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Software Documentation

Software documentation can contain information how to create, use, or install software.

What is Software Documentation?

Software documentation can be described as any type of documentation that explains how software has been developed, works, or is used.  However, depending on the audience, the specific type of documentation may be different.  For instance, software documentation can range from documents on how to create a piece of software to instruction manuals meant to help users make use of software.

What is the Purpose of Software Documentation?

The overall purpose of software documentation is to contain and impart information on various aspects of a piece of software. They are meant to help with creating software, making use of it, explaining how it works or was made, or maintaining it. By recording this information in written form, software documents provide a consistent source of guidance on a piece of software that the users of said software can consult and refer back to as needed.

The Dangers of Neglecting Software Documents

A lack of software documents can easily bring about several problems for a business or organization, with those problems ranging from frustrating to severe.  These problems include:

  • Lack of sufficient information for consumers to use the software
  • Increased difficulty in planning and coordinating the development of software due to there being no accessible shared outline for what the software is supposed to include.
  • Difficulties in figuring out how to use a piece of software – as well as a lack of customer support elements such as FAQs – can lead to customer frustration and decrease the likelihood of returning customers.
  • The absence of software documentation can make it difficult to present and explain a planned piece of software to stakeholders.
  • Lack of documentation to refer back to for guidance can make improving, maintaining, or updating software difficult

Who Writes Software Documents?

Software documentation writers are primarily responsible for writing software documents.  As the name implies, software documentation writers specialize in creating software documents.  Alternatively, these documents might be written by the software designers or engineers themselves, who as the creators of the software being written about would have the most knowledge about it.  However, they may also get help from technical writers, who excel in translating complicated information into more easily understandable forms, which is very helpful when writing about complicated subjects such as software.

Components of Software Documents

While most of the information and elements of a software document depend on what specific type of document it is, there are some general components that all software documents should have.  These include:

  • A general description of what the software does and what its purpose is
  • Instructions on how to use or install the software
  • Who the intended reader of the document is
  • Information on how the software was developed and how it works
  • Clarification on any confusing terms or ideas
  • Information on how to maintain the software

Woman Using Macbook for Software Documentation.

Factors to Keep in Mind for Effective Software Documentation

To make software documentation as effective as it can be, certain steps and factors need to be considered or implemented.  First, while the documentation should be detailed enough to communicate all necessary information, it should also be clear and easy for the intended readers to understand.  In addition, the documents should be made easily accessible, as doing so is necessary to ensure the information in them is disseminated and made use of.  The document should also include visual elements such as diagrams to accompany and clarify the information.

Furthermore, the writer should tailor their writing based on the needs of the intended readers and the kind of document being written.  For instance, if writing a document on how to install and use a piece of software, the document should focus on explaining the steps required to complete those processes and going into greater detail about the software’s features.  Finally, the documentation should provide some form of customer support, such as an FAQ.

Types of Software Documentation

Though there are many different types of software documentation, the grand majority of these fall into two main categories: product documentation and process documentation.

Product Documentation

Product documentation is best described as a series of documents that cover the software’s specifications and how to use it. This type of documentation is often written with the end user in mind, providing them with the necessary information to understand, install, and use the software. Some examples of product documentation are installation manuals, source code, and help guides.

Process Documentation

Quite different from product documentation, process documentation is often written with everyone but the end user in mind. Process documentation keeps track of the business and technical occurrences that happen while the software is being developed. This documentation is written with software developers and company project managers in mind, giving them a trail of goals, reports, and correspondence to refer back to. Some examples of process documentation are project outlines, meeting notes, and test results.

Keep in mind, however, that numerous other types of software documents fall into one of the above two categories.

Benefits of Software Documentation

Comprehensive software documentation is essential to maintain organization during the development process and achieve user-friendly software. Technical writers are crucial to creating this documentation and their skills can boost the numerous benefits of software documentation, such as…

  • Increased knowledge transfer between developers
  • Clear documentation of the database makes later software additions easier
  • Minimized learning curve of new team members
  • Boosts team-wide coordination and collaboration
  • Record to return to if problems with the software arise, both during or after production
  • Improved efficiency of maintenance work
  • Transparency in development and correspondence reduces waste of funds, time, and energy
  • Decreased spending on customer support
  • Improved user experience and satisfaction with your software

Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish. At Essential Data Corporation, the quality of our work is guaranteed. Contact us today to get started. (800) 221-0093 or [email protected]

Written by Brooke Dodrill