Every software engineering product needs relevant documentation. In fact, various kinds of technical documentation are developed in the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC).
Why? Because these documents serve several purposes. For example, they describe software features, centralize product information, and enable dialogue between engineers and other stakeholders.
That is not all. Technical documentation is crucial for customers too. 91% of buyers would utilize digital documentation if it was accessible and customized to their requirements.
So in this article, we’ll talk about the definition, kinds, and examples of technical documentation.
What is technical documentation?
In software development, technical documentation is a high-level term that refers to all the guides and other content related to the development and features of certain products. It is also known as knowledge base content, or simply docs.
To make these knowledge base posts easily accessible to those who need them, a common best practice is to make them available on the internet.
Spren, for instance, is a company that offers APIs for connections with health-related mobile apps to provide tailored and precise biometric information.
But this is a tricky process, and it requires technical articles that are simple to understand and produced by a professional. So the app companies can seamlessly integrate the solution into their respective project cycles.
That’s why Spren’s knowledge base is a great example of technical documentation done right. It provides a plethora of visuals and illustrations to engage customers, making the docs easier to comprehend.
Why creating technical documentation is important?
Technical documentation is an asset that serves diverse stakeholders by helping them understand and be on the same page about the product and its development.
Technical documentation has become crucial for providing top-notch customer support. Still, a mere 33.33% of enterprises provide self-help facilities like documentation and community support.
The lack of knowledge base or inaccuracies in it can create differences in how product developers and other people involved understand the whole project. So the final product may not be what each party envisioned.
That’s why senior leaders need high-quality and properly categorized technical articles.
For instance, Spryker’s knowledge base has to cater to various user groups, including programmers and technicians responsible for the installation and maintenance of the software. And also the target customer who will utilize Spryker to operate their online shop.
This implies that their documentation should have content that serves diverse needs. Plus, they should develop it according to the tech proficiency of the targeted end-user.
And that’s exactly what they have done. They have arranged the documentation according to user groups.
As visible, every person using the knowledge base first has to determine his category out of the three types of audiences (business users, developers, cloud engineers) and then select a collection of guides.
Once the user enters the suitable area, he will see guides designed for his role and his degree of tech proficiency.
As you can see in the above technical documentation example, the key objective of efficient technical documentation is to make sure that programmers and other people involved are on the same page regarding the goals of the program.
What are the types and examples of technical documentation?
There are two types of technical documentation: product documentation and process documentation.
Let’s get into further depth about them, along with some solid technical documentation examples.
Product documentation contains information about the product under construction and gives guidance on its use cases.
This information consists of product requirements, business logic, technical specs, and user guides. There are two primary kinds of product documentation:
System documentation offers an overview of the product creation framework and allows product developers and other people involved to comprehend the technology behind it.
Typically, it consists of the requirements specifications, source code, architecture design, validation reports, authentication and testing details, maintenance instructions, commonly asked questions, and help guides.
For instance, a user story map is a technical documentation example created with the help of the product backlog. This type of content aids you in organizing user stories into upcoming features or sections of the product.
A user story map can take the form of a plan or specific goals in a tabular format categorized in a specific sequence to represent the necessary features for a defined period.
As the heading implies, user documentation is crafted for those who use the product. But, the types of users can vary. That’s why you must create these documents based on various use categories and degrees of proficiency.
Usually, user documentation is targeted at two major segments: system admins and end-users.
This type of documentation consists of how-to guides, user manuals, installation guides, troubleshooting documents, and instruction handbooks.
For instance, Metric Insights is a push intelligence system that utilizes your visitor interaction information and other details to provide you with practical ideas to improve your site.
This example of technical documentation has a section that displays different types of content for managers and regular users.
Process documentation includes every piece of content that is created with regard to building and managing the processes involving product engineering.
The key contrast between process and product documentation is that the former documents the engineering procedures while the latter explains the product.
The reason for maintaining process documentation is to improve the organization and planning of the engineering stage.
This type of documentation needs preparation and strategy prior to starting the process and also while the product is being built.
Typical process documentation includes standard operating procedures, project documentation, process blueprints, testing dates, white papers, minutes of meetings, and also corporate communication.
For instance, below is the product blueprint of a learning management system (LMS) that is available to the staff and customers.
