How to Create Good
Want to hurt a software engineer? Ask them to create tech documentation.
Indeed, nobody likes documenting. It is considered the dullest work ever, although tech documentation is vital for meeting the product architecture and features or ensuring fast onboarding.
If you struggle to determine the benefits and components of a qualitative technical document or are interested in producing them quickly, this article is just for you.
So, a technical document is the description of the nuts and bolts of your product. I mean guides, rules, standards, and notes, produced on the whole way of development for anyone who needs to know what, when, and how it works!
If you asked me who should create tech documentation, I wouldn’t give you a definite answer. Software engineers refer to product owners, product owners point at project managers, and the latter simply wants to hire a tech writer.
Frankly, the fuss is not about the person in charge but about the fact of creating and maintaining documents. Delegate this work to a tech-savvy, detail-oriented, and responsible person. And as a tip from our CTO, adopt the Docs-as-code approach to cope with documentation easier.
However, do not be limited to the comments to the code – they are another sort of technical docs. And in case some information should be accessible without having to read the code, it must belong to the tech documents.
Values of Technical Documentation
The form and the target audience are defined, which gets us to the next important question – why document at all.
Tech documentation affects business development and customer experience, apart from software development flow, giving your company diverse benefits and a significant competitive advantage.
- Reduce task-solving time
Two developers have a similar task: to set up infrastructure.
The first one spends ages googling, chasing all team members, and ends up with wrong configurations on the machine. The second dev has a step-by-step guide from people who set this infrastructure up before, and this engineer completes the task in a couple of hours.
Guess which scenario is more appealing.
- Boost efficiency
If your team keeps explaining the same flows, the work turns into stressful debates. And here comes documentation that prevents repeating or making identical mistakes.
Moreover, qualitative documentation allows teams to see the big picture and the broad impact of your product. How is that helpful? Well, your colleagues immediately adjust their actions to produce desired results if anything goes wrong – productivity in all its glory.
- Onboard employees faster
Plunging into a new workflow is stressful for both sides – a newcomer is interested in doing his best, and the company should allocate resources to onboard a person wisely. Tech documentation becomes a life-saving solution since reading and assimilating is often enough for the beginning.
Having embraced documenting processes, companies forget about time-consuming mentoring and never-ending meetings. So it turns out I revert to efficiency apart from speed.
- Enhance security and quality
Writing and keeping tech documentation is also precious for a product. One maintains all configurations inside a single resource with strictly controlled access – a solid contribution to security measures.
Speaking of the quality, I can mention again an opportunity to get a global view on the product or service to coordinate further actions. Moreover, detailed documentation contributes to the positive client experience.
- Improve customer retention
Any business aims at the highly positive feedback from clients – and well-prepared tech documentation is crucial in identifying positive customer experiences.
A recent survey claims 94% of customers appreciate having product information in a single place, meaning you have a chance not only to facilitate software development but to deliver a better customer experience.
Tips on Creating GOOD Tech Docs
If done right, documenting is definitely worth the effort. And I guess it’s high time I revealed a couple of tips and tricks to produce qualitative documents.
Further on, let me focus on tech documentation for a product — however, one can apply the following practices to document anything faster and gladly.
- Preparation is Everything
Plan your chef-d’oeuvre before composing it. What data one needs to document, the sources of information, the deadline, necessary tools, and the reviewer. List all points in advance and make sure you know what to do.
- Divide and Conquer
If you have to cover too much data, split your tech documentation. Dividing documents by technology or purpose is better than keeping one monstrous file.
Imagine the application deployment to the cloud from scratch – two separate documents are vital here. The first one encompasses the infrastructure management on the cloud, while the second describes automation and the subtleties of the services used.
- Follow the Structure
Remember the basics and organise any document – begin with the broadest things and go into detail step by step.
The audit document sample we use at Corewide, for instance, always includes a global overview, infrastructure, automation, monitoring, backups, security, and the list of recommendations.
- Brevity Is the Soul of Wit
Tech documentation is about giving direct instructions or clear explanations. Use precise terms and avoid long sentences or descriptive adjectives – in other words, avoid all things I use in this article.
Documentation is not belles-lettres, so showing impeccable literary skills is needless. Moreover, writing short sentences takes less time which is a win-win for all haters of documenting.
- Use the Power of Visualisation
Infographics, diagrams, dashboards are priceless for information processing. University of Minnesota research claims the human brain perceives visuals 60,000 times faster than texts.
Consider illustrating statistics, code use cases, tools features, or step-by-step actions. Operate with contrasting colours having different brightness to enhance the effect, be consistent in presenting data, and avoid overwhelming visualisation.
And the main secret of producing qualitative docs: stay calm and keep writing. You’re welcome!
I hope to have broken the ice between you and monstrous documenting. Moreover, distinguishing a brilliant technical doc and an average one is now simple as never before.
And a list of tools for documenting is just the cherry on top:
- Wikis (good old classic, including Confluence from Atlassian)
- Google Docs and Microsoft Word (modern classic)
- README (Corewide engineers’ favori)
- Notion (God save its flexibility)
- Notepad++ (HTML editor for beginners)
- Read The Docs (for Docs-as-code approach)
Go ahead and rock the world with outstanding masterpieces of brevity!