michaela-damm.jpg
blocshop
March 31, 2021
0 min read

How to write technical documentation: Tips and tools

How to write technical documentation: Tips, tools, and explanations.png

What is technical documentation?

Technical documentation is a catch-all term for writing that tells the end-user how to use your product, and what it can do. In relation to software engineering, technical documents can take many different forms. The goal of this type of writing is to explain everything the reader needs to know, in a way they can understand. Relative to the software development life cycle (SDLC), these documents also keep objectives clear for the developers and shareholders and maintain the organization. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it can be far more complex than that.

When using Agile methods, not much documentation is needed in the beginning stages. However, as the project progresses, documentation becomes more necessary. There are two main categories of documentation: product documentation, and process documentation.

Product documentation is the how-to guide for everything in the application. These writings can be either for end-users in the form of guides, manuals, and overall use of the software. It can also be an explanation of the system itself; system requirements, design and architecture plans, and source codes are some examples.

Process documentation describes the methods used to make the software. It also includes things such as notes on meetings, test schedules, design plans, and reports. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at what the writing itself entails.

Writing technical documentation

The number one focus of all technical writing is clarity. You want your intended audience to understand what you’re saying. Like with research papers in university, technical documents require a lot of careful planning. Before you jump in, you have to prepare.

What to include

No matter what type of documentation you’re working on, these are the things you absolutely need to include.

  • Credentials and service systems

  • Hosting information

  • Running requirements

  • Source code information

Step 1 - Outlining and Research

All projects need a structure, including writing. Maybe you remember how to create an outline from basic school. If so, those skills will help here. But unlike your 5th grade science report on crickets, this outline is more complicated, and is referred to as a ‘documentation plan’. Here’s what you need for your plan:

Deadlines: When is this documentation due, and will it be done in deliverable increments? Knowing the due date is key when project planning.

Goals: What you want the reader to learn from your documents. Without a clear goal, you’ll find yourself adding and cutting information much more than you would if you had a clear purpose.

Resources: Are you creating a new guide, updating an out-of-date one, or something else? You’ll need the old resources to draw from, or remove from the system entirely, if needed. You also need to figure out where you'll be getting your new information from.

Style guide: Some companies are particular, and require a style guide. Having your guide handy will keep you from making any style mistakes.

Topics: Of course, you need a list of all the topics you’ll cover, as well as the points you want to include for each of them.

Step 2 - Layout and Structure

We, as humans, have a low tolerance for bad layouts. People give up quickly when met with a block of fine print and no discernable headlines or subsections. Designing your documentation to be clear, and easy to use is paramount to making your writing useful for the reader.

You should focus on a user friendly interface, and make it easy for the eye to follow. The reader should be able to find what they want quickly. Another important point is to make your sections logical, and use common sense to organize your topics. Also, use headings, subheadings, and bullet points where applicable.

Step 3 - Write the Content

It’s (almost) as easy as it sounds. Here are some things that will help you get the best possible final product.

  • Drafting and editing - It won’t be perfect on the first try, and that’s okay. Rewrites and editing are all a normal, and valuable, part of the process.

  • No assumptions - That technical term everyone in your office knows? A reader from another company or another country might not know it. Don’t assume people know acronyms or other niche technical terms; explain them in your work.

  • Clear language - Technical documentation is the exact opposite of creative writing. Keep it simple, straight forward, and only write words that are absolutely necessary.

  • Peer reviews - Have your peers check over what you’ve written. They’ll see the gaps and inconsistencies in your documentation, and give you tips on what you can improve.

  • Diagrams and visual aids - People love visuals. Nothing grabs the eye like a nice chart or graph. Moreover, visual aids can convey a lot of information with just a few words. While they may take longer to make than a paragraph does, they help the reader absorb information fast. This is useful for new team members who must adjust to the flow quickly.

Once you’re happy with how everything looks and all the information you’ve presented, it’s time to publish for others to see.

Step 4 - Go live

This step is only for documentation that will be accessed via computer or other electronic devices. After publishing the documentation, you must do a few things to ensure it works properly.

  • Navigation audit - Check that all the links work and go to the correct pages, and that the page design is user friendly and easy to navigate. Also test the documentation across multiple platforms.

  • Safety audit - Double check that the user will not inadvertently expose any personal information, or cause damage to their computer in any way when using the guide.

  • Maintenance schedule - Make a schedule for updates, and general upkeep.

Best tools for writing technical documentation

  • Adobe Framemaker - Adobe is known for their outstanding software, and FrameMaker is no exception. It comes with several hundred templates, easy image insertion and resizing, and works well for large industry documentations.

  • ProProfs Knowledge Base - Another tool for creating your technical documents, this program works on all types of devices which makes editing easy wherever you are. Other features include revision history, and a large collection of designs and fonts to make your writing stand out.

  • Gleek - This is a tool for creating all the diagrams you could possibly need. It’s great for beginners and experts alike, and you don’t even need to use a keyboard. Along with templates and design controls, you can also collaborate with others in real-time and export your designs in several different formats.

Blocshop specializes in custom software development, and also created Gleek. We can assist with your software development for long and short-term projects, and now we can also help you with your documentation diagrams. Click here to learn more about Gleek, and get started for free today.


