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How to write good documentation: home, documentation.
Why to Write Documentation
Documentation effectively connects humans and machines.
Why writing documentation is important:
- You will be using your code in 6 months
- You want people to use your code and give you credit
- You want to learn self-determination
- Others would be encouraged to contribute to your code
- Others can easily use your code and build upon it
- Advance the science
- Encourage open science
- Allow reproducibility and transparency
What should you document about your research? Everything! All the data, notes, code, and materials someone else would need to reproduce your work.
Consider the following questions:
- How is your data gathered?
- What variables did you use?
- Did you use any code to clean/analyze your data?
Best Practices for Documenting Your Project
Best Practices for Writing Documentation:
- A brief description of the project
- Installation instructions
- A short example/tutorial
- Allow issue tracker for others
- What a function does
- What are the function's parameters or arguments are
- What a function returns
- Document your code
- Apply coding conventions, such as file organization, comments, naming conventions, programming practices, etc.
- Include information for contributors
- Include citation information
- Include licensing information
- Link to your e-mail address at the end
- List all the versions of the files along with the major edits you did in each version
An important tip: Naming files should be descriptive and consistent!
- Date format (ISO 8601 Standard): YYYYMMDDThhmmss
- Project or experiment name
- Researcher name/initials
- Date or date range of collection version
An example for README file.
An example of code documentation.
Tools for Documentation
Tools for Documentation:
- R Markdown
- Doxygen - Doxygen can be used for C, C#, PHP, Java, Python, and Fortran.
Software Documentation Hosting Options:
- Read The Docs
- 18 Software Documentation Tools
- BIDS Docathon Kickoff - A Video
- Docathon at BIDS
- Documenting Your Code
- First Steps with Sphinx
- Google Style Guides
- How to maintain an open source project
- A Quick Guide to Software Licensing for the Scientist-Programmer
- Last Updated: Mar 15, 2023 1:28 PM
- URL: https://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/how-to-write-good-documentation
How to Write Good Documentation (A Step-by-Step Guide)
Your life can be so much easier once you know how to write documentation — good, helpful documentation that actually gives its users what they need from it.
After all, everyone reads documentation:
- Marketing teams work with playbooks — a sort of marketing documentation.
- Support and technical teams use user guides, installation manuals, code notes — “core” technical documentation.
- Others rely on standard operating procedures, reference material, process documents, checklists — typical company knowledge documentation.
Customers, too, use customer-facing documentation to learn their way around a solution or debug their issues on their own (tier 0 support).
While there’s no one standard way to create all this documentation, the fundamental steps remain the same. But before we see those, let’s take a quick look at the different documentation types. Based on its purpose, a documentation piece can be one of four types.
Types of documentation
In his talk on the types of documentation, Daniele Procida or Divio AG categorizes documentation into four types:
- learning-oriented tutorials
- goal-oriented how-to guides
- understanding-oriented discussions
- information-oriented reference material
As you can understand from how he puts it, every piece of documentation has a different objective, and those responsible for the documentation must establish it each time they set out to create one. With that in mind, let’s start with our guide on how to write documentation.
Determine if you truly need to document it
Your product might do a hundred things. There may be even more ways to customize it. You could have a codebase of thousands of lines. And you might also be generating a LOT of knowledge in your daily work.
But it’s not possible to document everything… and not everything needs to be documented.
So before answering the “ how to write documentation ” question, know if you must document it at all.
Before you document, think about your target readers. The target readers for your documentation could be anyone from an end-user to your software developer(s) or HR person. Are they knowledge workers ? Think about what these target audiences struggle with… and if you can genuinely empower them to do better by documenting.
Also, think about how they will use it. Think in terms of how the intended users will interact with your documentation.
Will your customers follow your documentation step-by-step to get started with your solution? Which makes your documentation “goal-oriented.”
Or will your developers use it as they work and collaborate on your next release cycle? In which case, you’re looking at “understanding-oriented” documentation.
Or will your HR resource refer to it when processing applications? You have “information-oriented” documentation here.
And will your documentation really help them?
Other than these, you might also want to think about how your documentation efforts will help you at a higher level:
- Will your documentation improve your tier zero support and enable your end-users to resolve their issues on their own (deflection)?
- Would it make your teams get better at what they do?
- Will your team get more productive?
Find out when to document it
The general idea is to not start too early (or late).
Unless you aren’t sure about how a process is actually going to play out or how you’re going to execute your “vision,” it’s best not to document it and wait until things materialize a bit.
For example, if you’re planning a significant update in the next quarter and the work is only in the high-level conceptual stage, don’t engage documentation resources just yet.
This is the “Agile” approach to documentation.
Often, the best time to do certain documentation types (like procedures and pr ocesses ) is when you’re actually executing them.
Zero in on the best way to document it
Depending on the types of documentation you need, you need one or multiple places to hold it all. These work as your single source of truth.
Yelp’s Chastity Blackwell shares some of the frustrations when all your documentation isn’t stored nicely in one place:
You’ve got a doc that explains everything about that service and you’re sure the info you need to solve this incident is in there — somewhere. “You can try looking for that in the wiki, or maybe it’s in the Google Docs repo. Oh, and I’ve got some notes in my home directory, and I think I saw some email about that a while ago.”
Naturally, you don’t want this to happen to you. That’s why you must choose your documentation tool(s) thoughtfully. If you’re documenting for end-users, it’s best to use an easy-to-populate knowledge base solution like Heroic Knowledge Base . You can find some alternatives here .
If you’re documenting for your teams, go with a wiki solution like WikiPress or an internal knowledge management solution Heroic Knowledge Base (yeah, it doubles up as one!). Or, check out some of these options for knowledge management solutions .
Finally, if you’re documenting code, you might want to consider some of the more specialized technical documentation solutions . Some general-purpose knowledge base solutions like Heroic Knowledge Base work just as well as technical documentation solutions too.
When you choose your documentation system, make sure to pick one that’s easy to update because you might find yourself updating your documentation often! Your documentation tool should also offer some excellent searching functionality.
Decide what to write
Because documentation can take so many forms, it’s essential to finalize a format before writing it.
For example, at HeroThemes, we use a mix of FAQs, installation tutorials, troubleshooting guides, lists of tips and tricks, and others for our customer-facing documentation. Most of our customers also use a similar composition.
Depending on the documentation you’re producing and for whom, you’ll need to know what all forms your documentation can take. Jacob Kaplan-Moss talks in detail about these in What to write . He explains how tutorials, topical guides, and reference material make up the bulk of documentation in most cases:
- Tutorials: Tutorials or how-tos are the most basic form of documentation. For our customer-facing documentation, tutorials are our how-to resources that our users use to add a knowledge base to their website with our plugin or populate it with articles.
- Topical guides: Topical guides tend to go a lot deeper than tutorials and cater to more specialized topics. For us, these are our guides on topics like translation and integrations. We loosely categorize these as advanced topics.
- Reference: In our customer-facing documentation context, this type has information on our integrations with our partners that our users might find helpful when setting up their integrations. Or links to any stuff they might find useful when implementing any of our HeroThemes solutions.
Start with a README file (and build upon it)
With all that clear, now you’re ready for the writing part. The actual writing part of documentation starts with a README file. Think of it as the cover page or outline for your documentation.
If you’re working on your code’s documentation that your (developer/tester/optimizer) colleagues will use, your README file will look a certain way.
And if you’re writing customer-facing documentation, you might want to adapt it to make sense for the intended audience and the work it needs to get done. The content, though, remains the same more or less. Below, you can see how a support article explaining how an integration works start with a cover page thing of its own.
Now, just take your READMe file or your documentation’s outline and fill it out one section at a time. Here are a few resources from our blog to help you fill out your documentation:
- The Ultimate Knowledge Base Article Template (Infographic): We dug into our customers’ most successful knowledge base articles and decoded how a good knowledge base article looks like. Such articles make up a significant part of your user-facing documentation, so use this infographic to create them at record speed.
- How to Write Thorough Step-By-Step Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) : This is a quick how-to on writing how-tos or standard operating procedures that offer step-by-step instructions on how to complete the intended work — very useful when creating an internal company wiki or knowledge base.
- What Is Process Documentation? And How to Document Your Processes the Right Way : Another quick how-to on writing process documentation, an essential part of your internal company knowledge documentation mix.
- How to Write Frequently Asked Questions & 5 Simple Ways to Write the Perfect Answers to Your FAQs : These two posts will help you whip up your FAQs within an hour and deflect a lot of pre-sales queries like a boss.
Once done, don’t forget to add a reviewing and testing part.
Reviewing is an essential part of the documentation process. It helps you ensure that your documentation actually works. In his five-step documentation reviewing process , technical writer Tom Johnson says that the first stage is unmissable where you — the documentation writer — make “the product work” for yourself following the steps you’ve written.
Set an update schedule
Documentation starts staling as soon as it’s published. So you need an update schedule.
Your update frequency will depend on the documentation you’re looking at. For instance, your user-facing documentation will need updates only when you update your product.
Developer-facing documentation — technical code documentation — is forever ongoing ( inline documentation).
Your internal knowledge/work documentation, on the other hand, could use updating each time something changes — for example, when you replace your current project management tool or even when you simply discover a more optimized way of doing some work. Tribal knowledge capturing and general knowledge capturing are some of the ongoing exercises in such documentation.
When it makes sense, maintain a change log in your documentation so that users don’t feel lost when they see an updated version.
Also, as part of updating your documentation, get rid of the obsolete and duplicate files. A search in your documentation should never return multiple versions of the same support content. Each topic should only take one resource.
Wrapping it up…
Once you’ve finetuned this general guide on how to write documentation to suit your documentation workflow, document your documentation writing process
Doing so will help you not just standardize your documentation writing but also enable others to build upon it because documentation is always ongoing.
Over to you… How do you currently approach writing documentation?
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A Guide to Writing Your First Software Documentation
As a developer, your pride and joy is your code. It’s readable, it meets DRY principles, it reflects best practices, and the end product is a great tool that solves some kind of problem for its target users. However, no matter how much work you’ve put into your code, if your software comes with no documentation, or you write documentation as an afterthought and treat it with little importance, it’s likely users will find little joy in working with it, and eventually opt for a different, more user-friendly product.
In this article, you’ll find a number of practical guiding principles to get you up and running with writing your first software documentation.
Why Documentation Is Important
In reference to your software, Mike Pope has a fitting saying that goes like this: If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist .
Lack of documentation . No matter how wonderful your library is and how intelligent its design, if you’re the only one who understands it, it doesn’t do any good. Documentation means not just autogenerated API references, but also annotated examples and in-depth tutorials. You need all three to make sure your library can be easily adopted.
Another important reason why your software docs are crucially important is that they serve as a communication tool between your present self and your future self, and also between your present self and other developers who eventually might find themselves working on your software. Even if you write readable and commented code, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will still be clear to you in six months’ time why you wrote a function, or any other piece of your code for that matter, the way you did.
Documentation allows you to transfer the why behind code. Much in the same way code comments explain the why , and not the how , documentation serves the same purpose. — A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Documentation
Surely, you want people to use your code and also to be able eventually to update it and improve on it. These are all contributing factors to the growth of a supporting community behind your product, which is important for it to gain robustness, maturity, and success.
It’ll be mighty hard to accomplish all this if your software doesn’t have great docs to go with it.
Who Software Documentation Is For
When writing anything, make sure it’s clear in your mind who your audience is. Docs are no exception to this rule. Doing so clarifies in your head the problems your audience is likely to face, the familiarity it’s likely to have with your product or the prerequisites for using your product. This information is crucial to the way you create the content and the language you use.
There are two kinds of documentation this article is not concerned with:
- User manuals. For instance, my sister might decide to use WordPress for publishing her own blog. She’s not a developer, but she’s heard that non-devs can get their blog up and running in no time with WordPress. Now she’ll be needing instructions on how to download and configure the software on her server, how to write, publish, and update her posts, how to add images to a post, etc. In other words, she’ll need a user manual.
- Project documentation. This kind of documentation has more to do with the project than with the software itself, although some of its content could go in a project’s Readme file. To continue with the WordPress example, after getting lots of practice with WordPress, I might decide I’d like to add a feature to the software or fix a bug or two. In this case I’ll need to know things like changelogs, conventions and best practices, contribution policies, how to participate in team discussions relevant to the task at hand, etc.
What to Include in Your Documentation
A popular approach is Readme Driven Development , championed by Tom Preston-Werner. It consists of writing the Readme document before you even start writing any code. This document is an introduction to your software and usually includes:
- an explanation of what your software does and what problem it solves
- an example illustrating the circumstances in which your code would normally be used
- links to the code and bugs tracker
- FAQs and ways to ask for support
- instructions on how to install your software
- license information
However, in my view, having a solid documentation that can really help developers who use your software/library should go well beyond the classical Readme file. Following Daniele Procida , I suggest you include the following items in your documentation material for a great user experience.
A beginner will love to find a tutorial in your software docs. Tutorials are about showing users how to complete a project using your software, so that they can quickly get a sense of what they can do with it.
Tutorials are lessons that take the reader by the hand through a series of steps to complete a project of some kind. They are what your project needs in order to show a beginner that they can achieve something with it. — Daniele Procida
How-to guides help users solve a real-world task using your software. Procida compares them to recipes in the sense that they are directions you give users so that they can successfully reach a certain goal. Unlike tutorials, which are aimed at complete beginners, how-to guides assume users already possess some basic knowledge of features, tools, and of how to perform simple tasks.
Reference guides are technical references of your software’s code — functions, APIs, etc. — and offer a basic description of how to use the software. For example, you’ll find an illustration of how to instantiate a specific class, how to call a particular method, and so on.
