How to Create Technical Documentation in 6 Easy Steps [+ Examples]

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Alana Chinn
Alana Chinn



Technical documentation is a lot like the recipe for your favorite meal (here's one of mine).

web developer creating technical documentation for an app

Without it, sure, you could probably still get to the finish line in time for dinner. But it would be a lot more difficult without the guidance of an ingredients list and detailed cooking instructions.

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The same is true when it comes to understanding how to use a product. Technical documentation makes it easier for your employees and your customers to understand how to use the different features of your product to accomplish their end goal.

In this article, we're talking all about technical documentation. Here's what you'll find below.

Let's start with the basics.

What is technical documentation?

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Technical documentation can take many forms, but its main purpose is to explain the features and functionality of your product. This includes details on the product roadmaps and plans, software architecture, design process, and intended applications.

Some types of technical documentation, such as how-to's and user guides, also make it easy for internal teams and customers to use a product successfully. We'll talk more about technical documentation types in a few.

Bur first, check out the video below to learn more about what technical documentation is and why it's an important part of the software planning process.

Now, we'll review the different types of technical documentation.

As highlighted in the above (and in the image below), there are a number of different technical documentation types that businesses may use to stay organized during the product development lifecycle.

They usually fall into one of two categories: product documentation and process documentation.

We'll review a few in each category next.

Product Documentation

Product documentation provides detailed information about the specifications of the product itself as well as step-by-step instructions on how to use it. This includes documentation for product requirements, user experience (UX) design, and end-user guides.

Product Requirements

A product requirements document, or PRD, is an intricately detailed document about the purpose, features, and functionality of a given product. A PRD also includes any assumptions and limitations related to product use.

Product managers use PRDs to guide the product release process. All of the product elements listed in the PRD are to be included in the related product release cycle. Technical teams also refer to product requirements for detailed information on how the product works, how the different features work together, and how to properly maintain or repair the product.

Product requirements documents typically include:

  • Product goals and objectives — to define the business case for a product
  • Product features and functionality —to outline how the components work together
  • System requirements —to indicate the user environments that support the product

User Experience (UX) Design

Sometimes, user experience, or UX, design documentation is included as part of the product requirements document. In other cases, this document exists on its own to provide information about the intended user workflow for a product.

The user workflow is largely informed by UX and usability research findings, which allow UX designers to build prototypes and product maps based on specific end-user needs.

UX design documents typically include:

  • User personas —to summarize target user characteristics and behaviors
  • User activity maps —to describe the steps users will take to complete a task
  • UX style guide — to ensure all UX design elements are consistent

End-User Guides

An end-user guide is another popular type of product documentation — and likely something you've come across before. This technical documentation type is a lot like the ingredients list and detailed cooking instructions that I mentioned earlier.

These documents usually have step-by-step instructions on how to set up a product or guidance on how to use different product features. And customers can refer back to user guides in your knowledge base or on your website for additional information after a purchase.

End-user guides typically include:

  • Product setup how to's —to get users started after a purchase
  • Troubleshooting guides —to help users solve problems on their own
  • FAQs —to address common questions related to a product

Process Documentation

Process documentation is a compilation of all of the paperwork involved to plan for and guide product development. This includes documentation like project plans, product roadmaps, and test schedules.

Project Plans

A project plan defines the goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities, and required tasks for a particular project.

This plan outlines the specific tasks that different project teams need to complete in order to successfully launch a product or deliverable. And each task is tied to a deadline to help track progress and keep the project on course.

Project plans typically include:

  • Project overview and goals —to define the purpose and importance of the project
  • Project milestones — to identify major progress points along the way
  • Project timeline —to track the steps from project start to project finish

Product Roadmaps

While project plans speak to the project at large, product roadmaps are specific to the vision and long-term goals for product development.

The roadmap details the different phases of product development, and it helps connect the dots between all of the teams who are involved in the final product's success.

Product roadmaps typically include:

  • Product flows —to showcase how teams integrate into the product life cycle
  • Themes and categories —to break the larger product into manageable chunks
  • Technical requirements —to detail the factors necessary for the product to function

Test Schedules

A test schedule is similar to a project plan, but it's specific to the software or product testing process.

It's a document that helps you lay out which product elements you want to test before launch, how you're going to test each element, and which factors determine success vs. failure.

Test schedules typically include:

  • Testing types — to highlight which testing methods will be used for your product
  • Testing timeline — to detail the testing cadence in alignment with project timing
  • Pass/fail guidelines — to describe how to move forward after a test is complete

As highlighted above (and in the image below), we've compiled six steps for how to create technical documentation at your company.

Let's review each below.

1. Determine your audience.

First, figure out who you're creating your technical documentation for. Documentation for your technical teams will look (and sound) a lot different than your public-facing user materials.

Identify who will be using the document, what their needs are, and what information they'll be looking for when they open it up.

2. Identify documentation types.

Next, choose the types of documents you're going to create. You don't want to go overboard when you're creating technical documentation, but you do want to have enough substance to make the project successful.

It may help to categorize your options into need-to-haves (e.g., project plan) and nice-to-haves (e.g., test schedule).

3. Design your templates.

Once you know which types of documentation you're developing, it's time to design a template for each. It's a good idea to standardize your templates based on documentation type, so users can easily identify which document they're looking at.

For example, all of your product requirements documents should contain the same content sections and follow the same design format so you're creating a consistent user experience.

4. Outline and develop content.

After template design, move forward with writing the content. Your template is the framework for what you need to include, so this step is about fleshing out each section with the details.

Where possible, don't recreate the wheel at this step. You may have resources that you can reference from existing materials that would be a good fit. Also, make sure all of your content is clear, concise, and accurate.

Pro tip: If you'll be creating a lot of how-to content, you can simplify the process by using an AI tool like HubSpot's free Guide Creator. This Chrome extension captures step-by-step instructions and the accompanying images while you work. 

5. Review and gather feedback.

Feedback is a critical part of making sure your technical documentation provides value for your teams and your customers. When you develop your materials, be sure to include key stakeholders in the review process.

Your audience is the best place to go for insights into whether or not your product documentation provides the level of context and information they're looking for.

6. Keep your documentation up to date.

Last, but very importantly, review and update your technical documentation regularly. This is especially important if your product functionality has changed in any way (e.g., product updates or new feature launches).

Your documentation and user guides should always align with the latest version of your product or software to limit potential confusion.

Here are a few examples of technical documentation in the wild.

HubSpot Help Center

The HubSpot Help Center is a great example of product documentation and end-user guides. HubSpot's knowledge base houses how-to articles and guides for all HubSpot tools. Plus, the community aspect allows users to solicit input and helpful tips from other HubSpot customers.

Apple Developer Documentation

Image source

Apple provides detailed documentation for developers who are working within their App Store. This includes developer requirements, tutorials, API and code samples, and helpful articles for anyone who has questions or may require development assistance.

IKEA Assembly Instructions

Image source

No worries if you ever buy a product from IKEA and lose the instructions for how to put it all together. That's because IKEA has an entire database of assembly instructions for all of their products. Plus, it's easily searchable by product name or product ID.

Setting Your Teams Up For Success

Developing technical documentation is an important step in making sure your teams and your customers have the tools they need to be successful.

Going back to our dinner recipe scenario — technical documentation is to product success as cooking instructions are to making a great meal.

Otherwise, you risk burning the house down.

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