Code, Design, Engineering

How to Write API Documentation

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Software development has always been a collaborative effort bringing together the skills and expertise of several coders within a team. Unfortunately, many tend to overlook the importance of documentation and what it can do to help others understand their work. The purpose of API documentation is to engage end users and developers so that they can glean information which will be useful in developing new resources out of your API design.

Good API documentation is supposed to outline the meaning of your code in simple, easy to understand terms. Not only does it help improve the developer experience, but it also sets the foundation on how your output can be integrated into the work of other developers. Stoplight’s API Documentation Guide has the following tips on how to write proper API documentation.

Consistently clear structure

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Think of the structure as the glue that holds together your documentation. Since the structure also evolves as you work on the API, it is crucial to keep it smooth and simple. Consistency in the structure will help beginners in getting started with the API, as well as ensure that every developer that contributes will also help maintain the uniform organization of your documentation.

A key aspect of your API documentation is the introduction. It needs to be concise and informative so that it provides the developer with an insight into what the API is about. In the process of developing the API, you also need to spend time ensuring that the corresponding documentation provides the user with all the fundamentals.

Provide detailed examples

Most API designs include complex endpoints. If so, then it is also vital that you can provide the users with documentation for support so that they will not have any difficulty understanding how a specific function works. Otherwise, you will need to deal with multiple support calls regarding this issue.

For a new developer working on your API for the first time, concrete and detailed examples are a great way to get the necessary context on what the API is expected to do. The best way to create examples is in a storytelling format which explains the API’s potential, as well its interaction with other aspects related to developer experience.

Accessibility and consistency

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Similar to the process of writing the API code, your documentation also needs to be consistent throughout. Unfortunately, when working with an extensive API, developers often tend to forego consistency when writing documentation. However, it is vital that the accompanying documentation to your API be uniform and should not have any areas that contradict your code. Review your documentation and revise any ambiguity that may lead to confusion. If vagueness is unavoidable, you may also provide users with additional explanations.  

Always have the end user in mind when writing your documentation. As much as possible, you should plan how to write these accompanying documents while in the process of developing the API. Every change and update needs to be taken into account so that these are also included in the final write-up.

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