Reference guides are technical descriptions of the machinery and how to operate it. — Daniele Procida
This is the piece of documentation you’re likely to find in most projects. Developers tend to be quite good at writing it since they know all about their code and how to use it.
Explanations are a deep dive into, or a discussion on, a particular topic you think is relevant to a higher-level understanding of your software. About explanations, Procida points out that —
This section of documentation is rarely explicitly created, and instead, snippets of explanation are scattered among other sections. Sometimes, the section exists, but has a name such as Background or Other notes and doesn’t really do justice to the function. A topic isn’t defined by a specific task you want to achieve, like a how-to guide, or what you want the user to learn, like a tutorial. It’s not defined by a piece of the machinery, like reference material. It’s defined by what you think is a reasonable area to try to cover at one time, so the division of topics for discussion can sometimes be a little arbitrary.
Things You Need to Pay Attention To
Let’s go through some useful pointers about making your docs user-friendly and relevant.
Make Your Docs Discoverable
It’s a good idea to put some work into making your software documentation easy to find. You could use some SEO techniques together with some marketing strategies so that as many users as possible can get hold of it.
Also, what you put in your docs should be organized into a structure that makes searching for specific information a breeze. Steve Konves recommends you structure your docs in a singly linked tree: starting from the root node, which should be placed in an obvious location for every interested user to discover, all other items can be easily accessed. The project’s Readme file lends itself to working really well as a great root node for the entire tree.
Also, if you receive help requests from your software’s users, you could write the answers and make them available in an easily accessible FAQs page. Doing so will decrease the time you spend helping users, but it will also give you a clearer idea of the kind of information users need most frequently so that you can document them first and keep them in a prominent place in your docs.
Ensure Your Docs Are Up-to-date and Free of Bugs
Easily accessing your software documentation is great, but if users find out that its content is out of date or the sample code or instructions lead to buggy results, this gets frustrating, to say the least. Still, Steve Konves suggests you keep your docs close to the code — for instance, in source control. This way, when developers update the code, they’ll notice the documentation material, which makes updating the docs a much more likely occurrence.
Also, to minimize the occurrence of bugs, thoroughly test the instructions and the code samples you provide in your docs.
Extra Tip and Some Popular Examples
Don’t stop at documentation. Blog posts are great for making your software and its features known to a wide audience of potential users. Use your blog to offer clarifications of what your product does, deliver user-friendly tutorials, tips and tricks, walk-throughs, explain updates, etc. You can include your blog in a stand-alone website dedicated to your software — perhaps with a forum — around which a strong community can gather and grow.
A great example of this wider idea of documentation in my view is implemented by GreenSock , a widely successful JS animation platform, which I find myself using a lot, not least because its website makes available easy-to-use and well-structured docs, a super helpful forum, blog posts, quick tips, and much more.
React and Vue.js can also be counted as great examples. As soon as you access their respective websites, the home page tells you what each library is good for in a quick tagline, and then goes into more details on why the library can be considered a great choice for your project. Both websites make getting started less intimidating using gentle introductions, illustrative snippets, short tasks beginners can accomplish using code playgrounds, etc. Once users have gained a bit of confidence with the new software, they can find the more technical API docs readily, plus pages detailing how to get help, displaying information on the ecosystem, offering a news or blog section, etc.
To leave the JS zone and go into the field of popular UI libraries with great websites, I can’t leave out Bootstrap . On the Bootstrap website you’ll find right away what the library is good for and how to get started quickly, as well as comprehensive and well-structured docs and a blog to keep users updated on what’s new.
Writing good documentation has its challenges, but it certainly pays off a hundred times if you think how much easier it will be for your users to implement your software’s capabilities. This in turn contributes to your software’s popularity, which makes it attractive and therefore open to the possibility of giving rise to a community of developers who are willing to invest their time in learning it deeply and contributing to its growth, stability, and long-term usage.
This is where the search bar goes
The eight rules of good documentation
Like good code, good documentation is difficult and time consuming to write.
Imagine for a moment two common scenarios in the life of a web developer.
In the first scenario, meet Harlow. Today is Harlow’s first day on a new project. The team has a well-established codebase, a great working environment, and a robust test suite. As Harlow sits down at her desk, she’s excited to get up to speed with the team. After the morning stand-up meeting she’s pointed to the project’s documentation for installation with a slight grimace from her colleague Riley. He mentions that the docs “might be a little out of date, but should hopefully be enough to get you going.” Harlow then spends the rest of the day following the documentation until she gets stuck, at which point she is forced to dig through code or ask colleagues for guidance. What might have taken a few minutes becomes a day-long exercise in frustration, tampering Harlow’s initial excitement.
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In the second scenario, meet Harrison. He’s working on a web app and finds a library that, at first glance, seems incredibly useful for his project. As he attempts to integrate it with his codebase he discovers that parts of the API seem to be glossed over in the documentation or even undocumented. In the end, he walks away from the project in favor of another solution.
Though these scenarios may be slightly exaggerated, I’m reasonably certain that many of us can relate. These problems were not primarily caused by low-quality code, but rather by poor documentation.
If useful documentation is so important to the success of projects and developer well-being, why don’t all projects have it? The answer, I believe, is that like good code, good documentation is difficult and time consuming to write.
In my eyes, there are eight rules that we can follow to produce good documentation:
- Write documentation that is inviting and clear
- Write documentation that is comprehensive, detailing all aspects of the project
- Write documentation that is skimmable
- Write documentation that offers examples of how to use the software
- Write documentation that has repetition, when useful
- Write documentation that is up-to-date
- Write documentation that is easy to contribute to
- Write documentation that is easy to find
The most important rule of good documentation is for it to be as inviting as possible . This means that we should aim to write it in the clearest terms possible without skipping over any steps. We should avoid making assumptions about what our users may know. Sometimes this can seem to be overkill, and we may be tempted to say something like “every X developer knows about Y,” but we each bring our own background and set of experiences to a project. Though this may result in more verbose documentation, it is ultimately simpler, as there is less guesswork involved for developers with all levels of experience.
Documentation should aim to be comprehensive . This means that all aspects of the project are documented. Undocumented features or exceptions can lead to frustration and become a time suck as users and other developers are forced to read through code to find the answers they need. Fully documenting all features takes away this kind of ambiguity.
When we write documentation that is skimmable , we help users find the content they need quickly. Making documentation skimmable can be accomplished by using clear headings, bulleted lists, and links. For large project documentation, a table of contents or clear navigation will help users to skip straight to what they need, rather than scrolling through a single long document.
Documentation that features examples allows users to see how they might use the code themselves. Aim to provide examples of the most common use cases for the project, while letting the comprehensive documentation detail every possibility.
It is perfectly acceptable to include some repetition in documentation, which the Write the Docs project terms “ARID” (accepts (some) repetition in documentation). Doing so acknowledges that users may not read the full docs or that some information is relevant in multiple places in the documentation. While good code may be DRY, good writing aims to be clear, and sometimes this means repeating ourselves. The Write the Docs project calls out the difference between writing that is ARID, DRY, and WET in this way:
The pursuit of minimizing repetition remains valiant! ARID does not mean WET , hence the word choice. It means: try to keep things as DRY as possible, but also recognize that you’ll inevitably need some amount of “moisture” to produce documentation.
Effective documentation is kept up-to-date . This is surprisingly challenging. We may begin our project with the best of intentions and great documentation, but as our software evolves and we are quickly iterating, it can be easy to fall out of step. If you are working as part of an agile development team, I recommend adding documentation to your team’s “definition of done.” For independent projects, try to treat documentation as an important final step.
Documentation that is easy to contribute to is also easy to keep up-to-date. The simplest way to make documentation easy to contribute to is to treat it as code, storing it as text in source control. The site and book Docs Like Code advocates for treating our docs like our code by using source control, automating builds, and applying software development tools and techniques to our documentation practices.
Documentation is only as helpful as it is easy to find . Keeping an updated README file and linking to more extensive documentation at the top of the README when necessary helps to keep discoverability simple.
I hope these guidelines are useful as you draft your project’s documentation. Sometimes it is helpful to remember that documentation isn’t just for other developers, but often for our future selves as well. When we return to a project after a number of months, we will appreciate the work we put into clear and up-to-date documentation.
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An overview of Markdown, how it works, and what you can do with it.
What is Markdown?
Markdown is a lightweight markup language that you can use to add formatting elements to plaintext text documents. Created by John Gruber in 2004, Markdown is now one of the world’s most popular markup languages.
Using Markdown is different than using a WYSIWYG editor. In an application like Microsoft Word, you click buttons to format words and phrases, and the changes are visible immediately. Markdown isn’t like that. When you create a Markdown-formatted file, you add Markdown syntax to the text to indicate which words and phrases should look different.
For example, to denote a heading, you add a number sign before it (e.g., # Heading One ). Or to make a phrase bold, you add two asterisks before and after it (e.g., **this text is bold** ). It may take a while to get used to seeing Markdown syntax in your text, especially if you’re accustomed to WYSIWYG applications. The screenshot below shows a Markdown file displayed in the Visual Studio Code text editor .
You can add Markdown formatting elements to a plaintext file using a text editor application. Or you can use one of the many Markdown applications for macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android operating systems. There are also several web-based applications specifically designed for writing in Markdown.
Depending on the application you use, you may not be able to preview the formatted document in real time. But that’s okay. According to Gruber , Markdown syntax is designed to be readable and unobtrusive, so the text in Markdown files can be read even if it isn’t rendered.
The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.
Why Use Markdown?
You might be wondering why people use Markdown instead of a WYSIWYG editor. Why write with Markdown when you can press buttons in an interface to format your text? As it turns out, there are several reasons why people use Markdown instead of WYSIWYG editors.
Markdown can be used for everything. People use it to create websites , documents , notes , books , presentations , email messages , and technical documentation .
Markdown is portable. Files containing Markdown-formatted text can be opened using virtually any application. If you decide you don’t like the Markdown application you’re currently using, you can import your Markdown files into another Markdown application. That’s in stark contrast to word processing applications like Microsoft Word that lock your content into a proprietary file format.
Markdown is platform independent. You can create Markdown-formatted text on any device running any operating system.
Markdown is future proof. Even if the application you’re using stops working at some point in the future, you’ll still be able to read your Markdown-formatted text using a text editing application. This is an important consideration when it comes to books, university theses, and other milestone documents that need to be preserved indefinitely.
Markdown is everywhere. Websites like Reddit and GitHub support Markdown, and lots of desktop and web-based applications support it.
Kicking the Tires
The best way to get started with Markdown is to use it. That’s easier than ever before thanks to a variety of free tools.
You don’t even need to download anything. There are several online Markdown editors that you can use to try writing in Markdown. Dillinger is one of the best online Markdown editors. Just open the site and start typing in the left pane. A preview of the rendered document appears in the right pane.
You’ll probably want to keep the Dillinger website open as you read through this guide. That way you can try the syntax as you learn about it. After you’ve become familiar with Markdown, you may want to use a Markdown application that can be installed on your desktop computer or mobile device.
How Does it Work?
Dillinger makes writing in Markdown easy because it hides the stuff happening behind the scenes, but it’s worth exploring how the process works in general.
When you write in Markdown, the text is stored in a plaintext file that has an .md or .markdown extension. But then what? How is your Markdown-formatted file converted into HTML or a print-ready document?
The short answer is that you need a Markdown application capable of processing the Markdown file. There are lots of applications available — everything from simple scripts to desktop applications that look like Microsoft Word. Despite their visual differences, all of the applications do the same thing. Like Dillinger, they all convert Markdown-formatted text to HTML so it can be displayed in web browsers.
Markdown applications use something called a Markdown processor (also commonly referred to as a “parser” or an “implementation”) to take the Markdown-formatted text and output it to HTML format. At that point, your document can be viewed in a web browser or combined with a style sheet and printed. You can see a visual representation of this process below.
To summarize, this is a four-part process:
- Create a Markdown file using a text editor or a dedicated Markdown application. The file should have an .md or .markdown extension.
- Open the Markdown file in a Markdown application.
- Use the Markdown application to convert the Markdown file to an HTML document.
- View the HTML file in a web browser or use the Markdown application to convert it to another file format, like PDF.
From your perspective, the process will vary somewhat depending on the application you use. For example, Dillinger essentially combines steps 1-3 into a single, seamless interface — all you have to do is type in the left pane and the rendered output magically appears in the right pane. But if you use other tools, like a text editor with a static website generator, you’ll find that the process is much more visible.
What’s Markdown Good For?
Markdown is a fast and easy way to take notes, create content for a website, and produce print-ready documents.
It doesn’t take long to learn the Markdown syntax, and once you know how to use it, you can write using Markdown just about everywhere. Most people use Markdown to create content for the web, but Markdown is good for formatting everything from email messages to grocery lists.
Here are some examples of what you can do with Markdown.
Markdown was designed for the web, so it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of applications specifically designed for creating website content.
If you’re looking for the simplest possible way to create a website with Markdown files, check out blot.im . After you sign up for Blot, it creates a Dropbox folder on your computer. Just drag and drop your Markdown files into the folder and — poof! — they’re on your website. It couldn’t be easier.
If you’re familiar with HTML, CSS, and version control, check out Jekyll , a popular static site generator that takes Markdown files and builds an HTML website. One advantage to this approach is that GitHub Pages provides free hosting for Jekyll-generated websites. If Jekyll isn’t your cup of tea, just pick one of the many other static site generators available .
If you’d like to use a content management system (CMS) to power your website, take a look at Ghost . It’s a free and open-source blogging platform with a nice Markdown editor. If you’re a WordPress user, you’ll be happy to know there’s Markdown support for websites hosted on WordPress.com. Self-hosted WordPress sites can use the Jetpack plugin .
