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Exploring the Importance of Documentation in Web Development

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
Documentation

Even though it might feel like a tedious task, documentation plays an important part in the success of a web or software project. It ensures that all stakeholders- such as team members, investors, subject matter experts (SMEs), sponsors, and developers- are on the same page regarding the project. It also gives everyone essential information about the project. So, no matter how daunting the task, you have to ensure there’s proper documentation for every project you work on as a developer.

Importance of Proper Documentation

While documenting any project one has to make sure that it’s easily understandable by everyone- whether they understand coding or not- which is why it’s significantly more difficult for developers. They have to convert the code which is in machine language into a readable form so that it’s easier to understand for non-developers. That’s why most website developers prefer coding over documentation any day.

However, no matter how daunting the task, documentation of a project is something that cannot be avoided. It is an important process that ensures all stakeholders are on the same page and headed in the same direction. They are motivated to complete the project's goals because of the documentation, which also makes it possible for them to produce a high-quality final product quickly, affordably, and effectively.

Moreover, documentation clarifies specific project features, provides guidance on using them and code maintenance and provides answers to queries regarding the application, functionality, and design of the features you used to create the website. If your online project is not well documented, there may be so many issues that arise during use that you end up losing clients as a result of difficulties. This can also result in users becoming confused and dissatisfied with your offer because they can't easily navigate your website.

Thus, even though the majority of web developers dislike documentation, it is crucial and has many benefits for other developers, consumers, and even you.

What Are the Benefits of Documentation?

Writing quality documentation for your web projects has several advantages. Let’s explore-

  • Updates & Code Maintenance are Easier

Making modifications and keeping track of changes is significantly simpler when documentation is clear and precise. If you need to update your project for compatibility or other reasons, this also aids in its growth.

  • Shorter learning curves

Users may struggle to understand how to use your website or product if there is poor documentation, which can make them frustrated and cause them to leave the site soon. That is not what you desire. However, with the right documentation, users will be able to quickly and easily figure out how to utilize your program.

  • Enhanced brand/site perception

A web program cannot be successful until it has regular users, but how do you attract the first ones? Here, thorough documentation is crucial since it creates a user-friendly environment for everyone who sees your website. People are more likely to stay on your website for longer lengths of time if it is simple to use and navigate, which is what you want as a web developer.

  • Reduces time

Last but not least, thorough documentation can help you resolve issues quickly and comprehend how your code operates. You are essentially generating a "manual" for yourself and everyone who works on your project by taking the time to thoroughly document everything. This will substantially hasten the troubleshooting procedure.

Different Documentation Types and Formats

There are several methods you may use to create documentation for your website. The type of documentation you require and the purpose for your documentation will determine the format you use. The following three categories of website documentation exist:

1.  API Documentation

Application Programming Interface, or API for short, is a set of guidelines or resources that permit communication between different application components. These elements in web development could come from another source, like plugins or other scripts. For instance, you would probably require API documents for the developer(s) working on the plugin to communicate with the social media plugin if you have a social media script placed on your site and you want to add Facebook comments to it using plugin code.

2.  Tutorial Documentation

For people to learn how to utilize their website or product, especially if it's a hard one, tutorials are fantastic. Depending on how you want your tutorial to appear and what works best for your project, these can be merely text instructions, photos with written instructions, or even video tutorials.

3.  FAQs/How to Guide

FAQ documentation is essential when it comes to troubleshooting. It comprises typical issues that come up when using the website, tool, or program, as well as potential solutions that may be applied quickly. A possible fault when attempting to upload media in the admin area of WordPress, for instance, might be detailed under "how-to guides" rather than "tutorials" because there isn't any entertaining or engaging content being shared with the user—just a potential issue and a straightforward solution.

  • Task-based documentation: It is a series of instructions that explain how to use your code, website, application, or tool to complete a specific task. Task-based documentation, for instance, would cover adding Google Analytics tracking tags to your website because there is a set procedure you must adhere to perform the task correctly.
  • Feature-based Documentation: It highlights several characteristics of your website or product without concentrating too much on any one of them. They are more generic than task-basic documents. So, feature-based documentation might include a document outlining the various advantages of adopting your WordPress theme.

It's crucial to decide on the format you'll employ once you've decided which kind of documentation to utilize for your website. Will all of them be text-based files? Do you also desire some video tutorials? Will all of them have illustrations for step-by-step directions? These are items that must be decided before beginning any documents.  

Tips on How to Document Your Code for Future Reference

One of the greatest things about documenting your entire project is that it doesn’t take much of your time and ends up benefiting you a lot in the future. However, we’re sure you must be wondering how to start.

