API documentation is the most important thing for the developer who wants to implement your API. Some people are saying that your API is only as good as its documentation. That is something we can agree with. However, many of the APIs available are proving difficult to implement because of their poorly written documentation.
In order to prevent that, you need to pay close attention to the quality of your documentation. But you have to be aware that creating good documentation will require hard work and a lot of patience. Throughout the years, some practices became crucial for writing a proper documentation.
Those practices are widely used today and we are going to talk about them in greater detail today. But first, let’s start with the basics, and the question a lot of newbie developers and IT managers have on their mind is…
What is the purpose of API Documentation?
Just imagine that you acquired an electronic product. You open the box and realize that it has no instructions with it, and you don`t know how to use it. With that being said, we are sure that is clear to you why the documentation is important. You should pay a lot of attention to this part of your Web API design process.
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The documentation is crucial because it is the most important thing for your API`s usability.
Now, for some, actually writing the documentation sounds pretty easy. But, ask some people in the business about it and they will tell you that writing documentation is one of the hardest tasks. As we said, the documentation will determine the success of your API. With that said, the documentation needs to be easy to understand, well-formatted, well-structured and without unnecessary elements.
Documentation Practice #1: Tutorials
We all know what tutorials are. Tutorials are there to guide the developer through your API. They need to help the developer in the API implementation process. Of course, the tutorial is there to provide a step by step breakdown of the solution. Every step will provide the information needed at the exact point of implementation. Those descriptions need to be understandable and short. Jargon is something you should avoid when writing the documentation.
Documentation Practice #2: Audience
When writing the documentation for your API, you need to have in mind the audience you’re targeting with your product. This way, you will be more focused on the things you need to clarify and point out. What’s more, the decisions regarding the structure, language and design are going to be made much easier. To get full knowledge about this, you need to know who is visiting your API documentation and what they are using it for.
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Documentation Practice #3: Error Messages
In the development process, many things can go wrong. The developer could spend many hours and nerves in finding a simple solution, without the proper documentation. The documentation should consist of all the possible errors and solutions. The process needs to be as smooth as possible. This is where error messages could be of help.
Error messages have the task of helping the developer understand what the problem is, where that mistake was made, and how to fix that problem. In order to be effective, error messages need to provide more information than those related to the specific request. Other information error messages could provide is authentication, authorization, HTTP requests etc. Of course, all those information need to be provided in language understandable to humans.
Documentation Practice #4: Editing
Before making your documentation public, it should come through editing. Editing is very important for the technical documentation. That way you will make sure that all crucial information is provided in docs. Also, grammar errors need to be corrected. Sometimes the best solution is to release your documentation to the audience. They can review it and notify you if there is something that needs to be corrected.
Documentation Practice #5: Updating
Updating your documentation regularly is very important. If your API`s documentation is not updated, some problems could emerge in the future. Differences between your documentation and software can be very frustrating for your potential consumers. If you lose their trust, your API can result in total failure. So all your hard work was for nothing.
As we said, API documentation is the most important element of your API. Especially when it comes to the implementation by other developers. The documentation can save them a lot of time and nerves. We went through some of the best practices for your API documentation. If you are ready to follow them, we can guarantee that your API is going to be a success.
Like they say in the business: Your API is only as good as its documentation is!
Thank you for reading our article. We hope that it was enjoyable and informative. If you have something to add, or you have a question, feel free to leave a comment in our comment section down below.