Markdown doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of word processors like Microsoft Word, but it’s good enough for creating basic documents like assignments and letters. You can use a Markdown document authoring application to create and export Markdown-formatted documents to PDF or HTML file format. The PDF part is key, because once you have a PDF document, you can do anything with it — print it, email it, or upload it to a website.
Here are some Markdown document authoring applications I recommend:
- Mac: MacDown , iA Writer , or Marked 2
- iOS / Android: iA Writer
- Windows: ghostwriter or Markdown Monster
- Linux: ReText or ghostwriter
- Web: Dillinger or StackEdit
In nearly every way, Markdown is the ideal syntax for taking notes. Sadly, Evernote and OneNote , two of the most popular note applications, don’t currently support Markdown. The good news is that several other note applications do support Markdown:
- Obsidian is a popular Markdown note-taking application loaded with features.
- Simplenote is a free, barebones note-taking application available for every platform.
- Notable is a note-taking application that runs on a variety of platforms.
- Bear is an Evernote-like application available for Mac and iOS devices. It doesn’t exclusively use Markdown by default, but you can enable Markdown compatibility mode.
- Joplin is a note taking application that respects your privacy. It’s available for every platform.
- Boostnote bills itself as an “open source note-taking app designed for programmers.”
If you can’t part with Evernote, check out Marxico , a subscription-based Markdown editor for Evernote, or use Markdown Here with the Evernote website.
Looking to self-publish a novel? Try Leanpub , a service that takes your Markdown-formatted files and turns them into an electronic book. Leanpub outputs your book in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI file format. If you’d like to create paperback copies of your book, you can upload the PDF file to another service such as Kindle Direct Publishing . To learn more about writing and self-publishing a book using Markdown, read this blog post .
Believe it or not, you can generate presentations from Markdown-formatted files. Creating presentations in Markdown takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot faster and easier than using an application like PowerPoint or Keynote. Remark ( GitHub project ) is a popular browser-based Markdown slideshow tool, as are Cleaver ( GitHub project ) and Marp ( GitHub project ). If you use a Mac and would prefer to use an application, check out Deckset or Hyperdeck .
If you send a lot of email and you’re tired of the formatting controls available on most email provider websites, you’ll be happy to learn there’s an easy way to write email messages using Markdown. Markdown Here is a free and open-source browser extension that converts Markdown-formatted text into HTML that’s ready to send.
Collaboration and team messaging applications are a popular way of communicating with coworkers and friends at work and home. These applications don’t utilize all of Markdown’s features, but the features they do provide are fairly useful. For example, the ability to bold and italicize text without using the WYSIWYG interface is pretty handy. Slack , Discord , Wiki.js , and Mattermost are all good collaboration applications.
Markdown is a natural fit for technical documentation. Companies like GitHub are increasingly switching to Markdown for their documentation — check out their blog post about how they migrated their Markdown-formatted documentation to Jekyll . If you write documentation for a product or service, take a look at these handy tools:
- Read the Docs can generate a documentation website from your open source Markdown files. Just connect your GitHub repository to their service and push — Read the Docs does the rest. They also have a service for commercial entities .
- MkDocs is a fast and simple static site generator that’s geared towards building project documentation. Documentation source files are written in Markdown and configured with a single YAML configuration file. MkDocs has several built in themes , including a port of the Read the Docs documentation theme for use with MkDocs. One of the newest themes is MkDocs Material .
- Docusaurus is a static site generator designed exclusively for creating documentation websites. It supports translations, search, and versioning.
- VuePress is a static site generator powered by Vue and optimized for writing technical documentation.
- Jekyll was mentioned earlier in the section on websites, but it’s also a good option for generating a documentation website from Markdown files. If you go this route, be sure to check out the Jekyll documentation theme .
Flavors of Markdown
One of the most confusing aspects of using Markdown is that practically every Markdown application implements a slightly different version of Markdown. These variants of Markdown are commonly referred to as flavors . It’s your job to master whatever flavor of Markdown your application has implemented.
To wrap your head around the concept of Markdown flavors, it might help to think of them as language dialects. People in New York City speak English just like the people in London, but there are substantial differences between the dialects used in both cities. The same is true for people using different Markdown applications. Using Dillinger to write with Markdown is a vastly different experience than using Ulysses .
Practically speaking, this means you never know exactly what a company means when they say they support “Markdown.” Are they talking about only the basic syntax elements , or all of the basic and extended syntax elements combined, or some arbitrary combination of syntax elements? You won’t know until you read the documentation or start using the application.
If you’re just starting out, the best advice I can give you is to pick a Markdown application with good Markdown support. That’ll go a long way towards maintaining the portability of your Markdown files. You might want to store and use your Markdown files in other applications, and to do that you need to start with an application that provides good support. You can use the tool directory to find an application that fits the bill.
There are lots of resources you can use to learn Markdown. Here are some other introductory resources:
- John Gruber’s Markdown documentation . The original guide written by the creator of Markdown.
- Markdown Tutorial . An open source website that allows you to try Markdown in your web browser.
- Awesome Markdown . A list of Markdown tools and learning resources.
- Typesetting Markdown . A multi-part series that describes an ecosystem for typesetting Markdown documents using pandoc and ConTeXt .
Take your Markdown skills to the next level.
Learn Markdown in 60 pages. Designed for both novices and experts, The Markdown Guide book is a comprehensive reference that has everything you need to get started and master Markdown syntax.
Want to learn more Markdown?
Don't stop now! 🚀 Star the GitHub repository and then enter your email address below to receive new Markdown tutorials via email. No spam!
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The ultimate guide to process documentation
Enhance productivity by capturing your workflows
No matter what field you're in, much of the work that happens in your organization can likely boil down to a few repeatable processes. That's why process documentation – recording, in detailed steps, how those processes happen – is so important. When your team gets better at your commonly repeated tasks, everyone is more productive overall.
Think about it: How much more could you get done – and how much would the quality of your results improve – if all of your regular processes were optimized? How much time could you save if more people at your organization knew how to carry out key processes? If you didn’t have to pause other activities to teach those processes to newcomers or contractors? If you eliminated conflicts between team members over the "right" way to do something?
Those are just a few of the reasons to invest time in process documentation. To make the most of your documentation efforts, there's (you guessed it) a process to follow, plus tools that make your work easier and more efficient.
What is process documentation?
Process documentation explains to the user how to carry out a process that's part of the work of your organization. We're not talking about a quick overview here. Process documentation is detailed and step by step. It can also present information in a variety of forms, such as checklists or flow charts.
Process documentation is ongoing. It's always a work in progress. Your organization should regularly revisit its documentation to update and improve the way that processes are captured and explained.
Why do you need process documentation
Shortcomings in knowledge sharing cost large companies $47 million per year . Just 4% of companies report that they consistently document their processes. That means a whole lot of organizations are failing to take advantage of all the benefits of documentation . Taken together, those benefits can be a big boost to productivity and the bottom line. They include:
- Greater efficiency. At the same time process documentation improves quality, it can also lead to cost and time savings. The ICU checklist Gawande writes about saved $2 million in a year.
- Smoother collaboration. Process documentation reduces misunderstanding and confusion because your team members have an agreed-upon standard. There's no debate over whose approach to a process is better.
- Deeper engagement. Documenting processes is just one aspect of a culture of knowledge sharing that can increase employee engagement . In one survey of over 7,000 employees , 80% of respondents said they lack the skills they need for their current roles as well as the future roles they aspire to. While this is obviously a multi-faceted issue, process documentation is one way to provide employees the learning they crave.
- Improved processes. Documentation doesn't just enable more people to carry out a process. It can also lead to improvements in the process itself. Documentation requires stepping back and examining a process closely, and that can reveal opportunities to (for example) work more efficiently that no one had noticed before. Even in cases when you already know that a process isn't working, it may not be clear what's causing the problem until you document the process.
- Faster training. When your processes are documented, you can more efficiently onboard new employees or train contractors to pick up work. Your team members can focus on other things besides repeatedly teaching your processes to others. At the same time, the people being trained feel more confident and empowered when they can refer to documentation instead of asking someone else for help.
- Reduced knowledge gaps. If your team has only one person who always handles a key process, what would you do if they took an unplanned leave of absence? Now consider how much more dire the situation would be if that person left the organization without passing along what they know. When this happens, knowledge can vanish for good . And that takes a heavy toll. Process documentation ensures that knowledge is shared, and saved.
- Higher quality. When best practices for completing a process are recorded for everyone to follow, your team members will consistently get better results with fewer errors. If you've read Dr. Atul Gawande's best-selling book " The Checklist Manifesto ," you might remember a particularly striking example of the power of even the most simple process documentation. When a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital created a checklist for how to avoid central line infections in the ICU, it prevented 43 infections and saved eight lives in just one year.
The challenges of process documentation
To reap all of those benefits, though, you first have to get past a few common roadblocks to process documentation.
- Knowledge hoarding. Some people don't like to share information because they believe that keeping it to themselves gives them an edge. If you're dealing with a knowledge hoarder, emphasize the benefits of transparency and that it is one of the values of your workplace culture.
- Self-consciousness. On the other hand, people may omit or change details of how they actually do a process because they don't think they are doing it "right." They tell you what they think they're supposed to be doing instead of what they actually do. If you run into this problem, reinforce the idea that the best way to do a process is constantly evolving. Documentation isn't about catching someone messing up. It's about learning and improvement.
- Perfectionism. Yes, process documentation is highly detailed work. But if you start overthinking every detail, you might never complete your documentation. It's okay to start small and simple, especially if you're documenting a process for the first time. Again, remember that you'll be constantly revising and improving your documentation.
- Time constraints. Everyone is busy. If you never seem to get around to tackling process documentation, choose a time in the week and block it on your team's calendar. Or, pick a month or quarter to dedicate to updating process documentation together.
- Lack of faith in documentation. If you've ever tried to decipher badly written instructions when trying to complete a process, you may be convinced that documentation isn't worthwhile, or that it may even do more harm than good. To feel more confident that documentation will pay off, start your efforts with a template and thorough documentation standards.
The steps of process documentation
OK, so now you're ready to start documenting. But where do you even begin? There's actually a lot of planning involved before you start typing out the steps to your process.
- Define the scope . What process are you documenting? What are the starting and ending points? How will the person using your documentation know when the process is complete?
- Understand your audience. To create effective process documentation, you need a clear understanding of the audience that will be using it. What are the characteristics of your documentation users, and what do they need? For example, if you have a lot of experience with a process, but most of the users of your documentation are totally new to it, then you need to write in a different way than you would for your peers.
- Identify the players. If a process involves more than one person, spell out what each person does.
- Gather information. Talk with the team members and other stakeholders who might be involved in the process. You may even want to hold a brainstorming session. If you carry out the process yourself, start documenting it as you perform it. If others carry it out, ask them to take notes as they go through the process.
- Organize. After you've collected all the information, the next step is putting it all in the best order to help the user complete the process. If you're having trouble with this, try putting your steps on index cards or sticky notes (or their online equivalent , if you prefer) that you can rearrange.
- Write. Expand your outline into clear instructions. Before you begin, it's helpful to review some of the key principles of user experience (UX) writing . Weed out extraneous information that could slow down your readers. Use the active voice and clear, unambiguous language. Write in a way that lends itself to user-friendly design. For example, use short paragraphs and bulleted lists.
- Add visuals . Did you know that almost two-thirds of people are visual learners ? Explaining the process using visual aids like flow charts or diagrams can make your documentation much easier for users to understand. Does the process you are documenting lend itself to visuals?
- Get feedback . Just because your first draft makes sense to you doesn't mean it will make sense to users. So, before you share your documentation widely, choose some initial reviewers and ask for their comments and suggestions. What parts work well? What parts are unclear or need additional explanation? Your reviewers should include team members who are unfamiliar with the process. Can they use it to complete the process? If so, pat yourself on the back. Mission accomplished! If not, then…
- Revise. Collect the feedback from your reviewers and use it to improve your documentation.
- Re-share. Ask reviewers to try out your revised documentation. Can they complete the process now?
- Distribute. Make your process documentation available to everyone who might need it. The best way to do this is to give your documentation a home in a central repository of knowledge, like Confluence . That way, you know that all team members are using the same version of your documentation and that they can access it wherever they are.
- Plan to revisit. Your work is done for now, but that doesn't mean your process documentation is set in stone. Go ahead and schedule some reminders now to regularly evaluate how well your documentation is working and to consider further updates and improvements.
You can adjust these steps depending on the scale and complexity of the process you're documenting.
Tools and templates for process documentation
Feeling a little daunted by all the stages of process documentation? Don't stress. You're not on your own. Every step of the way in your documentation project, you can use tools and templates to work more efficiently.
Capturing the process
As we mentioned earlier, before you can document a process, you have to gather information about how it works. Sometimes that involves a brainstorming session with multiple people. To make the most of everyone's time and ensure you're recording everything that was discussed, we recommend using brainstorming templates by Mural . Mural's templates guide you through planning a productive brainstorming session, structuring the meeting itself, and capturing the results.
Collecting all the information you need to document a process is a big step. But sorting that information out and putting it in a logical, easy-to-understand format can feel like an even bigger one.
Confluence's how-to article template can help you make sense of it all. A bonus to using a template is that it will create consistency among all your different pieces of process documentation. Users will have an easier time following your instructions if they know what to expect.
How to article template in Confluence
Adding visuals to process documentation
Visual elements like flow charts or diagrams can convey information faster and more clearly. You don't have to be a graphic artist to add visual aids to your process documentation. Gliffy and Draw.io are popular diagramming tools available as add-ons to Confluence. You can learn more about them and other visual tools at the Atlassian Marketplace .
