API Documentation Best Practices                        

June 10, 2020

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Vivek Ravindran

Senior Manager - Solutions Marketing

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are the binding glue and critical elements in driving the platform economy, allowing users to add and enhance services to products. API documentation is crucial in enabling developers to effectively elaborate on the features of a product and in implementation. Having an API alone is not sufficient, as it becomes useless unless bundled with the proper API documentation.

Developers might possess excellent technical skills in writing simple and clean codes but might face challenges in creating remarkable documentation for the same. Many of these challenges can be addressed by following best practices for API documentation. There are many factors to consider while developing API documentation. It must contain methods and endpoints and, at the same time, provide examples, summaries, and explanations for each step. Addressing all these perspectives is imperative as the fundamental logic behind API documentation is writing for humans and not for machines.

About API Documentation

API documentation is a document that serves as a reference and includes guidelines about using an API. It is a manual that contains all the technical information, such as services that the API offers, implementation instructions, and how to use various parameters. APIs allow you to fetch features and easily integrate them into the application, and more importantly, this can be achieved by not starting from scratch. If the API documentation is done correctly, developers can use it without experiencing programming obstacles.

Need for API Documentation

To ensure that the APIs designed can be consumed, it is essential that APIs can be implemented quickly, with visibility into what is happening with the development. Some APIs are complicated, and the actual purpose of implementing them may get overlooked. Proper documentation becomes critical so that developers can integrate connections. Well-formatted API documentation can be understood easily and iterated when needed. The documentation also provides a quick reference for developers to use during customer calls. Moreover, API documentation contains information about the failures and methods on how to fix them.

API Documentation Considerations

As mentioned previously, following the best practices for API documentation is very important in solving problems that enterprises face with their product development. Hence, ensuring the best practices for API documentation help in learning the input and output of the API development, understanding how it can benefit in resolving potential issues, and enhancing the product features.

Some key factors to consider while developing API documentation are as follows:

Keep the Structure Clear

When writing API documentation, make sure that you maintain a smooth and simple structure. Maintain a uniform organization throughout the document so that users can easily understand the API. Moreover, spend time while creating the document to have clear and detailed documentation, while ensuring that it contains all the required information.

Making your documentation simple allows developers to use it without spending time understanding the document. Moreover, with expert technical writers writing the manual, there is a guarantee that end-users understand, in clear terms, the starting point and then move over to more advanced features.

Include Fundamental Sections

For excellent API documentation, some necessary sections need to be included. These sections can enhance the adoption and readability of the document. A well-managed and written documentation must cover the following sections:

  • API overview
  • Authentication information
  • Resource access information
  • Details of error messages
  • Legal terms and conditions

Making all these sections available ensures enhanced readability and adoption of API as well as a better user experience.

Ensure Consistency

Information shared in API documentation must be consistent throughout the document and should not have any contradiction in language and coding. Proofreading the API document has to be done to remove errors as well as any ambiguity in the document. It is also important to ensure that the documents free from unnecessary technical jargon. This makes the API documentation easily understandable for people new to the API economy.

Use Examples and Resources

It is advisable to include interactive sample codes in the programming language to ensure trouble-free implementation of your API. This also makes the document more interesting as developers love to test as they go through the document. Include as many examples as possible in the API documentation so that learning becomes interesting. Use starter guides, libraries, and tutorials to makes things easy for the developers. Adding interactive demos along with extra information and resources in the API document will ensure a more powerful learning experience.

Maintain Accuracy

For the success of any API service, making sure that the API documentation is up-to-date and accurate is critical. If the content in the API document becomes obsolete, it can frustrate the end-user and can also lead to a loss of interest in the service.

To ensure there is consistent and accurate information in the API documentation; the below key areas should be kept in mind:

  • Ensure the latest features are included
  • Details of new features must be added on a timely basis
  • Incorporate changes through feedbacks

Conclusion

The purpose of an API is to enhance the product capabilities and solve problems that enterprises face. API technology is evolving continuously and people are taking more interest in APIs. To generate interest, and to ensure a smooth API adoption, API documentation is critical. API documentation requires a lot of work and commitment, but it ensures the connection between the developers and customers. Hence, it is essential to ensure that your API documentation is complete and sustainable; only then it can ensure long-term success.

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