The Importance of Software Documentation

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The Importance of Software Documentation
Documentation manuals help users and developers understand the software. (software box image by Dmitri MIkitenko from Fotolia.com)

Software documentation pervades the software life cycle. It is the visible part of the software process. Without it, software cannot be maintained. Without it, users cannot train and they virtually cannot use the software. Without it new developers would have to reinvent the wheel in software development. Software documentation is the most important manifestation of software. It is the guide through the software maze.

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Definition of Software Documentation

Technical manuals, user manuals and other instructions that facilitate the use and operation of a software product or services constitute software documentation. This documentation may include where necessary, the source code, error codes and their meanings. Software documentation may also exist in electronic format, as a PDF file, as a CD or as a book.

Software Documentation Standards

The institute for electrical and electronic engineering (IEEE) has designed standards for the software industry’s software documentation. Called IEEE 1063-2001, “Standard for Software User Documentation,” this document details the content, architecture and importance of a software documentation manual. The International Standards Organization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) also have set standards for software documentation. Their standards are called ISO/IEC 18019-2004 and ISO/IEC TR 9294. They address software documentation and its management respectively. Each of these standards emphasises that software documentation is an integral part of the software life cycle.

Functions of Software Documentation

All software life cycle processes in the development of any software are recorded as software documentation. Software documentation serves as written information on requirements definitions, overall system specifications, specification of each component and the comprehensive test and maintenance plans. Configuration management tools are also very useful in software documentation.

Software Documentation for Developers

The importance of software documentation to software developers lies in the fact that software documentation contains information on the operations of the software system. This information makes it possible to reproduce the software or adapt it to maintenance.The type of information documented is usually worth millions to the software company. Such information could be lost if not documented as developers come and go.

Software Documentation for End-Users

End-user manuals facilitate the interaction of the end-user with the computer. A training manual is an example of a user-oriented manual. It reduces the learning time to productive use of the software, thus saving the end-user million of dollars. End-user documents may also be a reference manual that details the workings of the system or a system administrator’s guide that details how to operate and maintain the system.

The Importance of Software Documentation
Software Documentation helps end-users appreciate the software faster. (documents image by AGITA LEIMANE from Fotolia.com)

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