Sample process diagram courtesy of Draw.io
Sample eCommerce transaction process diagram courtesy of gliffy
Distributing process documentation
We talked earlier about why distribution is such an important part of process documentation. No matter how clear and polished your documentation is, it won't make much of an impact if it's not in the hands of the people who need it. Your team needs a single, centralized source of truth on how to carry out processes. That's why we recommend storing process documentation in Confluence through the Master project documentation template or other project management templates. Its features also make your documentation easy to find and to update.
You're smarter together
When it comes down to it, process documentation isn't just about making sure things get done quickly and in the right way (although that's pretty important, too, of course.) It's about unleashing your team's collective intelligence. When you turn individual knowledge into team knowledge, you open the door to accomplishing more together.
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Why Does Code Documentation Matters?
Common documentation pitfalls, types of code documentation, best practices for writing effective code documentation, choosing the right documentation tools, how to write documentation for code.
- Read in 06 mins
Writing code documentation is critical to software development, yet it is often underestimated or neglected. Effective documentation is the bridge that connects the intricate world of programming with the broader community of developers, stakeholders, and end-users. It is a valuable resource that facilitates understanding, collaboration, maintenance, and further development of software projects.
Code documentation, at its core, is about providing clarity and context. It guides readers through the codebase, helping them understand the purpose, functionality, and usage of various components, classes, methods, and variables.
Code documentation matters because it is a vital bridge of experience in the software development process. It enables developers to comprehend and work with code efficiently, facilitating collaboration and reducing debugging time. Clear documentation also eases the onboarding of new team members and enhances the software's maintainability. For end-users, it ensures a user-friendly experience and minimizes errors. Code documentation is indispensable for effective communication, collaboration, and the long-term success of documentation for software projects.
Onboarding New Team Members
As projects grow, so do development teams. New members join, and they often face a steep learning curve. Code documentation eases this onboarding process. It provides newcomers with the necessary background information, reducing the time it takes to become productive contributors to the project.
Bug Tracking and Maintenance
Bugs are an inevitable part of software development. Documentation that describes the code's intended behavior helps identify and fix bugs more efficiently. Moreover, good documentation is indispensable for maintaining and updating code. Without it, even minor changes can lead to unforeseen consequences.
Documentation not only benefits the immediate project but also facilitates code reuse. Well-documented code can be a valuable resource for other projects or developers within the organization, saving time and effort.
Code often has a longer lifespan than we initially anticipated. It may need to be maintained for years, and the original developers may no longer be available. Documentation is key to keeping the codebase alive and functional in such scenarios.
Despite the numerous benefits of code documentation, there are common pitfalls and challenges that developers and teams may encounter. Understanding these pitfalls is crucial for mitigating them effectively. Here are some of the most common documentation pitfalls:
- Over-Documentation: Writing excessive documentation can overwhelm readers and make it challenging to find essential information. Avoid verbosity and ensure that documentation is concise and to the point.
- Outdated Documentation: Failing to keep the documentation current is common. Outdated documentation can mislead developers and users, leading to errors and confusion. Regular maintenance is essential.
- Lack of Documentation: Insufficient or missing documentation can hinder collaboration, causing delays and misunderstandings among team members. Every essential aspect of the codebase should be documented.
- Unclear Language: Using technical documentation services like jargon, complex language, or unclear explanations can alienate non-technical readers and make documentation difficult to understand. Aim for transparency and clarity in your language.
Code documentation comes in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in software development. Here are the primary types of code documentation:
In-code documentation consists of comments and annotations embedded directly within the source code. This type of documentation allows developers to understand the code's functionality and purpose. Common forms of in-code documentation include:
- Code Comments: Comments placed within the code using specific comment markers. They explain the logic, provide context, and help other developers understand the code.
- Annotations: In some languages, annotations provide metadata about classes, methods, or fields, aiding in frameworks, libraries, or API documentation.
External documentation is created separately from the source code and provides a comprehensive software functionality guide. It is designed for developers, testers, and other stakeholders. External documentation includes:
- Software Manuals: Detailed user guides that explain how to use the software effectively, targeting end-users.
- Installation Guides: Instructions for installing and configuring the software on various platforms.
- Administrator Guides: For system administrators or IT professionals managing and maintaining the software.
- API Documentation: Documentation explaining the Application Programming Interface (API) of a software library or service for developers who want to integrate it into their projects.
- Architecture and Design Documents: High-level overviews of the software's architecture, design decisions, and system components.
User documentation provides information for end-users to use the software effectively. It includes:
- User Manuals: Comprehensive guides explaining how to use the software's features, often with step-by-step instructions and screenshots.
- Tutorials: Walkthroughs that teach users how to perform specific tasks using the software.
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): A collection of common queries and their answers, helping users troubleshoot issues.
API documentation is essential for developers who want to interact with your software programmatically. It explains how to use the software's API, including endpoints, request/response formats, and authentication details. Common elements of API documentation include:
- Endpoint Descriptions: Details about each API endpoint, including the URL, HTTP method, and available parameters.
- Request and Response Examples: Sample requests and responses to illustrate how to interact with the API.
- Authentication Methods: Explanation of how to authenticate and access the API securely.
- Rate Limiting and Usage Guidelines: Information on usage limits and best practices for efficient API consumption.
Now that we understand the importance of code documentation and the various types, let's delve into how to write documentation for code by knowing the best practices for writing effective documentation:
- Use Descriptive Naming: Use clear and descriptive names for variables, functions, classes, and modules in your code and documentation. Avoid cryptic abbreviations and acronyms unless they are widely accepted in your field.
- Maintain Consistency: Adopt a consistent style and format for your documentation. Whether you use a particular documentation generator or write documentation manually, stick to the same conventions throughout your project.
- Keep It Updated: Documentation is not a one-time task. It should evolve with your codebase. Whenever you make changes to your code, update the associated documentation to reflect those changes accurately.
- Be Concise and Clear: Avoid unnecessary verbosity in your documentation. Keep your explanations concise and to the point. Use simple language that developers of varying skill levels can understand.
- Provide Examples: Include examples in your documentation to illustrate how to use functions or classes. Code examples make it easier for developers to grasp the intended usage of the code.
Before you start writing code documentation, selecting the right tools to make the process efficient and effective is essential. Here are some tools commonly used for writing code documentation:
Markdown is a lightweight, easy-to-learn, and widely supported markup language. It's used for creating well-structured, plain-text documentation that can be easily converted into various formats, such as HTML or PDF.
Documentation generators can automatically create documentation from in-code comments or structured text files. Popular documentation generators include Doxygen (for C/C++), Javadoc (for Java), and Sphinx (for Python).
Integrated Development Environment (IDE) Tools
Many modern IDEs offer features for documenting code directly within the custom elearning development solutions . These tools often provide code completion for comments and make it easier to generate documentation templates.
Selecting the right tools depends on your project's specific needs, the programming language you're using, and your team's preferences.
Writing code documentation is an integral part of software development. Whether in-code comments, external documentation, user manuals, or API guides, documentation ensures that your code is accessible, maintainable, and understandable by a broad audience. By following best practices and using the right tools, you can create documentation that adds value to your project and supports the success of your software.
Remember that documentation is not a one-time effort but an ongoing process. Regular updates, reviews, and feedback from your team and users will help you maintain high-quality documentation that serves its purpose effectively. Start by implementing these practices, and your code will be well-documented, facilitating better collaboration, reducing debugging time, and enhancing the overall user experience.
- technical writing
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary has extensive experience of over 5 years in writing on a wide range of topics, including healthcare, technology, science, and business. She is highly knowledgeable and skilled in researching and crafting accurate, well-structured, and engaging content. Mary is a reliable and professional writer who is always willing to go the extra mile to ensure her clients are satisfied with her work. She is committed to delivering quality content on time and within budget.
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Documentation 101: Writing Documentation That Anyone Can Use
It is time for that dreaded topic: documentation. Everyone needs it at some point, but most people hate creating it.
Often, it’s because they lack the time, tools, references, or knowledge to do it properly. So, let’s have a chat about the different documentation types and formats, the different ways to create it, and the process that goes into creating good, usable documentation.
There are many types of documentation that we use in our daily lives. There are tutorials for learning how things are done, how-to guides that help solve problems, technical references that document a completed process, and reference guides that basically act as a type of cheat sheet.
Below is a quick cheat chart of the different documentation types:
All these types of documentation are used in every type of business today, but for the sake of not losing everyone to a long-winded book, I am going to discuss these in general terms instead of a focused business-by-business case.
Tutorials & How-To Guides
These are very similar, but also very different. As I stated above, tutorials are used for learning how things are done, whereas a how-to guide is for solving a problem. In my world, I may use a tutorial to learn how to code out the latest email layout. Then, I would use a how-to guide to build the email program to send out the email created from the tutorial.
Both types of documentation are simple, step-by-step walk-throughs that will take someone from the very beginning (e.g., starting the software, logging in, etc.) to the very end of a process. Each one should include screenshots or examples of the steps and processes. You’ll typically find tutorials and how-to guides in document or video format (or a combination of the two).
Technical Specs & Reference Guides
These are also very similar in function, but have different applications. Both types go into much greater detail than a tutorial or how-to guide; however, technical specs (also referred to as technical references) list out all the details of a project in a line-by-line fashion, whereas reference guides are more like a cheat sheet document — think Brand Guidelines, tip guides, or even Notes.
There are three basic formats, or styles, for documentation: ISO, Video, and Step-by-Step. All three have their challenges, applications, and champions. Personally, I prefer step-by-step documentation. That’s because I don’t want any room for ambiguity. (I also absolutely hate being in front of a camera.) I want users of my documentation to be able to pick it up and follow it to the end, successfully, without ever having done the process or accessing the system/software before. I’ve found that step-by-step documentation is the surest way to achieve that goal.
ISO documentation lends itself well to technical references with paragraph style discussion accompanied by charts, tables, and graphs. It is widely used in industries where their documentation must be certified in order to meet stringent ISO standards. If you would like to dig into the world of ISO, check out ISO.org .
I personally do not care for ISO documentation. I have often found it vague, open for interpretation, and, in some cases, overwhelming. Now, don’t get me wrong. This could just be my experience. It’s possible that not all ISO documentation is written in such an ambiguous style. The people who put together the ISO documentation I’ve come across may not have known how to write documentation in the first place. We have all been there.
Again, I do not like being in front of a camera, so this is not my cup of tea. That said, video documentation is a great resource for visual learners. Users can start, stop, follow along with, and pause a video, as needed, while watching a process occur. However, there are some downsides to video documentation:
- Users must take their own notes and be able to read those notes later (or keep referring back to the video).
- Users must have an electronic device to even watch the documentation (no power, no video — hope the video topic isn’t about turning the power back on!).
- If that video is in the cloud or online, ample bandwidth is required for viewing.
Need information on software or want to learn more on creating video documentation? Google “ video documentation ” and dive in.
Example: How to Document a Process With Video
This one is my forte. I love this type of documentation as it leaves nothing up for discussion. It literally tells a user what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. (And isn’t that the point?)
Step-by-step documentation is a mix of paragraphs and outline format with screenshots and examples mixed in. It is also the most flexible type of documentation with regard to format. It can be created as slides in PowerPoint, video, basic documents (Word, Excel, etc.), or even a combination thereof. Not to mention that both visual and textual learners at all levels of experience (from beginner to expert) can learn and work from step-by-step documentation.
Example: This step-by-step documentation takes users through the process of creating a new logo in Adobe Photoshop.
How to approach writing documentation
While I cannot speak to the ISO and Video documentation formats specifically, the steps I am going to review here should generally pertain to all formats.
To start, you’ll need:
- Your tools (blank document or document template, screen capture software, etc.) open and ready
- Any reference materials that may exist (intake doc, etc.)
Include the following:
- Access information (login/password if shared, URLs, etc.)
- Brief paragraph on the process
- Numbered steps with sub numbers (general outline format)
- Fine details (screen/tab names, specific details, etc.)
- Screenshots and relevant examples within the steps
- Small steps that you believe others should already know (remember, you are writing documentation so that ANYONE can pick it up and perform the process)
The easiest approach
The best and easiest way to write documentation, of any kind, is if you already know the process. In this case, you can document the process while actually going through it for a project. It may take a bit longer to do the actual project, but it makes writing the documentation and collecting the screenshots much easier. It also assures that all steps are included, few items are missed, and everything is in the correct order.
A more difficult, but not impossible approach
Eventually, you will be asked to document a process that you have never done before and may only vaguely understand. This can be done, but will be a bit more difficult and will take more work. In this case, start as you would for the easy way — but don’t worry about order or completeness. Go into this knowing and understanding that this will have many revisions and not be a quick process.
- Document the steps you know. Fill in the information that is known by doing a brain/skill dump.
- Take notes during this step and include anything that may need to be moved or updated.
- Make a note of any questions you have and if there are potential steps missing.
- Merge your notes into the documentation and make any changes you discovered.
- Ask questions and/or research similar processes by others.
- Merge the new information into your documentation.
- Repeat steps 2-6 until you have functional documentation that anyone can use.
- Have someone perform the process with the documentation to identify any holes/gaps.
5 quick tips for writing effective documentation
- Do NOT go into a documentation project thinking it will be done in a few hours. Good documentation takes time and revisions.
- Write your documentation as if the CEO may need to perform the process.
- Are listed for others to know about
- Won’t get lost or forgotten
- Can be added in later
- If you find yourself rushing to complete a documentation project, set it aside and take a break or come back to it the next day. Rushing will introduce missed or inaccurate steps, which, depending on what the process is for, could cost a company a lot of time and money.
