help other developers improve their skills by showing them how it was done in the first place.

If you want your code to be maintained over time, this is one of the most important things you can do as a developer. It’s like taking care of your garden: if you don’t water it, then nothing grows there.

One of the best ways to keep your documentation up-to-date is to make it during an ongoing software development process. This practice is popularly known as a living document. You can keep adding new features, and sections, and update the existing ones.  This way, you’re continually building out your knowledge base as your product matures over time.

Make documentation easy to find and search

You should make documentation easy to find and search. This means using the right file type, having a consistent naming convention, and having a searchable index.

If you are going to use a file manager like Windows Explorer to manage your documentation, make sure that it is set up so that users can easily open files by name. For example, if you are using Windows Explorer to manage your documentation, make sure that there is a ‘New Document’ button on the File menu. If there isn’t one, create one and label it as such.

Another way to make your project’s documentation easy to find is by using good naming conventions for your source code files. If your source code files have descriptive names like “myprogram.cpp”, then it will be much easier for someone else working on the same project to find the file they need without having to look through hundreds of other files in their directory structure (which could contain non-descriptive names).

Finally, it is helpful if you can have a search index for your project’s source code files so that users can quickly locate any particular piece of functionality they need without having to download or compile each file manually.

Final thoughts

Developers and users expect to be helped when they are faced with problems while using or developing the software. Creating effective software development documentation means that you are providing them with the necessary self-guided help on their terms. This not only satisfies their needs but also increases usability.

Without enough documentation, the users and developers are left to guess their way out of the problems related to the software like how to use it or how to scale up existing features. This could frustrate them which can lead to either employee turnover or customer churn.

Making the documentation part of the custom software development will ensure that everyone stays on the same page. Also, if you keep writing as you create the software, you don’t have to go round and round and start from scratch again just to write it all down. Just keep the tips we discussed here in your mind and you will be fine. Thanks for reading!


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