How Should I Organize And Structure Software Documentation?

person holding pencil near laptop computer

This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission. Learn more on my Privacy Policy page.

Organize and Structure Software Documentation

Software documentation assists users in understanding software products and systems. It provides instructions for using each feature of the software effectively.

Internal documents should be easy for everyone in your team to comprehend; otherwise, you risk becoming disgruntled and frustrating them. Adopting best documentation practices helps break down silos within teams while providing new team members with resources needed for rapid success in times of sudden change or absences.


Create a table of contents.

A table of contents (TOC) is an invaluable part of Software Documentation, enabling readers to quickly locate chapters and topics they’re seeking as well as navigate back and forth between related chapters. Your TOC should reflect the logical hierarchy of your document; its design should help readers gain cognitive fluency with your software documentation more quickly.

Start by organizing your documentation into various categories, much like Stripe does with their payment documentation. From there, use these categories to form a logical hierarchy in your TOC.

Once your document has a clear hierarchy, insert your Table of Contents at the beginning. Word has two automatic ways for creating TOCs; one uses heading styles to identify each section while another automatically generates page numbers for every entry in it.

Select the option that works best for your document, and Word will create your TOC on a blank page at the beginning of your document. You can further modify its style using Formats tab on ribbon – table option can also be selected here to modify TOC style; adding custom styles is possible too if necessary and then saving these modified styles so they are available for future documents if needed.


Create subheadings.

Software documentation should provide users with timely, easily accessible information at exactly the right moment they require it. Unfortunately, studies reveal that this does not always occur and many users struggle to locate what they need when it’s needed, leading them down a path of frustration, errors and inefficiency that ultimately decreases product usage.

To assist people in quickly finding what they need, it is crucial that technical topics be broken into more manageable chunks. This can be accomplished by creating a table of contents or outline of article’s content. Furthermore, listing related articles within same topic helps users see more complete picture and increase comprehension of topic.

Use of visual aids is also highly recommended when creating software documentation, as this can help hold readers’ attention, make information more memorable and empower them without needing support or asking their teammates for assistance.

As part of your technical documentation structure, it is a good idea to anticipate how the process will evolve and consider any additional steps or modifications that might need to be added or changed in future steps. This can help anticipate what additional information needs to be included and enable you to develop a flow chart for the process.


Create a glossary.

Your audience, be they end users or stakeholders, must understand the vocabulary in your software documentation. This is especially relevant when working with technical documents that employ complex terms or industry jargon; therefore your document must be written using simple language for maximum readability.

Cognitive fluency has been identified as a critical component of user acceptance for technical documentation. If your software documentation is difficult for readers to use, even when its content is accurate; readers could become frustrated and time-consuming in finding what they need. Therefore, the documentation must be organized in such a way as to make finding what readers require easier.

One effective method for doing so is including a glossary in your document. A glossary provides a list of terms and their definitions at the end, helping the reader quickly comprehend what terms have been used throughout. A glossary can also help readers quickly become acquainted with technical language used throughout.

Word can create a glossary by inserting an RD field with this format: RD “filename”. Word will then generate a list of all of the words present in your document with their defined definitions.


Create an index.

Technical writing documentation is an integral component of software development, serving to ensure everyone on board with regard to requirements, goals and expectations. Furthermore, technical writing documentation helps everyone stay aligned on what should be expected as they navigate development of a Software Product or service. Creating documentation may take multiple rounds of revision before becoming final; so having an editor (if available) or subject matter expert review it before being released for public viewing is strongly advised.

An index that is well organized can make documentation more readable and easier for end users to navigate. A good index should follow a clear hierarchy with categories to make finding information more manageable for readers, while visual content helps readers process it faster and understand the information better.

Software Developers can use technical documentation not only as an easy access point for users, but also to keep track of ideas they may want to implement later. While developers might forget their thoughts while in the middle of coding, recording them may help avoid productivity loss later. Furthermore, its index allows developers to test out various formats and styles to see which works best.