- MANAGERS: Give your staff the time needed — not the time you think it should take — to produce the quality documentation you are expecting. If you don’t, your customer service team will hear about it.
Some final thoughts
Remember, documentation is neither a quick nor easy process. It takes work, time, patience, and often many revisions. Documentation is also NOT a do it once and done thing. You should always strive to keep your documentation up to date and accurate, so invest the time and energy into writing good documentation that anyone can use.
In the end, remember…
may help you, but
is the real goal of documentation.
Good luck and keep practicing those documentation skills!
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How to Write Code Documentation
We’ll walk you through some tips on writing stellar code documentation that developers will love.
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When writing software, code documentation is practically required.
These documents are essentially a cheat sheet for your software, helping render the complex architecture of the code into more digestible concepts.
With code documentation, anyone can read your codebase and understand its structure, dependencies, and purpose.
The texts are a medium for knowledge sharing and help with code management.
However, the code documentation needs to be well-written for your developers to reap these benefits. Subpar documents aren’t of use to anyone.
That’s what this article is for: we’ll walk you through some tips on writing stellar code documentation that developers will love.
Write Clean Code First
The purpose of code documentation is to explain code so that it’s easily understood and more manageable.
However, code is complex, and it’s challenging to write digestible documentation about it. The practice is often a specialized skill, and many hire technical writers for this specific task and for better technical documentation.
Now imagine if the code lacked consistency in the naming, syntax conventions, and functions. Such messy code would make writing documentation that much harder.
Therefore, to achieve high-quality code documentation, you first need high-quality code. Clean code is the prerequisite for code documentation.
A good starting point is the architecture of the codebase, as a logical folder structure allows developers to navigate the codebase easily.
Here’s a sample of React's folder organization:
There are several intuitive main folders, such as assets, components, pages, etc. Each parent folder is then broken down into child folders, which all relate to the parent folder.
For example, the components folder contains folders grouped by elements like buttons , custom input fields, and similar.
Likewise, the parts folder is divided into reusable snippets (footers, headers, etc.).
With this clean, coherent organization, developers can quickly and efficiently navigate the codebase and locate the code they need.
As to the actual code itself, the following acronym stands for some good advice:
DRY—don’t repeat yourself—advocates that no two lines of code should be identical.
This is because multiple lines of duplicate code automatically increase the codebase, therefore making it difficult to maintain.
Imagine your developer needs to edit non-DRY code.
Instead of changing a single line, they would have to systematically adjust every line of code in a net of endless repeated, duplicated code.
Kasun Koswatta offers a better alternative:
Instead of constantly repeating functionalities, a more elegant solution is to create a method or class that can enact that functionality multiple times.
That way, the codebase is smaller and more manageable yet accomplishes the same action.
While writing your DRY code, it’s also essential to focus on variable names. Variables should be named descriptively, so there’s no ambiguity regarding the code’s purpose.
Short, simple names such as data or customer can mean almost anything and will likely confuse developers.
Instead, it’s better to employ variable names such as:
These detailed names indicate the code’s exact functionality, and most developers will know what the variable is referring to.
With these clear-cut, clean variable names, the code should be easy to read and understand, and even easier to document.
Add Code Comments
Even if your codebase is the cleanest it could possibly be, there will still be times when it’s not immediately apparent what the code does or why it does it.
Your developers will occasionally have to deviate from standard coding practices for a multitude of reasons, and these instances will look odd to fresh eyes despite there likely being adequate justification.
This is where code comments are helpful: they’re the perfect space to explain the logic behind code. Comments help developers to understand why the code was written the way it was.
Such documentation is critical, as it will help your peers understand your code better. Author Hal Abelson illustrated why this is so essential:
The hallmark of high-functioning software is that humans easily understand it ; otherwise, it’s not a very sophisticated program. Here's why you need to write very good software documentation !
Comments are a fantastic medium for enabling this understanding.
The following snippet proves how effective comments can be:
This tidbit of information is a niche, surprising revelation. Most developers would have automatically reverted to the global function simply because it’s the most common practice.
However, because of this helpful comment, all newcomers to the codebase will immediately know why the Number.isFinite function was used.
Furthermore, developers would have likely lost significant time without this note, stalling further development.
Hours would have been spent discovering this peculiarity, as opposed to the five seconds it takes to read this comment.
If you’re unsure how to begin writing such code comments, there are several tools to help you out.
For example, GhostDoc is a Visual Studio extension that automatically generates XML comments from the source code.
In other words, your developers won’t have to annotate the code themselves. Instead, one keystroke will do the trick.
Here’s how it works:
The tool highlights missing documentation, removes default comments (there’ll be an icon indicating this), and, most importantly, generates XML comment templates.
With this resource, your developers will have extensively-commented code in no time, creating an accessible, transparent codebase anyone can understand and contribute to.
Choose the Right Documentation Tool
Strange as it may seem, you’d have difficulties writing code documentation using Microsoft Word.
This is because code documentation requires advanced features often lacking in standard word processing tools. Consequently, it’s worth investing in a specialized code documentation tools .
For example, Archbee is a documentation platform that hosts all your company’s documents while providing features to facilitate the writing process.
One such feature is a multi-language code editor : a block containing multiple tabs to display code snippets across various languages.
Here’s an example:
Archbee also offers Code Drawers , a popular interactive block layout. With this feature, code samples change as you scroll down the page, and the code drawer enters the viewport.
Take a look:
This feature is ideal for lengthier documents with multiple code examples, as it allows for a clearer overview.
Archbee is an ideal solution for manually documenting code. However, if you’re short on time, some tools will automatically generate documentation for you.
For instance, Dozygen independently creates documentation from the source code, extracting information from the comments added to the code.
Since the documentation is derived from the annotations, it’s easy to maintain consistency with the source code.
Look at this sample code:
This is its Doxygen-generated documentation:
Doxygen can create documentation in an online browser (in HTML) or an offline reference manual (in LaTeX). The above image depicts the online browser option.
This documentation tool is handy when you don’t have much time, as the documents are automatically created without manual work.
Document as You Write
Code is always the most intelligible while you’re writing it. With complex functions, even revisiting it after a few days' break can result in head-scratching as you struggle to decipher your logic from earlier in the week.
In other words, the rationale and reasoning behind your code are most evident in the moment of composition.
As a result, it’s a good idea to document as you code simply because that’s when the information is clearest to you.
Victoria Drake, the Principal Software Engineer at Sophos, also commented on this:
You’ll always be the most knowledgeable about the code when writing the code. As time goes on, your memory will degrade more and more.
As such, it’s vital to utilize this advantage and record your insights when they’re clearest.
In a Quora discussion on this subject, analyst Jim Brinsley echoed this sentiment, stating:
Documentation should ideally be written after each code fragment or function to ensure a comprehensive, detailed guide on the entire codebase.
Examples of helpful code documentation best written immediately are unusual algorithms, argument definitions, and expected uses.
This data can be forgotten later on but should be fresh in your mind while initially writing the code.
This topic was also discussed in a Reddit post, where a user highlighted the dangers of documenting at the wrong time:
If you document before writing the code, you’ll likely have to backtrack and edit the documentation upon finishing coding.
After all, you never know what unexpected alterations you’ll have to make due to changed requirements or unforeseen roadblocks.
However, if you document after writing the code, you’ll again have to revisit the documentation once more after debugging or implementing new functionalities.
Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the information won’t be as fresh as when writing the code.
In any case, you’ll likely be reworking the documentation in both scenarios.
Documenting while coding is the only approach that ensures you won’t constantly be revisiting and editing the documentation.
Focus on the Ease of Understanding
Code documentation should be detailed and clear enough for anyone to understand the code it describes.
Even new employees or external developers should grasp your software’s architecture, regardless of their individual skills and experience.
Therefore, code documentation’s chief characteristic should be intelligibility.
Ideally, the texts would assume the reader knows nothing about what the code does, why it does it, and how it works. Consequently, everything should be written in plain language .
Or, as Tim Peters put it:
The main goal of documentation is to explain complex concepts in clear, digestible language. However, that’s not always possible, as software is complicated by nature. Here's what makes writing code documentation a challenge and get ready!
In such situations, it’s crucial to manage the complexity effectively; to present the complexities without complicating them further.
If you’re unsure how to do so, here’s one effective method:
The key is to begin the documentation with small, bite-sized explanations that are easily understood.
Then, work your way through more complex concepts, adding additional information each time.
With this incremental strategy, you avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information at once and slowly yet surely introduce them to the software’s inner workings.
Twilio does this well. The below image shows the first page of their REST APIs documentation:
Before explaining how to use their APIs , Twilio takes a step back and first explains what an API is in the first place.
This might be an oversimplification for some developers. Still, for less-experienced readers, the clarification is a great introduction and will help them more easily understand the rest of the text.
Furthermore, Twilio incorporates code samples that automatically render as the user scrolls down the document (i.e., code drawers). Here’s an example:
This code sample reveals how to list all alerts, but a brief scroll will change the code into a snippet illustrating date range examples.
The interactive, clear layout allows readers to easily view code samples without abandoning the plain-text explanation.
The dual-screen increases readability and makes it much easier to understand the software’s capabilities.
Before we finish, here's a blog post about best practices in code documentation for software engineers .
Writing code documentation is a huge help when developing software.
These documents help translate intricate systems into more straightforward portions; they essentially walk developers through the software. With code documentation as a guiding light, developers can easily manage and edit the software they’re working in.
For example, code comments explaining codebase peculiarities can save hours of work. In addition, if the documentation is written simultaneously with coding, it’s guaranteed to cover every codebase detail.
Well-written code documentation is often the key to effective collaboration and software development. Make sure your employees document well, and you’re guaranteed to build high-functioning software.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of code documentation, why is clean code important in code documentation, what is the proper time to write code documentation, why are detailed variable names important in coding, how can tools like ghostdoc and doxygen assist in code documentation, read more in, documentation.
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How to Create Project Documentation with Examples & Benefits
Category: Standard Operating Procedures
Last updated on Oct 31, 2023
Table of Contents
What is project documentation, benefits of project documentation, types of project documentation, how to create project documentation, best practices in writing project documentation, choosing the right software for project documentation.
Launching a new project is exciting. You’re in a race to get started and implement this project which you are sure will make a huge difference to your business. But wait.
First, you need to create robust product requirement documentation that clearly defines your goals and the scope of your work. The success of a project is highly dependent on the thoroughness of documentation which gives a project direction and accountability.
With project documentation in place, there will be fewer unpleasant surprises concerning the project. Everyone on the project team is on the same page and has greater visibility into the nature of the project.
It’s important to start with a project documentation definition.
Project documentation is very simple. It’s a collection of all the documents relating to a project, containing core project specifications, goals to aim for, budgets, risks, and many more subjects that are vital to know about. Documentation can be consulted by team members when they want to find out the status of the project, what work still needs to be completed, or client requirements.
If you create project documents, the project has transparency and everyone is working from the same playbook. You can track how well the project is going and whether it is meeting requirements. If someone has a question about a previous stage of the project, you can check the documentation records for a definitive answer.
Also Read: The Ultimate Guide to Create a Business Playbook
There may be Project Managers out there who feel like they don’t have time to invest in making any kind of project document. It’s hard enough to get a project off the ground without having to create numerous documents that may or may not get read.
We’re here to tell you that project documentation has numerous benefits.
Keep project tasks and progress traceable
When you have thorough project management documentation, the roles and responsibilities of each team member are clearly defined. The project tasks and progress are traceable as you know who is supposed to complete what work by what deadline. This means you can track the project much more effectively and understand whether you are on target.
Improve communication between stakeholders and the team
Project documentation makes your assumptions about a project explicit. Stakeholders can understand what a project involves, how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take. Any information relating to the project is readily available so that clear communication is made possible. Changes to the project are immediately conveyed so that stakeholders are always kept up-to-date on the status of the project.
Describe the methodologies and techniques beforehand
When you define your project documentation, you can outline the methodologies and techniques you are going to use beforehand which will lead to a more successful project. Documenting your methodologies means everyone can follow along and they know what to expect, because your project is more consistent.
Define and assign responsibilities with more accuracy
Project documentation allows you to clearly state who is assigned which tasks and ultimately responsible for which deliverables. When someone wants to ask a question about the project, they can easily see who is taking care of the relevant aspect and employees also spend less time duplicating work. Tasks don’t fall through the cracks as everyone knows who should be delivering what.
Improve deliverable and success rate
If your team knows what the deliverables are then they are more likely to be able to meet their targets. They can continually refer back to the documentation to find out the goals of the project and ensure that they are on track. Deliverables are given milestones and timelines to ensure that the team is held accountable and able to complete the project successfully.
Teams are more productive when they have access to the latest project documentation. They know what is within and without their scope of work and are better placed to meet the demands placed on the project team. They know which tasks are the highest priority and are more able to balance their workload. Projects are completed more quickly as everyone is working at full capacity with an understanding of their role in the process.
Mitigate the risk of losing information
Documenting your project means you are much less likely to lose information that could be valuable later down the line. It’s easy to forget what was said in meetings and projects become confused as everyone is relying on verbal communication to get things done. When you later want to look back on a project and learn from it, you have a written record of what took place.
The project charter is the foundation stone of your project documentation that communicates the scope of your project. It outlines the project’s objectives, the stakeholders who will be participating in the project, and who will be responsible for what. The project charter is created at the start of a project’s lifecycle and is continually referenced as the project unfolds.