Learn more from our insights

0-4 cover.png
October 03, 2023

IT Staffing: Individual Hiring vs. Specialized Developer Teams

Should you hire individual developers or go for a specialized, custom-built developer team?

chatgpt-35-limitations.jpg
July 17, 2023

ChatGPT-3.5: An Overview and Limitations

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the capabilities and limitations of ChatGPT-3.5, providing you with a comprehensive overview of what it can do and what its boundaries are. So, let's delve into the inner workings of this large language model.

gpt4 vs gpt3-5 and the key differnces.png
June 15, 2023

A Deep Dive into GPT-4 vs GPT-3.5 Differences and Ability to Revolutionize Software Development

There are key differences between ChatGPT-3.5 and ChatGPT-4 that software developers and companies procuring software solutions alike should be aware of. Let's see how these differences affect the output generated by these models on specific examples.

ai-development-cto-2023.jpg
May 09, 2023

AI-powered software development: What CTOs need to know in 2023

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace in 2023 and beyond, CTOs must stay ahead of the curve by utilizing predictive analytics, automated testing processes, and deployment solutions.

ai-web-development.jpg
May 05, 2023

How Artificial Intelligence is changing web development

AI technology is now being used in many different industries, including web development. It’s important to understand the impact that AI can have on web development as it can help companies to create more efficient and user-friendly websites.

cto-ai-software-development.jpg
May 05, 2023

How AI-powered software development is changing the role of the CTO

As AI-powered software development becomes increasingly commonplace, CTOs must prepare themselves to take on a new set of responsibilities that require more than just technical know-how.

build-mvp.jpg
April 17, 2023

How to build a minimum viable product (MVP)

The MVP is the version of a new product that allows Blocshop and your team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort. The essence of your core idea is delivered as a barebones solution. The solutions is, however, sufficient for usage by early adopters. As a product, it has tangible qulities that express a look and feel.

ai-tools-developers.png
March 21, 2023

10 AI tools for developers you should know about in 2023

For developers, programmers, and data scientists, AI coding solutions can free up thinking time, allowing such professionals to focus on the fundamentals of their projects, and complete such projects much faster.

web-app-ideas.png
February 14, 2023

17 Ideas for Web Apps in 2023

Gazillions of web apps and ideas for web apps are floating around the metaverse - so creating one that properly represents a unique brand is a huge challenge. Our list provides a number of areas of simple app ideas to help businesses transform their online presence through a web app.

Top 15 micro-SaaS ideas for your startup in 2023.png
December 06, 2021

Top 15 micro-SaaS ideas for your startup in 2022

What exactly do we mean by micro SaaS? Micro Saas solutions use a web browser or mobile app interface. Micro SaaS solutions usually come about through the effort of an individual or very small team. It aims to solve precise problems. Micro SaaS projects have small budgets and overhead. Customers use Micro SaaS solutions on a monthly or yearly subscription basis. Micro SaaS projects target a small niche of the consumer market.

Software engineer hourly rates in 2021 (based on experience and location).png
November 22, 2021

Software engineer hourly rates in 2022 (based on experience and location)

Region influences salary more than any other factor. Taxes rates, cost of living, and government benefit programs affect the rates software developers charge. Software developers in the USA  and Canada earn more than software developers in other countries.

The best programming languages for app development in 2022.png
November 15, 2021

The best programming languages for app development in 2022

Software developers usually have three main ways to create an app. They can choose to code a native app, a hybrid app or a progressive web app. Developers create native apps to function on one specific platform, usually either iOS or Android. They create these apps using Swift or Objective C for iOS. For Android they use C++, Kotlin or several other languages. 

Cross-platform mobile app development: Tools & frameworks for 2022.png
November 09, 2021

Cross-platform mobile app development: Tools & frameworks for 2022

The cross-platform development project aims to create apps compatible with several operating systems. Cross-platform apps work on iOS, Android, and Windows. Cross-platform apps look and feel like apps developed specifically for the operating system.

App development cost breakdown in 2022.png
November 08, 2021

App development cost breakdown in 2022

Your business needs an app, but you aren’t sure about the cost of creating an app. Without some figures, you can’t even begin to estimate the potential budget, so let’s get you sorted with the information you need to make your app a reality.

unnamed.png
November 04, 2021

Web app development: a detailed guide

The best web apps give a responsive and engaging user experience through a browser instead of a single application. Think of web app development as a super-charged website. Web apps have many features of mobile apps coded for iOS or Android without the need to code for specific platforms. Developers create web apps using HTML, javascript, Python and CSS.

15 useful web app development tools for 2021.png
October 29, 2021

15 useful web app development tools for 2022

Web development vs app development: Choose the best for your business.png
October 19, 2021

Web development vs app development: Choose the best for your business

Outsource web development in 2021 and beyond: benefits & tips.png
October 15, 2021

Outsource web development in 2021 and beyond: benefits & tips

8 IT outsourcing trends in 2022.png
October 11, 2021

8 IT outsourcing trends in 2022

More and more firms choose to outsource their IT operations and functions. IT outsourcing grows each year. The Gartner report announced that firms spent $3.8 billion dollars on IT outsourcing in 2019. They expect that the trend will continue. Companies aiming for digital transformation need partners and tools. They need tools that they cannot build in-house with speed and accuracy. 

In-house development vs outsourcing software development.png
October 01, 2021

In-house development vs outsourcing software development

Every business starting software development must ask themselves what will serve them better, in-house or outsourcing? There is not a simple answer to the question. Making the choice to develop in-house or to outsource will have long-term consequences.