Technical documentation refers to the documents that describe the features and functionalities of a product. It is most commonly created in software development by development and product teams and it can fulfill the support needs of different stakeholders across an organization.
They explain products. Whether they describe use, methodology, functionalities, features or development, the end goal is to explain a specific aspect of a product to the reader. This is true whether they're being used in software development, product development or elsewhere.
Technical documentation comes in many different shapes and sizes, but nowadays it's mostly found online. Even though it's normally written by technical writers, development teams, project managers, developers and other industry experts, the best technical documentation conveys information simply and clearly so that anyone can understand it. Otherwise it does not correctly fulfill its purpose.
Who's technical documentation written for, you may ask? Audiences can be anything from end-users to programmers to stakeholders. It varies a great deal depending on what type of documentation we're talking about.
The easiest way to differentiate between different types of technical documentation is determining who they're written for. Generally speaking, they can be divided into two categories: product documentation and process documentation.
Put simply, process-based documentation describes the development of a product. It doesn't focus on the end product, but outlines the different steps, data and events that make up its progress and evolution.
This kind of technical writing normally stays internal and wouldn't be of much use or interest to customers or end-users (other than external stakeholders with a vested interest in technical information about a product's development). It's useful because it describes the different stages in a product's lifecycle.
Many different technical product documents fall under the process-based category. A few common examples include:
1. Project proposals, objectives & timelines: This encompasses anything related to the initiation, goals or general planning of your product development.
2. General project standards & expectations
3. Product requirements documents: These comprehensive documents outline key information, research and objectives regarding a new product, feature or service. They normally encompass elements like goals, user personas & stories, release details, roadmaps, wireframes & design details and potential risks & dependencies.
4. Project plans, project outlines, project summaries & project charters: Basically, anything outlining the plans you have for your product's development process.
5. Product roadmaps & plans for product releases
6. Project reports & updates: These provide updates about your product at a given moment in time and provide great overviews of the different stages in your product's lifecycle.
7. Working papers
On the other hand, product-based documentation, sometimes referred to as user documentation, provides details about what a finished product is and how to use it. Rather than explaining the development process, it focuses on the end product.
The nature and style of this kind of documentation varies a lot. Sometimes it's written for stakeholders, development team members, programmers, engineers and the like who need to dive further into the technical details of a product. Other times, it's written for end-users and customers to help them familiarize themselves with a product. A few common examples include:
1. User guides, tutorials, installation manuals, troubleshooting manuals, FAQs, knowledge bases, wikis & other learning resources: These are a wide range of documents that ultimately provide end-users with information about your product and help them learn how to use it.
2. Release notes: Usually accompany a new product or service and concisely describe it and/or its new features.
3. User experience (UX) documents: Various kinds of documents that provide information about your product in relation to its users. This refers to everything from user personas, use cases, style guides, mock-ups, prototypes, wireframes & relevant screenshots.
4. Other technical specifications like product or software architecture design documents
5. API documentation
6. Source code documentation: Especially important in software documentation, this is important for product maintenance and knowledge transfer, ensuring that other developers and programmers can work on your product with ease in the future. The kind of documentation you provide depends on various factors, such as whether your software is open source or not, but can include things like HTML documentation, PHP documentation and markdown information.
There are severals reasons why excellent technical documentation is so beneficial to the product development process. Most importantly, however, it helps everyone achieve their goals.
What do we mean by this? Well, if you're developing a product, your ultimate goal is that customers use your product and enjoy doing so. If you're a consumer, your goal when purchasing a product is to use it effectively so that it helps you solve a problem or otherwise provides you with a service. Neither of these goals are possible if people don't understand or know how to use a product.
This is where great technical documentation comes in. It empowers users with product information and helps them use it effectively, and it helps product teams along in the various stages of their development process.
Here's the key: you need to make sure that your technical documentation is written well. It needs to be clear and easy for its readers to use and understand. Otherwise, it won't fulfill its purpose of helping everyone achieve their goals.
Excellent technical documentation is clear, high-quality and easily accessible.To help make this a reality for you and your development team, Slite's free technical documentation template is here for you.
Our elegant, easy-to-customize template will allow your team to collaborate seamlessly on your technical documentation and stay organized while they do so.
Forget about the headache that occurs when your documentation is strewn across emails, Microsoft teams, GitHub, Google Drive and the like. Using our template will make sure that all the information you need is in one central place, so you can focus your energy on getting your creative juices flowing and writing great content. Just as it should be.
One of the biggest obstacles to surmount when it comes to technical documentation is the intimidation factor. External and internal parties alike often hear the word technical documentation and assume that it'll be long, unclear and full of jargon.
In order to fight against that negative assumption, here are some of our top tips to keep in mind when writing excellent technical documentation:
Right off the bat, put together a plan that provides some orientation about what kind of documentation you're going to assemble. Consider the different kinds of documentation that'll be necessary for your product, as well as what they'll cover and what they won't.
This kicks off your documentation workflow on the right foot, and is also a key Agile best practice.
If you accomplish step 1, this step is a breeze. You're putting a lot of effort into your technical documentation, so make sure it's effective and easy to use. Make your writing as concise as possible and make sure you aren't repeating the same information across different documents.
It might seem like a small detail, but it's incredibly important for your technical documentation to be consistent. This includes things like fonts, writing styles, design, formatting, location and more. Establish guidelines at the beginning of your documentation development process and stick with them. It's easiest if they align with your company branding.
In order for your technical documentation to be useful and effective, it needs to be easily accessible. Make sure it's easy to find, looks great across different devices and browsers and always reflects the most up-to-date information.
Whenever you're working on a particular document, ask yourself or your team: "What do I want the reader to be able to do and/or accomplish by reading this?" By keeping your goal in mind, you'll ensure that your documentation is helpful and action-oriented without getting bogged down with extraneous details.
There's a wide variety of technical documentation types out there. The easiest way to determine what kind of document you need to write, what kind of information to include and what language to use is thinking about who will read your documentation. Possibilities include programmers, engineers, stakeholders, project managers, end-users and more.
Ready to dive into the world of technical documentation? Keep this guide as a reference point and start planning out the different documents that will ultimately make up your product's technical documentation. The best way to write great technical documentation is through practice, and there's no time like the present to get started.
Begin putting together your documentation plan and outlining your content. Our free template is here to guide you and you'll be reaping the benefits of providing great technical documentation in no time.