Statement of Work (SOW)
A statement of work is more detailed than a project charter and it contains a project’s specifications. The statement of work details the project’s deliverables, timelines, and budgets and it may be exchanged between a company and a client to act as an informal contract for the work to be undertaken.
Leave no room for errors by documenting your procedures!
Requirement documentation explains clearly what the end result of the project will or will not do. The product has a particular purpose and must achieve specific ends in order to fulfill the needs of a certain user group.
Stakeholder communication outlines procedures relating to how your project team will communicate with stakeholders during the project’s lifecycle. It explains in detail exactly how communication will occur, from the channels used to communicate to the frequency of communication.
When changes need to be made to the initial project plan they should be asked for and documented in the change management log . This keeps track of all the alterations to a project and includes the reason for the requested change, plus the person who is responsible for asking for the change.
Risk Analytics and Documentation
In risk analytics you should include all the potential risks of your project and their likelihood of occurring as part of your risk management plan, and what you will do to prevent them.
Issue logs are lists that help you stay on top of project issues as they come up and understand the impact that they have on the project. You record when the issue happened, a description of the issue and the action required and by whom.
We’ll talk you through how to make project documentation in six simple steps.
Step 1: Collect all requirements and related in a central repository
First of all, your project documentation needs to be collected in one place where team members and other stakeholders can easily access it. You might begin your project documentation process with documents spread out all over the place, in email chains, Word docs, Slack messages, PDF files, and more. It’s vital to bring all your documentation into a centralized repository which will function as a single source of truth that employees can check whenever they have a question.
Step 2: Be descriptive of the process and stages of the project
Next, make sure you give detailed descriptions of the project management process and the stages of the project. The different stages of the project management process all require different types of documents, ranging from planning to execution to completion. For example, your project charter is something that will be written at the beginning of the project while your issue log will be created and updated throughout the project lifecycle.
Step 3: Organize the information by stages and topics
Once you’ve created your project documentation, use your project documentation tool to organize the information into stages and topics. Different types of documents like your project status updates and project charter belong in different sections depending on what stage of the project planning process they’re at.
Step 4: Collaborate with your team on reviews
Your project documentation should be a team effort. Even if you’re a Project Manager tasked with creating a whole body of project documentation, you can benefit from the contributions of your team on reviews that help improve your documentation. They can tell you what is unclear, what is missing from your project documentation, and anything that is out-of-date. Incorrect documentation can damage the credibility of your project and confuse your team members, so reviews are essential.
Step 5: Publish the documents, add tags and indexing
Once you’ve got your project documentation up to a good standard, publish it in a documentation portal and make sure you add tags and index it with search. Your documentation should be easy to find by anyone who is searching for it and your documentation should show related articles for better content discovery.
Step 6: Maintain the documentation and update it
This is the final step in how to prepare documentation for a project. Your project documentation is a living entity that must be continually updated and maintained for comprehensiveness and freshness. Set aside an hour for every work to go through your documentation and identify documents that could benefit from revision. Keep certain documents updated like your issue log or your change management log.
Also read: External Documentation: Best Practices, Tips & Examples
Define the scope of the project
You must clearly lay out the terms of the project, defining what is within the scope of the project and what lies outside it. This guards against scope creep and ensure everyone knows what the project involves and what success looks like. A project could go on forever if you just keep adding things to do to the scope.
An intuitive project documentation software to easily add your content and integrate it with any application. Give Document360 a try!
Set up a team (contributors, reviewers, editor or publisher)
Bring a team together to collaborate on your project documentation. Your team must consist of contributors, reviews, editors and publishers so they can take your content through the entire lifecycle. Everyone has a different role to play in bringing your documentation through to completion and ensuring that it is created to the highest standard.
Identify topics and sub-topics
Identify all the areas in which your project documentation could be usefully divided into topics and sub-topics. Make a plan of all the documentation you want to create and systematically work your way through going topic by topic. Your documentation should be clearly organized in a systematized way so anyone can browse through your content to find what they need.
Be specific about expected results
You must clearly explain what you hope to achieve with your project so your team knows when your project has been successful. Specifically layout the expected results and when you think you will get there, with a solid definition of done. Articulate the final product in the most descriptive terms possible and make it clear to everyone involved.
Document technical parameters and environment requirements
If you’re working on a technical project then you’re going to need to document technical parameters and environment requirements. Make sure everyone knows the specifications needed and the technologies that will be involved in executing your project. Really go into detail about the requirements so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind about the project’s dependencies.
Compose project deliverable
Get really clear about what is going to be delivered at the end of the project after your definition of done. This could be a new mobile app or a new community center. Whatever your deliverable, get clear about what it is and how it will benefit the company when you’ve built it. What will be the tangible results of your project and how will you know when it has been delivered?
Assess Quality, Scope, Risk, Training, and Cost
When documenting your project, assess:
- Quality – how will you ensure the quality of your project outcome?
- Scope – what is included in the boundaries of the project and what isn’t?
- Risk – what are the natural risks associated with your project and how will you tackle them?
- Training – what training is required to build the necessary skills for the completion of the project?
- Cost – how much will the project cost and what is the budget for it?
Refresh and update documents with version history
Use a documentation tool that allows you to store the version history for every document so you can refer back to it whenever necessary. Regular updates to your project documentation may result in a need to revert back to previous versions sometimes as you might need to remind yourself of the history of the project
If you’re engaging in the documentation of a project, you’ll need to have the right tools in place to store your documents and share them with your team. A good choice for project documentation is a company knowledge base , which is centrally managed by a team of contributors.
Document360 is one such tool, and it will help you get up and running with your project documentation using its stylish and intuitive interface. You can use the WYSIWYG or the markdown editor , and the category manager to organize your content into topics. The simple drag-and-drop UI allows you to rearrange categories with just a few clicks.
You can build a private , login-required, knowledge base for employees or clients so your documentation is always secure. Take advantage of Document360’s integrations and extensions with popular apps so you can expand the functionality of your knowledge base.
With Document360, you can view version history between multiple article versions or roll back to a prior version. You don’t have to worry about accidentally overwriting the content with automatic source control.
It’s clear by now that if you are a Project Manager, your project is in desperate need of documentation to bring clarity and organization to your team. If you’re running a small project, you won’t need too much documentation or you might find your team getting weighed down with documents. Larger projects need more documentation naturally, as they are more complex and involve more moving parts.
Whatever your project documentation needs, make sure you get started with a tool like Document360, which will help you create and share your documents with your team. You can keep all your documents in one centralized location and team members can take advantage of a powerful search to find the content they need.
Jun 14, 2022
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How to Write Good Documentation with Docsify
Documentation is critical to a successful product. Without documentation, it's more difficult for people to use your product, and it's just as important if you're running an open-source project, too.
Creating a documentation site can be challenging, especially if you're not familiar with front-end development.
I have been a front-end developer for the past 8 years. During that time, I have used many frameworks to build documentation, like Next.js , nextra , content layer , Ghost CMS , lume (deno) , docusaurus , and Mark doc .
- Documentation versioning
In this guide, I'll introduce you to a powerful tool that can help you write documentation without needing as much technical knowledge.
What is Docsify?
Docsify comes with zero configuration, no statically built HTML files, multiple theme support, inbuilt plugin API, and full-text search support with a plugin. It also deploys on a wide range of platforms like GitHub pages, GitLab Pages, Firebase Netlify, Vercel, and others.
I created a demo project to show you how to use it – the source code is available on GitHub. You can also check out the live demo site .
How to Setup and Use Docsify
You can create a new project with the docsify-cli . To use docsify-cli, you need to install Node and NPM if you don't already have them installed.
The command output looks like this:
Create your new project with the docsify-cli init option.
You can also specify the --theme and --plugins .
You can read more about docsify-cli on the documentation page.
Next, start your local development server using docsify-cli. For that, run the following command:
Your local server runs on a 3000 port locally.
Your website should look like this when you open it in the browser:
Docsify Folder Structure
Docsify has a straightforward folder structure. By default, when you create a new project with docsify-cli , there are three main files:
How to Customize Docsify
Docsify comes with lots of customization options, and you don't need any additional knowledge to configure it – it's pretty straightforward, just like copying and pasting code.
In this guide, we'll explore some of the most common customization options. For advance configuration, you can check out the Docsify documentation.
In the basic configuration, you can change or add a logo, a name, add your GitHub repository link, a theme color, and so on.
Here's the code to do that – you can fill in your own details.
In Docsify, you can enable a loading screen without any configuration. You just simply write some text along with an HTML element inside your app ID, which will then show as a loading screen. It looks like this:
By default, the sidebar shows the table of contents. But you can customize it very easily. First, you'll need to enable the sidebar .
Then create a new _sidebar.md file at the root level and paste the following code:
Your sidebar should now look like this:
By default, you won't be able to see the Navbar on your Docsify site:
But don't worry, you can change that. To show the Navbar, you first have to enable it like this:
Then create a new _navbar.md file at the root level and paste the following code:
Your Navbar should now look like this:
First, enable the cover page in docsify with the following code:
The next step is to create a new _coverpage.md file.
Your website cover page should look like this:
The cover page and your UI depend on the theme, so they'll differ from theme to theme.
Plugins help provide additional functionality and features to Dicsify and enhance the user experience as well.
You can create and use plugins according to your own requirements. D ocsify has many plugins available that are open-source and created by various contributors.
You can use any plugin by just copy-pasting the code. Even you can create your own plugins with docsify.
How to use third-party plugins
In this example, we'll enable the search bar functionally with the help of the docsify plugin.
To enable the search bar, copy and paste the following script inside your index.html file:
Now the search bar will appear and work on your site. With the search plugin, you can also configure various functionality – read more about it on the search plugin installation and configure page .
How to create your own plugin with docsify
To create your own plugin in docsify, there's an inbuilt hook you'll need to use for the plugin.
Docsify has six inbuilt hooks: init , mounted , beforeEach , afterEach , doneEach , and ready .
- init : gets invoked one time when the docsify script is initialized.
- mounted : gets invoked one time when the docsify instance has mounted on the DOM.
- beforeEach : gets invoked on each page load before the new markdown is transformed to HTML.
- afterEach : called on each page load after the markdown has been turned into HTML.
- doneEach : gets invoked on each page load after new HTML has been appended to the DOM.
- ready : gets invoked one time after rendering the initial page.
With the help of these hooks, you can create a plugin. To learn more about creating your own plugins, check out the custom plugin document page .
In this example, we'll create an edit button using the beforeEach plugin hook. It shows the EDIT DOCUMENT button on every page.
Docsify has both official and community-made themes . You can use any of them, and the good part is you do not need to write any extra code when you switch themes.
You can choose to compress or not compress theme CSS files. The compressed CSS file is a minified version of the theme, and it is a lightweight CSS file for production. Other the other hand, a non-compressed theme CSS file is helpful for development.
You just copy the CSS theme (Vue, bubble, dark, and pure) file and paste it inside the head element. And with that, your theme is changed.
In terms of non-official themes, I think the docsify-themeable theme is the best option for you.
Docsify has various options for deployment. You can deploy your Docsify site on GitHub pages, GitLab Pages , Firebase Hosting , VPS (Nginx), Netlify , Vercel , AWS Amplify , and Docker .
In some platforms like GitHub pages, you deploy your docsify site directly with the GitHub repository without writing any configuration.
Here's the process to do that:
You'll go to Settings > Pages > Source > and then select Deploy from a branch > Branch > Select your branch with folder and click on the save button.
It will take some time, depending on your website size. After deployment finishes, you should see your production URL.
Docsify is a powerful tool for generating documentation sites. In docsify, you can focus on documentation writing, not UI design.
I recently used docsify for my awesome-nextjs repository. You can easily deploy on the GitHub page without any configuration.
Just keep in mind that there are two downsides to docsify:
- Docsify does not generate dynamic SEO meta tags for a page. It only generates a title and description.
- The docsify theme does not provide a modern UI feel.
But it's still very useful! Enjoy creating your documentation :)
If you read this far, thank the author to show them you care. Say Thanks
Learn to code for free. freeCodeCamp's open source curriculum has helped more than 40,000 people get jobs as developers. Get started
Collapse All | Expand All
- Course Overview
- Workshop video recordings
- Download PDFs
- Workshop agenda, slides, activities
- Why I developed this course
- About the author
- Introduction to REST API documentation
- What is a REST API?