This technical documentation example explains the future functionalities and walks your employees and buyers through the engineering phase and what to anticipate.
How to create technical documentation: best practices
When creating technical documentation, plan how much documentation is required, hire competent technical writers, streamline content creation and management, ensure easy navigation, use visual aids, and take frequent backups.
When putting technical documentation on the web, businesses need to take care of some crucial elements to ensure they contribute to the brand’s success. Let’s discuss what they are.
Keep your audience in mind
Make sure your technical documentation is easy to understand and navigate, depending on the technical proficiency of your readers.
Do not forget the readers for whom you are developing the technical articles. For example, when writing for end users, use simple words they can comprehend easily. You should steer clear of complicated domain-specific words, technical terms, or abbreviations, as your reader may not know them.
However, if you are writing for engineers and developers, you need to ensure that you give them the precise and in-depth information they require to follow the roadmap and develop the required layout and functionalities.
To the extent feasible, try to keep the paragraphs short. And remember to include images and videos, since many readers find it effortless to grasp details visually.
Let’s take Whatfix’s knowledge portal as an example of technical documentation. Whatfix provides excellent tech docs to aid their clients in getting a good hold on their applications. They have also developed videos to help users understand the way to utilize their platform.
Also, arrange your documentation coherently and include an index of topics. So a user can quickly find what he is looking for.
Plan how much documentation is required
Take the middle path between not having help docs at all and having more than the necessary tech articles.
Not having enough technical docs can result in several inaccuracies and lower productivity at every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
On the other hand, you shouldn’t publish a massive number of technical articles and include the same content in multiple articles just for the sake of it.
Here’s an example to illustrate the process of creating a content strategy for technical documentation.
Include just the highly essential and pertinent details in the tech articles. Creating the perfect mix additionally implies evaluating the details of the project before developers begin with their work.
Include developers, engineers, and team members in the documentation process through interviews and team meetings for a better understanding of the product.
Creating technical articles involves the collective participation of all group members. To ensure optimization, you should involve developers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the solution.
Once you have prepared a few technical pieces, show them to your peers and get their thoughts.
Besides that, you can review the Kanban boards on a day-to-day basis or be a part of the team sessions to stay up-to-date.
To gather more data, make an effort to share your views, reach out for queries, and persuade other members to contribute their opinions and suggestions.
Hire competent technical writers
Hire tech writers with proper experience and place them in the same office as your engineering team for effective collaboration.
If possible, it is advisable to employ an individual who will be responsible for your knowledge base posts. A technical writer is a term used to describe the person who typically performs this task.
A technical writer with experience in software development can collect data from programmers without needing them to go into great depth about what is happening.
It is also advantageous to include a technical writer in the team and position them in the same workplace to foster tight collaboration.
Also, show them some previous technical documentation examples for inspiration. This way, they can participate in day-to-day conferences and conversations.
Streamline content creation and management
Ensure quick and easy content creation by eliminating unessential barriers for technical authors and setting user roles and permissions.
Give documentation creators a fast and simple way to access and edit documents. Eliminate obstacles like needless authentication and review processes.
For instance, Heroic KB offers an easy-to-use content creation and administration interface that facilitates organizing, locating, and reviewing information when necessary.
Give ‘authoring’ access to prospective creators so they may make changes to the data, and just ‘viewing’ access to others with limited permissions.
Ensure easy navigation and discovery on all devices
Make sure your technical documentation is accessible on devices of all shapes and sizes, along with proper navigation to find information easily.
Today’s era is technological and driven by mobility. Your technical documentation, similar to your site, should be mobile-friendly. And ensure that it’s simple to discover and identify relevant documents.
For instance, utilize internal linking among records, including tutorials and product pages. Accurate categorizing and information architecture are crucial to offering correct information about a topic to the user.
Let’s consider the example of technical documentation by BMC. Every one of us requires prompt replies to our queries. So, to address this requirement, BMC has integrated expandable macros and straightforward summaries of the material.
Use visual aid
Make sure that you maintain specific visual standards. Incorporate images, graphs, and your business brand elements to make documents more appealing and recognizable.
All interactions that customers have with your business and your site follow specific visual and branding standards. Then why not adhere to the same rules for your technical knowledge portal?
This ensures that the documents are identifiable and helps in improving your business’s image.
