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What belongs in software documentation?

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What belongs in software documentation?

Types and tips for successful software documentation

A software cannot function without the accompanying software documentation. Developers, users and support teams rely on it to maintain the software, to use it to its full extent or to fix problems and errors. We looked at what types of software documentation there are and what definitely belongs in a good software documentation.

What is software documentation? Benefit and purpose

The term software documentation refers to information, instructions and accompanying documentation for a software application or a software product. Software documentation can be aimed at users as well as developers and testers of software products and is intended to enable readers to use the software to its full extent, including installation and maintenance.

Software documentation is a special form of technical documentation and plays a central role in the quality assurance of software products. Software documentation serves to improve communication between developers and end users or other interest groups and thus contributes to the sustainable success of a software product.

Are there different types of software documentation?

Depending on the target group and content, a distinction is made between different types of software documentation, with two main types playing a role:

User documentation

If the software documentation is aimed at end users, it is also referred to as user documentation. These can be user manuals, instructions, tutorials, etc. User documentation explains how to use the software and perform specific tasks for end users.

Developer documentation

If the software documentation is aimed at developers and software engineers, it is referred to as developer documentation. It contains information about the structure of the software, its architecture, the source code and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Developer documentation is an important component for the professional development, maintenance and expansion of software.

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Further distinctions between software documentation include:


The installation documentation explains how to install and set up the software and what system requirements are necessary.


The test documentation contains information about the test procedures and test results that were carried out to develop and ensure the quality of the software.


System documentation helps system administrators and IT professionals integrate the software into the appropriate software environment. It contains technical details about the software and its dependencies.

Maintenance documentation

The maintenance documentation collects information about troubleshooting and maintaining the software. It may also contain error logs, update notes, and tips to improve software performance.

What belongs in software documentation (user documentation)?

If you create software documentation that is aimed at your end users as user documentation, you should cover the entire product cycle of the software: from installation, configuration and use to troubleshooting, customization/update and finally uninstallation.

The use will probably take up the most space. Make your software easier to use by explaining the typical applications to users and explaining what to do with step-by-step instructions and instructions.

Tips for creating software documentation

Target group: Who is your software documentation aimed at? Do you want to reach the end users of the software? Or is your documentation used by IT experts, software developers or system administrators? The target group is crucial for how you structure your software documentation, what knowledge you can assume and what technical terms you can use.

Troubleshooting: What tasks and problems does your target group want to solve? The better you know the needs and intentions of your target group, the better you can tailor the content of your software documentation accordingly.

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Style: Documentation should be formulated as simply as possible. Use exactly as much text as necessary. Avoid using filler words or embellishments. Instead, use clear and unambiguous instructions, not vague descriptions that are open to interpretation.

Visualizations: Illustrate processes and steps to be taken wherever possible. Your readers will thank you. Visualizations clearly show where what needs to be done. Your readers don’t have to read through long explanations and descriptions, but can see at a glance what you have to do. You have various options for visualizing software documentation:

Screenshots of the screen clearly depict the current state of the software and help users find their way. Save yourself long descriptions and instead show what the user sees on their screen. Supplement the screenshots with labels such as lists, information texts or markings to enrich the image material with further helpful information.

Visual elements make your software documentation complete

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Simplified User Interface Graphics provide a simplified representation of a software interface. They draw attention to the important information and hide unimportant details. You can create these SUI graphics with little effort using Snagit’s screen recorder and editor. Another advantage: Software is updated regularly and details can change. With simplified SUI graphics, you don’t have to adjust your artwork with every update.

Screencastsi.e. video recordings from the computer screen, are ideal for describing work such as the use of software or demonstrating processes.

Snagit for screen videos

Record work steps on the screen as a video or use individual frames of a video recording as a screenshot.

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More tips for creating your software documentation:

Current: Software documentation is only helpful if it is up-to-date. When making changes or updates to the software, be sure to also update the associated documentation.

Logical structure: The structure helps your users orientate themselves. Relevant topics can be quickly identified using titles and subtitles. Therefore, choose meaningful, concrete headings that each cover a narrow topic.

Contemporary format: Offer your software documentation e.g. B. as a web portal or online help. A PDF can also be downloaded. The printed manual is out of date.

Search function: Digital software documentation offers a major advantage over printed manuals: the ability to incorporate a search function. We are used to entering questions and keywords into a search field and finding the answers we need with one click.

As you can see, well-thought-out and designed software documentation offers many advantages for the users of your software and makes a decisive contribution to the sustainable and long-term success of your product.

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