- Activity: Identify your goals
- Developer Documentation Trends: Survey Results
- Scenario for using a weather API
- Get authorization keys
- Submit requests through Postman
- curl intro and installation
- Make a curl call
- Understand curl more
- Activity: Use methods with curl
- Analyze the JSON response
- Inspect the JSON from the response payload
- Access and print a specific JSON value
- Dive into dot notation
- A new endpoint to document
- API reference tutorial overview
- Step 1: Resource description
- Step 2: Endpoints and methods
- Step 3: Parameters
- Step 4: Request example
- Step 5: Response example and schema
- Putting it all together
- Activity: What's wrong with this API reference topic
- Activity: Evaluate API reference docs for core elements
- Overview of REST API specification formats
- Introduction to the OpenAPI specification
- Stoplight: Visual modeling tools for creating your spec
- Getting started tutorial: Using Stoplight Studio to create an OpenAPI specification document
- Swagger UI tutorial
- SwaggerHub introduction and tutorial
- Swagger UI Demo
- Integrating Swagger UI with the rest of your docs
- Redocly tutorial -- authoring and publishing API docs with Redocly's command-line tools
- Redoc Community Edition Basic Demo
- OpenAPI tutorial using Swagger Editor and Swagger UI: Overview
- Working in YAML
- Step 1: The openapi object
- Step 2: The info object
- Step 3: The servers object
- Step 4: The paths object
- Step 5: The components object
- Step 6: security object
- Step 7: The tags object
- Step 8: The externalDocs object
- Activity: Create an OpenAPI specification document
- Overview of testing your docs
- Set up a test environment
- Test all instructions yourself
- Test your assumptions
- Activity: Test your project's documentation
- API conceptual topics overview
- API product overviews
- API getting started tutorials
- API authentication and authorization
- API status and error codes
- API rate limiting and thresholds
- API quick reference
- API glossary
- API best practices
- Activity: Complete the SendGrid Getting Started tutorial
- Activity: Assess the conceptual content in your project
- Common characteristics of code tutorials
- Why documenting code is so difficult
- What research tells us about documenting code
- Five strategies for documenting code
- Code samples
- Sample apps
- SDKs (software development kits)
- API design and usability
- Developer experience (DevX) usability
- Overview of the writing process
- 1. Planning
- 2. Information gathering
- 4. Reviewing
- 5. Publishing
- Overview for publishing API docs
- Survey of API doc sites
- Design patterns with API doc sites
- Docs-as-code tools
- More about Markdown
- Version control systems
- Static site generators
- Hosting and deployment options
- Hybrid documentation systems
- Which tool to choose for API docs — my recommendations
- Activity: Manage content in a GitHub wiki
- Activity: Use the GitHub Desktop Client
- Activity: Pull request workflows through GitHub
- Jekyll and CloudCannon continuous deployment tutorial
- Using Oxygen XML with docs-as-code workflows
- Blobr: An API portal that arranges your API's use cases as individual products
- Case study: Switching tools to docs-as-code
- The job market for API technical writers
- How much code do you need to know?
- Best locations for API documentation jobs
- Activity: Find an Open-Source Project
- Activity: Create or fix an API reference documentation topic
- Overview of native library APIs
- Get the sample Java project
- Java crash course
- Activity: Generate a Javadoc from a sample project
- Javadoc tags
- Explore the Javadoc output
- Make edits to Javadoc tags
- Doxygen, a document generator mainly for C++
- Create non-ref docs with native library APIs
- DX content strategy with developer portals
- Following agile scrum with documentation projects
- Managing large documentation projects
- Managing small documentation requests
- Managing SDK releases
- Documentation kickoff meetings and product demos
- Processes for reviewing documentation
- Maintaining existing documentation
- Collecting feedback post-release
- Managing content from external contributors
- Changing internal doc culture
- Sending doc status reports -- a tool for visibility and relationship building
- Broadcasting your meeting notes to influence a wider audience
- Ensuring documentation coverage with each software release
- Measuring documentation quality through user feedback
- Different approaches for assessing information quality
- Quality checklist for API documentation
- Quantifying your progress
- Using AI in APIs: What works, what doesn't
- Use cases for AI: Develop build and publishing scripts
- Use cases for AI: Understand the meaning of code
- Use cases for AI: Distill needed updates from bug threads
- Use cases for AI: Summarize long content
- Use cases for AI: Synthesize insights from granular data
- Use cases for AI: Seek advice on grammar and style
- Use cases for AI: Format content (HTML, XML, YAML)
- Use cases for AI: Arrange content into information type patterns
- Use cases for AI: Compare API responses to identify discrepancies
- Use cases for AI: Draft glossary definitions
- Glossary groups
- Documenting GraphQL APIs
- More REST API activities
- Activity: Get event information using the Eventbrite API
- Activity: Retrieve a gallery using the Flickr API
- Activity: Get wind speed using the Aeris Weather API
- RAML tutorial
- API Blueprint tutorial
- API jeopardy answer key
- What's wrong with this topic answer key
- Menlo Park API workshop video recording
- Denver API workshop video recording
- API doc presentation video recordings
- I'd Rather Be Writing
- Learn API Doc
- Chapter 1: Introduction to REST APIs
Documenting APIs: A guide for technical writers and engineers
In this course on writing documentation for APIs, instead of just talking about abstract concepts, I contextualize APIs with a direct, hands-on approach. You’ll first learn about API documentation by using a simple weather API to put a weather forecast on your site.
We’ll then transition into standards, tools, and specifications for REST APIs. You’ll learn about the required sections in API documentation, analyze examples of REST API documentation from various companies, learn how to join an open-source project to get experience, and more.
About REST APIs
From practice to documentation, who the course is for, course organization, sequence and activities, how long will it take to finish the course, will this course help you get a job in api documentation, no programming skills required, what you’ll need, testing your setup, video recordings, course slides, copyright and re-use of materials, is this course really free, pdf and kindle/ebook formats, let me know if any content is out of date, stay updated, other resources.
In a nutshell, REST APIs (which are a type of web API) involve requests and responses, not too unlike visiting a web page. You make a request to a resource stored on a server, and the server responds with the requested information. The protocol used to transport the data is HTTP. “REST” stands for Representational State Transfer.
I dive more into the principles of REST in What is a REST API? In REST API documentation, you describe the various endpoints available, their methods, parameters, and other details, and you also document sample responses from the endpoints.
In this course, after you practice using an API like a developer , you’ll then shift perspectives and “become a technical writer” tasked with documenting a new endpoint that engineers added to an API. As a technical writer, you’ll tackle each element of a reference topic in REST API documentation:
- Resource descriptions
- Endpoints and methods
- Request example
- Response example
Exploring each of these sections will give you a solid understanding of how to document REST APIs. You’ll also learn how to document the conceptual sections for an API , such as the getting started tutorial , product overview , status and error codes , request authorization , and more.
You’ll also dive into different ways to publish REST API documentation , exploring tools and specifications such as GitHub , static site generators like Jekyll , and other docs-as-code approaches . You’ll learn how to leverage templates, build interactive API consoles so users can try out requests and see responses, and learn how to manage your content through version control .
We’ll also dive into specifications such as the OpenAPI specification and Swagger UI (which provides tooling for the OpenAPI specification). Additionally, you’ll learn how to document native library APIs and generate Javadoc .
Tech writing is about more than tools and technology, though. As such, I even explore processes and methodologies in depth, explaining how to manage both large and small documentation projects, how to collect documentation feedback , how to keep stakeholders happy and updated , and more.
I’ve also included a section on metrics and measurement , which lists a comprehensive quality checklist . The criteria described can help you evaluate your own developer portal in myriad ways against industry best practices.
Throughout this course, I put these concepts in real, applicable contexts with hands-on activities and demos.
The course primarily serves the following audiences:
- Professional technical writers looking to transition from traditional documentation into more API-focused documentation for developers.
- Students learning how to prepare themselves technically to succeed in the tech comm field, which is becoming more focused on developer documentation.
- Developers who are documenting their own APIs and want to know best practices for structure, terminology, and style with tech docs.
- Educators who are training technical writing students about API documentation practices and technologies.
The course consists of the following sections:
Chapter 1: Introduction to REST APIs . REST APIs consist of requests and responses between clients and servers over the web. Although there are many types of APIs, REST APIs are flourishing, and there’s a strong need for API documentation at almost every company that provides an API. Technical writers can apply their skills to fill this gap in highly valuable ways. This introduction discusses different types of APIs, reasons for API growth, and why docs are critical for REST APIs. It outlines course contents, prerequisites, goals, and target audiences. The introduction sets the stage for learning API documentation through the hands-on activities in the course.
Chapter 2: Using an API like a developer . In this chapter, you use a REST API like a developer would. You get API keys, make requests with Postman and curl, analyze JSON responses, and dynamically display API responses on a web page. These hands-on activities give you context for understanding developer needs and workflow. After using the API in this way, you switch perspectives and prepare to start documenting an API as a technical writer.
Chapter 3: Documenting API endpoints . The bulk of API documentation focuses on the resources available (accessed through endpoints) and the data returned. API reference documentation usually includes five key sections for each resource: resource description, endpoints and methods to access the resource, parameters, request examples, and response examples and schemas. After learning about each section, you document a sample resource. You also evaluate and improve existing API reference topics.
Chapter 4: OpenAPI spec and generated reference docs . The OpenAPI specification provides a standard way to describe REST APIs, and includes elements such as paths, operations, parameters, and schemas. Tools like Stoplight, Swagger UI, SwaggerHub, and Redocly can generate interactive API reference documentation from the OpenAPI spec. In this chapter, you follow a tutorial for using Stoplight, a visual editor, to create an OpenAPI specification file and publish the documentation. As you work with the OpenAPI spec, you learn about “spec-first development,” a philosophy of creating the spec before developers write API code, as well as other challenges, such as integrating the reference output and conceptual documentation in a seamless experience.
Chapter 5: Step-by-step OpenAPI code tutorial . Whereas the previous chapter involved building and publishing OpenAPI specification using a visual editor (Stoplight), in this chapter you code the spec by hand following a step-by-step tutorial using the Swagger Editor. You populate each of the main objects in the OpenAPI spec: openapi , info , servers , paths , components , security , tags , and externalDocs . For each object, you can refer to code samples and see how the source maps to the documentation output. The goal is to gain familiarity with the OpenAPI objects and properties by building a valid OpenAPI file from scratch.
Chapter 6: Testing API docs . Testing documentation against your APIs is critical for documentation quality. Fortunately, testing REST APIs and their responses tends involves less setup and expertise than testing library-based APIs like Java. Even so, to test your docs, you need to set up a test environment and get access to API keys or other resources. This will involve collaborating with QA teams. Your goal should be to walk through your instructions personally, making test calls and verifying the responses. You also should push back against any technical assumptions as you champion user needs. In short, testing docs means avoiding passively documenting what engineers say but rather actively validating as much as you can.
Chapter 7: Conceptual topics in API docs . Conceptual topics that make up documentation include product overviews, getting started tutorials, authentication and authorization, status and error codes, rate limiting and thresholds, quick reference guides, glossaries, and best practices. These topics provide critical context for understanding and using the API beyond just the reference documentation. The chapter explores best practices for each topic, reasons why the topics are often neglected, and includes examples from API documentation sites. Activities guide you to evaluate these topics in an open source API project and decide which examples demonstrate best practices. The chapter emphasizes the importance of conceptual documentation in facilitating the user’s journey in understanding and adopting the API.
Chapter 8: Code tutorials . Documenting code can be one of the most challenging aspects of API documentation, especially for non-engineers. Code can be hard to document because of its non-linear nature. For example,you don’t simply start by describing chunks of code from top to bottom. Figuring out your audience’s technical level can also be a guessing game, as a user’s proficiency in one language or area might not carry over to another. As you document code, focus on the “why” instead of the “how,” and consider building up complexity in stages, starting simple and expanding into more advanced use cases. If you can provide interactive browser experiences with code, which allows users to adjust the input and immediately see the output, this can also help developers learn.
Chapter 9: The writing process . The five main steps in the documentation writing process include (1) Planning (creating a doc plan, establishing roles), (2) Gathering information (interviewing engineers, product managers, etc.), (3) Writing (separating content into groups, outlining, scheduling reviews, writing the first draft), (4) Reviewing (reaching out to the right people, incorporating feedback, resolving conflicts), and (5) Publishing (integrating new content, adding metadata, coordinating timing, publicizing releases). This chapter provides practical tips in each writing step, such as recording engineering interviews, bringing questions to review meetings, and publicizing releases through newsletters. Although many other aspects of API documentation might seem more pressing, such as configuring your publishing toolchain, writing is still a core task technical writers do when creating API documentation.
Chapter 10: Publishing API docs . When you’re publishing API documentation, it’s important to have consistent structure and templates, ensure seamless branding, provide plenty of code samples, and follow other API documentation conventions. If you can include an interactive API explorer, users will love it. In this chapter, you dive into tools like Jekyll, Hugo, Sphinx, GitHub Pages, and ReadTheDocs for documentation. The chapter encourages you to embrace the docs-as-code approach, which means using static site generators, version control (Git), lightweight documentation syntax (Markdown), continuous integration, and more. Docs-as-code tools fit well into engineering workflows, making it easier for developers to contribute and review documentation.
Chapter 11: Publishing tools . Publishing technical documentation typically involves following docs-as-code tools and workflows. For open source projects, GitHub is frequently used to manage content. But even within the enterprise, Git is still common. A typical documentation workflow involves making pull requests with doc changes that get rolled into the main branch. In this chapter, you explore some of these workflows using tools like GitHub wikis, Jekyll, CloudCannon, Oxygen XML and more. It’s important to become comfortable working from the command line to create branches, get updates, perform merges, and push builds.
Chapter 12: Thriving in the API doc space . Getting a job in API documentation requires you to have some familiarity programming languages, experience writing developer docs, and a portfolio of writing samples. Chances are, hiring managers will want you to be tech savvy and comfortable working in code, with less to say about your actual writing skills. While opportunities for API documentation roles exist globally, tech hubs such as California, Texas, New York, and Virginia have a higher concentration of these jobs. If you need to build up a writing portfolio, consider contributing to open source projects and creating sample API reference documentation.
Chapter 13: Library-based APIs . Library-based APIs are programming-language-specific APIs, such as Java and C++ libraries (instead of web APIs) that developers compile into their code instead of accessing via web protocols. If you’re documenting a library-based API, at least for the reference content, you add documentation in the form of code comments (following specific tags), and then build the output using tools like Javadoc (for Java) or Doxygen (for C++). Each library-based API has its own documentation generators that build from source and output documentation from comments in that source. Although working in the source code might seem uncomfortable at first, it’s essential to become familiar with these workflows if you want to contribute to the API’s reference documentation.