While producing technical documentation, consider incorporating images, graphs, and your brand assets.
An example of technical documentation that does this well is K15t Software. It includes suitable tables and visuals so the readers can effortlessly absorb the content.
On top of that, this lets you promptly identify which parts have gone outdated without having to go through the whole document.
Maintain and improve documentation on a regular basis
Make users aware of any changes by revising the user guides. You can also take the help of a version control app and user feedback to update and maintain your documentation.
Regular content management is essential. An inaccurate or misleading technical knowledge base is of no use to readers.
In case there are alterations in project needs and specifications, make sure that there is a proper system in place to revise the technical knowledge base to align it with the updates.
Plus, if there are any changes after the software is released for the customers, it’s important to make users aware of the changes and revise the user documentation. You can also take the help of a version control app to handle these edits effectively.
Besides that, you can take assistance from readers in upgrading your technical knowledge base. Let’s look at Broadcom’s technical documentation example. The company lets customers provide inputs via a feedback and comments section.
This interactive feature lets customers ask queries or give feedback and ideas. So they can help technical writers update the knowledge base.
Take frequent backups
Store document replicas and archive email communications about the project for protection from unexpected situations.
You shouldn’t be in a position where your technical documentation is unavailable and you don’t have any other options.
To prevent this from happening, store past copies of documents in the knowledge portal and save email communications about the process.
What are the best tools for technical documentation?
The best technical documentation tools are multi-purpose tools such as Heroic KB and Confluence, technical authoring tools such as WordPress and RoboHelp, tools for API documentation like Swagger, product roadmap tools like Aha!, and markup language editors.
With that said, let’s look at the best technical documentation tools in more detail based on their uses.
There are many general technical documentation software available for software engineers. They allow you to specify needs, share knowledge, and document product functions and project operations. These include:
WordPress + Heroic KB: Heroic KB is a popular, economical, and collaborative technical documentation system. It is suitable for a wide range of industries and products. You can also utilize it to develop a reliable wiki platform.
Bit.ai: Bit.ai is used for document production, storage, information exchange, and utilizing a wiki platform. After you’re done creating your technical documentation, you can store it as a PDF or markdown file and share it on systems of your choice.
Atlassian’s Confluence: This is another teamwork-based product documentation software that contains an entire infrastructure for handling product needs and creating content.
Github: Chances are you already know about this one. You can also utilize it for technical documentation. It comes with its native wiki platform.
Technical authoring tools
Technical authors frequently utilize dedicated tools for generating exceptional technical documentation. These are known as Content Management Systems (CMS) and let you effortlessly create, structure, and handle different types of technical articles.
A CMS can handle various document types, pull and save articles, and allow numerous team members to collaborate to create documents. A few well-known tools include:
WordPress + Heroic KB: A powerful, self-hosted software with rich document development and indexing functions, coupled with extensive multimedia attachments, teamwork, and authorization settings.
MadCap Flare: A robust digital platform with capabilities for distributing content across several avenues, assistance in multiple languages, and a wealth of instructional materials.
Adobe RoboHelp: An all-around content management system that lets you generate full-featured documents, easily handle short-form content, and implement version control.
ClickHelp: A prize-winning system that provides an effortless transition from other systems, custom user roles, and a variety of data analysis features.
Tools for API documentation
The procedure for developing API documents is mostly automatic. Developers or technical authors can produce content by themselves or utilize an API document creator. A couple of them include:
RAML 2 HTML: A straightforward document creator that utilizes RAML parameters.
Swagger: A free self-documentation platform built to generate and maintain RESTful web services and APIs.
Product roadmap tools
These tools let you swiftly communicate details, change timeframes or designs, include fresh information, and tweak the entire framework.
Many of these planning applications offer pre-built templates for various blueprints, allowing you to begin creating product documentation immediately. A few of the product roadmap tools are:
Roadmunk: Position your entire business according to a buyer-centric strategy with this complete roadmapping software. Roadmunk allows you to collect buyer feedback, decide on future developments, and employ ready-to-use templates to articulate your plan.
ProductPlan: This planning software allows you to collect and manage insights, work with your coworkers, create and post product blueprints, and move ahead with your plan.
Aha!: Aha! is a product engineering platform. It lets you create plans, collect insights from others, encourage innovation, categorize functions, distribute product blueprints, handle launches, and organize engineering processes.