  • The project's documentation often begins even before the development process. The time spent on the documentation varies based on the set-up and development techniques one has employed to create the project.
  • The first step is to start with requirement gathering. It is the process of finding, comprehending, and extracting the precise needs for a project from users, clients, or other stakeholders. To accomplish this, methods such as interviews or brainstorming sessions are employed.
  • Once the requirement gathering is done, technical writers or business analysts will start understanding and documenting the acquired requirements, as well as translating them into various papers.
  • The writers have to pay special attention to defining and explaining the agreed-upon requirements, features, functionalities, and any other details that stakeholders have reviewed & evaluated in the documentation.
  • As documentation is a collaborative endeavor, technical writers and business analysts (BAs) consult with developers, designers, and testers to determine the best course of action.
  • When the document is finished, it can be shared with the project team to make sure the goals outlined are realistic before submitting it for the stakeholder’s final approval.
  • Development may now begin after the stakeholder has authorized or signed the documents.
  • Multiple papers may also be developed for the users who are essential to the project's success at different points in the project's development.

Let’s discuss a few tips that one can follow while creating documentation for a project.

1.  Don’t forget to include comments.

This might seem like the simplest of suggestions; however, people often overlook it and end up forgetting to add comments throughout their documents that give basic explanations of their code. If you want to make sure everything is understood for future use, you can include comments that describe what each function performs. If you follow this procedure for each line of code, it will be a lot simpler for you to handle issues in the future.

2.  Create sensible variables and function names.

Having descriptive functions and variable names can be a real lifesaver if your code is adequately commented on, which goes hand in hand with the first preceding point. When everything is adequately documented, you won't need to read the comments to understand a piece of code by simply looking at it.

3.  Create a table of contents.

Again, creating a table of contents might just look like the simplest of things but it can end up making a huge difference to your end product. It will help readers understand what lies ahead and locate the specific information they’re looking for, without them having to skim through the entire document to do so.

4.  Include Screenshots wherever required.

When there’s a lot of information provided at the same time, using a visual medium always makes it easier. Thus, when there are numerous steps involved in doing a task, screenshots can often be quite helpful in understanding how something works. So, make sure to add screenshots wherever necessary to make your document easier to understand.

5.  Organize your thoughts using headings and subheadings.

Having an organized document increases its readability. Make use of headings and subheadings to divide your content into different sections that can be easily consumed by the user and make sense in the overall structure of the document.

Best Practices to Follow While Writing a Web Document  

While writing the document you need to make sure that it’s user-friendly and easy to follow for everyone. Here are some best practices you can follow to ensure that-  

  • Keep things organized

Keeping things organized in your document is the first step to making sure of its success. A wonderful technique to keep things neat is to organize your thoughts using headers and subheadings. Additionally, it will make it simple and quick for readers to discover certain information.

  • Use clear language

Your document should use language that’s easier to understand for everyone. Using technical jargon or language makes it difficult for people who are not from a technical background to understand what the document states. This document is going to be used by designers, sponsors, investors, team members, customers, etc., and not only the developers, so you need to make sure it’s understandable by all.

  • Include extra information wherever necessary

If you're writing about an HTML document or writing installation instructions for Windows users, be sure to provide any additional information that would be useful to readers who may not be familiar with the fundamentals of web development.

  • Make things interactive

Even though tutorials are quite beneficial, there are times when it is even better for people to try things out on their own and figure them out through practice without any guidance. Give it a try if you're documenting various elements of your website, application, or tool that would be suitable candidates for this.

  • Use videos instead of text guides

Rather than having to read about something, video tutorials may teach you exactly what to do. If you're trying to follow along with a certain job, this can be especially beneficial.

  • Test everything for yourself

You are in the ideal position to test things out and ensure that your documentation is accurate because you created the product. Nothing is more annoying than trying to follow instructions that don't work, so make sure everything is correct before publishing.

Real-World Examples of Good Documentation

After going through the fundamentals, let's look at some actual examples of excellent documentation.

  • The user manuals on GitHub are an excellent illustration of thorough, straightforward documentation. To make sure you can follow along easily, they include pictures, screenshots, and videos.
  • Another excellent example of well-done documentation is the WordPress Codex. Everything from basic to expert instructions is included, and it is cleanly divided into many parts.
  • When it comes to documentation on their devices, Apple's Developer Portal is a goldmine of knowledge, covering everything from how to build an app to how to use various APIs. It is quite thorough and even offers suggestions for solving typical issues.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are numerous approaches to producing efficient documentation. Finding what works best for you and your team and sticking with it are the keys. You can make your team's lives easier by developing helpful documents by using the advice provided in this article.

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