Chapter 14: Processes and methodology . This chapter dives into project methodologies to manage technical documentation work. For both extensive projects and minor documentation requests, file the requests as bugs and managing them using a Scrum-like methodology, preferably following similar management processes as your engineers. You need to understand your engineering organization’s release cycle process and plug documentation into that cadence so that you can anticipate upcoming documentation needs and orchestrate reviews in time for the releases. Besides working on new requests, you also need a method for maintaining existing documentation and ensuring quality. From SDK releases to kickoff meetings and more, you need processes to follow. To facilitate communication, tech writers should be visible and participate in the activities, forums, and channels around them.
Chapter 15: Metrics and measurement . Measuring API documentation quality and tracking its improvement is a frequent management request that’s challenging to fulfill. User surveys and satisfaction scores offer some insight, but they shouldn’t be the only evaluation tools. This chapter provides a comprehensive quality checklist for API documentation and developer portals, spanning more than 70 different aspects that involve accuracy, clarity, completeness, and relevance across your API documentation. This checklist can help highlight areas to focus on and be a springboard for discussion about ways to improve your developer portal. Although scoring methods are possible, your primary focus should be to agree on clear, actionable standards for documentation quality.
Chapter 16: AI and API documentation . LLM-based AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude, can help you with various documentation-related tasks. Pattern-based content prompts can help arrange content in expected documentation formats. You can use AI tools to both learn code and write code yourself–the latter comes in handy when you need to create build and publishing scripts. You can use AI tools to get language advice, to identify answers when fixing bugs, to analyze large sets of information from threads, comments, and feedback, to compare API responses with schemas, to create glossaries, and more. Using AI tools requires you to provide a lot of direction, review, and guidance, so don’t expect too much from them. Still, they can perform some of the documentation work, leading to increased productivity.
Chapter 17: Glossary . This glossary provides definitions and explanations for over 130 key terms related to API documentation. The terms span a wide range of topics relevant to documenting REST APIs, including general API concepts, OpenAPI/Swagger specifics, API parameters, responses, methods, tools, project management approaches, writing best practices, and more. The terms are organized alphabetically as well as by common topic groups, allowing you to easily browse terms within certain subject areas.
Chapter 18: Additional resources . Additional resources provides a variety of supplementary material to expand on topics covered in the course. This is also the section where content gets archived that no longer fits into the other chapters. There are several hands-on activities for calling additional APIs to get more practice working with endpoints, parameters, and responses. Tutorials are provided for two (semi-abanoned) API specification formats: RAML and API Blueprint. The chapter also contains answer keys for activities, as well as video recordings of previous workshops.
You can download a PDF of this course here . The download includes a comprehensive PDF of the entire course (900+ pages) as well as individual chapter PDFs, which are more practical for printing. The chapter PDFs are all under 10MB, which means you can also upload them into Claude.ai or other AI tools with large input allowances and interact with the information that way.
You don’t have to read the sections in order — feel free to skip around as you prefer. Some of the earlier sections (such as the section on Using a REST API like a developer and Documenting endpoints ) follow a somewhat sequential order with the same weather API scenario , but by and large you can jump around as desired.
Because the purpose of the course is to help you learn, there are many activities that require hands-on coding and other exercises. Along with the learning activities, there are also conceptual deep dives, but the focus is always on learning by doing . Where there are hands-on activities, I typically include this icon in the section title: . Other topics have the word “Activity” in the title. The activities are integrated into various sections, but you can also see many of the activities in the Workshop Activities . These are the activities we do during live workshops.
I refer to the content here as a “course” instead of a book or a website, primarily because I include a lot of exercises throughout in each section, and I find that people who want to learn API documentation prefer a more hands-on “course” experience. Below each topic is a progress indicator that reminds you to keep moving through the course.
Don’t be daunted if you never make it entirely through the course. If printed to PDF, the content is about 900 pages. And I keep adding to the content, refining it, rearranging and adjusting it as I see fit and as I grow my experience and awareness. It’s a living document. Almost no one really finishes the course from beginning to end because by the time they do, I’ll have added new content.
Also, you should only focus on those sections that you need to learn. See this Reddit post, Has anyone here completed the idratherbewriting API writing course by Tom Johnson? . For someone already familiar with many concepts, they can breeze through the course in less than a week. For someone new to API documentation, they might spend many months making their way through the course. If you keep finding value in the content, take as long as you want. If you don’t find yourself learning anything, skip forward.
The most common reason people take this course is to transition into API documentation. This course will help you make that transition, but you can’t just passively read through the content. You need to do the activities outlined in each section, especially those topics that involve working with content from an open-source project (or something similar). These activities are crucial to building experience and credibility with a portfolio. I provide more details in Getting an API documentation job and thriving . Without a strong portfolio to demonstrate your writing expertise, almost no manager will hire you, even if you have an extensive tech background.
If you do have some familiarity with programming concepts, you might speed through some of the sections and jump ahead to the topics you want to learn more about. This course assumes you’re a beginner, though.
Here are a few tools you’ll need to do the activities in this course:
- Computer. You need a computer (if attending the live workshop, a laptop and charging cord), as there are many activities to work through.
- Text editor . If you don’t already have a favorite text editor, download Sublime Text , as it works well on both Mac and Windows and is free. If you have another text editor you prefer (e.g., Visual Studio Code , Atom , or even Notepad++ ), that will work too. Just make sure you can write code in plain text.
- Postman . Postman is an app that allows you to make requests and see responses through a visual client. Make sure you download the app and not the Chrome extension.
- curl . curl is essential for making requests to endpoints from the command line. Mac already has curl built-in, but it might not be available by default on Windows. (Some Windows 10 builds already have it in Powershell.) On Windows, open a Command Prompt and type curl -V . If it’s not installed, go to confusedbycode.com/curl and install a version (usually “With Administrator Privileges (free), 64-bit”). Close and re-open your Command Prompt and try typing curl -V again.
- Git . Git is a version control tool developers often use to collaborate on code. For Windows, see https://gitforwindows.org/ to set up Git and the Git BASH terminal emulator. For Mac, see Downloading Git .
- GitHub account . GitHub will be used for various activities, sometimes to demonstrate the Git workflow and other times as an authentication service for developer tools. If you don’t already have a GitHub account, sign up for one.
- Stoplight Studio Editor . When working with the OpenAPI specification, we’ll use the Stoplight Studio Editor. Stoplight Studio provides visual modeling tools for working with the OpenAPI specification. Stoplight offers both a web browser and standalone app versions of the editor. We’ll be using the web browser version because it provides more complete functionality (such as trying out requests). Go to https://stoplight.io/welcome , create a Stoplight account, and sign in.
- OpenWeatherMap API key . We’ll be using the OpenWeatherMap API for some exercises. It takes a couple of hours for the OpenWeatherMap API key to become active, so it’s best if you get the API key ahead of time — then when you get to the OpenWeatherMap API activities, you’ll be all set. To get your (free) OpenWeatherMap API key, go to https://openweathermap.org/ . Click Sign Up in the top nav bar and create an account. After you sign up, OpenWeatherMap sends you an API key to your email. you can also find it when you log in and click the API Keys tab from the dashboard. Copy the key into a place you can easily find it.
In the past, people have asked for some tests to check whether their laptops are correctly set up.
- If you want to test whether Postman works, open up the Postman app and paste this into the GET box: https://api.openweathermap.org/data/2.5/weather?zip=95050&units=imperial&appid=126cac1a482f51de0f1287b45ae2bf9a . Then click Send . If you get a response, it’s working correctly. (In rare cases, sometimes people have security restrictions on their computers that block all network access.)
- If you want to test whether curl is installed, open Terminal (on Mac) or Command Prompt (on Windows) and paste in curl --get "https://api.openweathermap.org/data/2.5/weather?zip=95050&units=imperial&appid=126cac1a482f51de0f1287b45ae2bf9a" . If you get a JSON response, you’re good.
- To check whether Git is installed, open up Terminal (on Mac) or Command Prompt (on Windows) and type git --version . If it’s installed, you’ll see the version.
For video recordings of this course, see the Video recordings of API doc workshops . The page lists the most recent video recordings available. The video doesn’t go into the same level of detail as the written material, but it would be a good start.
See my Upcoming Presentations on my blog for details about future workshops and presentations.
For the live workshops, I have various slides that cover different sections of this course. See Course Slides for the links. The slides use RevealJS , which is an HTML/CSS/JS framework for slides. The images are single-sourced between the site and the slides, so they’ll more likely stay in sync.
Some people have asked whether they can use materials from this course to give their own API documentation workshops. I only allow the material to be used for non-profit workshops where the workshop leader isn’t charging participants for the instruction. Of course, many of the ideas and concepts in this course aren’t specific or unique to me, and you’re entitled to fair use. However, please don’t just hijack my site’s materials, activities, and other information for your own commercial endeavors.
If you’re a teacher at a college or university (or high school) and are trying to teach APIs and developer docs to your students, feel free to use this site as part of your instructional materials. I appreciate links back to the site and attribution as needed (links pointing to my site boost search engine rankings). My larger goal for this site is to help educate and empower tech writers with developer documentation strategies, workflows, and best practices. If you’d like to share your API documentation course syllabus, contact me and I’ll add a link here.
Yes, this course is entirely free. Advertising helps make this content free, so you will see little text snippets and other ads on the course pages promoting links to API service providers. Sometimes I also include sponsored pages as well to highlight a vendor’s particular offerings. Whenever content is sponsored, I note that on the page. I also wouldn’t include any content in the course that didn’t meet my standards or which I wouldn’t recommend.
If you’d like to give back, feel free to buy me coffee by clicking the Buy me a coffee button on the bottom of each page or by buying the PDF of the course . I’m grateful to see many people who find enough value in the course to contribute back. Seeing contributions helps me feel in a more immediate way how much the content helps people.
To read the same content in PDF or Kindle/eBook formats, see PDF and eBook formats . You can print out the section you want, or load it into a PDF reader to highlight/annotate content. Or if you prefer Kindle or another eReader, download the content in ebook format and load it onto your device.
One of the challenges in any technical course is ensuring the content stays up to date. Technology changes rapidly, and given the many hands-on activities in the course, it’s easy for some steps to become out of date as time passes. I’ve tried to maintain a healthy balance between general and specific details in the content here. If you find something is out of date, either add a comment on that page or let me know .
If you’re following this course, you most likely want to learn more about APIs. I publish regular articles that talk about APIs and strategies for documenting them. You can stay updated about these posts by subscribing to my free newsletter through the form below. My newsletter, branded as the I’d Rather Be Writing newsletter, helps you stay updated about everything going on in the techcomm world, with a special emphasis on API documentation, docs-as-code tools, and lately AI.
If you’ve looking for additional resources to learn API documentation as well as tech writing best practices, check out the following:
Cherryleaf’s API documentation training course , by Ellis Pratt. (See a preview here .)
Peter Gruenbaum’s API doc courses on Udemy , by Peter Gruenbaum of SDK Bridge . (He has multiple Udemy courses on API docs, Swagger, Git, and more.)
Docs Like Code , by Anne Gentle
The Design of Web APIs , by Arnaud Lauret
Docs for Developers: An Engineer’s Field Guide to Technical Writing , Authors: Bhatti, J., Corleissen, Z.S., Lambourne, J., Nunez, D., Waterhouse, H.
Standards and Guidelines for API Documentation: For Technical Writers, Software Developers, Information and Software Architects , by Anne Tarnoruder
These resources aren’t API-specific but are still relevant:
Modern Technical Writing: An Introduction to Software Documentation , by Andrew Etter
Documentation Guide – Write the Docs Community
Every Page Is Page One: Topic-Based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web , by Mark Baker
The Product is Docs: Writing technical documentation in a product development group , by Christopher Gales and Splunk Documentation Team
The Good Docs Project: Best practice templates and writing instructions for documenting open source software
Google’s technical writing courses for engineers
For even more books, see Relevant Books from the Write the Docs site.
About Tom Johnson
I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.
If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the tech comm, be sure to subscribe to email updates below. You can also learn more about me or contact me . Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.
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© 2023 Tom Johnson
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- 🖋 Write stories
- Preview and build docs
- 🧩 Essential addons
- ⚙️ Configure
- 🛠 Contribute
- ↗️ Migrate to 7.0
How to document components
When you write component stories during development, you also create basic documentation to revisit later.
Storybook gives you tools to expand this essential documentation with prose and layout that feature your components and stories prominently. That allows you to create UI library usage guidelines, design system sites, and more.
If you're including Storybook in your project for the first time , we provide you with a documentation page ("Autodocs" for short), positioned near your stories. It's a baseline template automatically generated, listing your existing stories and relevant metadata.
Additionally, you can customize this template if needed or create free-form pages for each component using MDX . In both cases, you’ll use Doc Blocks as the building blocks to create full-featured documentation.
Docs is autoconfigured to work out of the box in most use cases. In some cases, you may need or want to tweak the configuration. Read more about it here .
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Html events, html objects, other references, html dom document write().
Write some text directly to the HTML output:
Write some HTML elements directly to the HTML output:
Using document.write() after a document is loaded, deletes all existing HTML:
More examples below.
The write() method writes directly to an open (HTML) document stream.
The write() method deletes all existing HTML when used on a loaded document.
The write() method cannot be used in XHTML or XML.
The write() method is most often used to write to output streams opened by the the open() method.
The Document open() Method
The Document close() Method
The Document writeln() Method
Write a date object directly to the HTML ouput:
Open an output stream, add some HTML, then close the output stream:
Open a new window and write some HTML into it:
The Difference Between write() and writeln()
It makes no sense to use writeln() in HTML.
It is only useful when writing to text documents (type=".txt").
Newline characters are ignored in HTML.
If you want new lines in HTML, you must use paragraphs or <br>:
document.write is supported in all browsers:
If you want to report an error, or if you want to make a suggestion, do not hesitate to send us an e-mail:
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