Markup language editors
To ensure that the technical software articles are internet-friendly, they should be produced in an appropriate structure. Because of this, markup languages are utilized.
Markup is the most well-known among all the markup languages. It is simple to turn it into HTML, and you do not need any fancy skills to operate it. The following markdown editors can help you in producing product documentation.
Quiver: Quiver is a notebook designed specifically for software developers. It allows you to combine code, text, LaTeX, and Markdown into a single note. You can use the code editor for editing, easily view LaTeX and Markdown in real time, and locate any note quickly.
Visual Studio Code: This source code editor aids companies in developing and fixing errors in applications operating on macOS, Windows, and Linux. It includes capabilities like code refactoring and navigation, syntax highlighting, Emmet abbreviations, snippets, text wrap, and command-line interface (CLI.)
Typora: It is a markdown editor that provides you with a smooth reading and writing interface. It eliminates the mode switcher, syntax symbols of markdown source code, preview area, and various other distracting elements. Rather it gives you access to a real-time preview capability so that you can focus on the documentation alone.
iA Writer: iA Writer is a text editor for Android, iOS, and Mac. It consists of iCloud and Dropbox synchronization, editing, focus writing, Syntax Control, Microsoft Word export and import, and various other features.
UI documentation software
The top software for UX design are prototyping software that allows you to build engaging prototypes, wireframes, sketches, and mock-ups.
InVision: It is one of the most widely-used software for prototyping. InVision is renowned for its multi-platform functionality and teamwork capabilities, which makes it an excellent choice for developing user interfaces (UI).
Sketch: It is a straightforward and effective vector-based design platform. It is available as a Mac app and a web app. It is a popular tool and provides sufficient features for visualizing user interfaces (UI).
Adobe XD: In Adobe XD, XD means experience design. It is a design tool created for user experience (UX) professionals. It helps developers build exceptional mockups and allows showing them to others through the application.
UXPin: It is a Windows and Mac design software that enables designers to create any kind of layout. UXPin also offers the ability to import your wireframe or sketches from other software programs and create an engaging prototype.
Common questions about technical documentation
Here are our most frequently asked questions related to technical documentation, along with their answers.
What is the purpose of technical documentation?
The purpose of technical documentation is to provide information about a product, system, or service that is used by a technical or non-technical audience. This documentation helps users understand how the product works, how to install, use, and troubleshoot it, and how to repair or replace parts if needed.
Technical documentation also serves as a reference for engineers, developers, and other professionals who work on the product. It helps to ensure consistency and standardization, as well as to provide a historical record of the product’s development and evolution.
How to organize and structure technical documentation?
Technical documentation should be structured in a clear and organized manner to make it easy to understand and navigate. Here are some best practices for organizing and structuring technical documentation:
- Start with a table of contents or an index to provide an overview of the topics covered.
- Divide the documentation into clear sections and use headings and subheadings to guide the reader.
- Use clear, concise language and avoid technical jargon, unless it is unavoidable and thoroughly explained.
- Include examples and visual aids, such as diagrams and screenshots, to help explain complex concepts.
- Use a consistent format and style throughout the documentation, including font size and style, headings, and paragraph spacing.
- Provide a search function or an index for easy navigation, especially for longer documentation sets.
What is the difference between technical documentation and user documentation?
Technical documentation and user documentation are both forms of written documentation that provide information about a product or service. However, they have different purposes and target audiences.
Technical documentation is intended for technical users, such as engineers, developers, and IT professionals. It provides detailed information about the product’s design, architecture, and technical specifications, and is used for troubleshooting and maintenance.
User documentation, on the other hand, is intended for end-users, such as customers and employees who use the product or service. It provides information on how to use the product, including step-by-step instructions and visual aids.
Summing up: overview and examples of technical documentation
Technical knowledge is an essential asset for readers. You need to develop and publish useful technical articles for all, including documents for software developers and the testing team, along with user documentation.
Yet, due to the rapid product development cycles, making your technical knowledge base available and appealing can be difficult.
A thorough technical knowledge portal is precise, to the point, and pertinent. And this is where a technical documentation management system such as Heroic KB can help.
With Heroic KB’s content management and teamwork capabilities, you can easily improve your authoring process and technical guides. And boost your organization’s productivity and user engagement.