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5 Things to Consider Before Documenting Your API

Nowadays, when developers seek out APIs to integrate with, they base a big part of their decision on the API documentation. For a software product whose value proposition is its functionality in linking two separate applications together, API docs are key. They’re meant to be reference guides on the particulars of API products, tutorials on how to use them, and platforms for processes like API testing. It’s a good thing modern API companies have acknowledged the value of documentation and put as much effort into it as they do for coding. Docs can be deal makers for the eventual acquisition of an API—when deciding between products, developers may go for the better documented one.

The ideal set of API docs is concise, accurate, conducive to learning about the product, and appealing enough to inspire wider usage. You will definitely want to assemble API documentation of this caliber before you launch your product into the market. But what should you consider before documenting your API? To answer your question, here’s a checklist of all the things you need to take into account. This is so that you can release a set of docs that fully represent how good your API product is.

The Process for Assembling Your API Documentation

The first thing you’ll need to consider is how you’ll be compiling your API docs. Writing them on a word processor isn’t the only option you have, and frankly it’s a good idea to level up your toolset. Consider using a dedicated tool suite, like Stoplight API documentation, to generate creative, organized, and professional-looking API docs. Upgrading your toolset for documenting on the API will afford you full focus on the process. It will also make an often-tedious process into one that’s more efficient and a pleasure to do.

The Type of API Documentation You’ll Want to Assemble

The next thing you should determine is what type of API docs you’ll want to end up with. For some companies, it’s enough to keep it clean and simple, i.e. to keep static documentation for their API. Others may want something more dynamic and exciting, and they have that option with interactive docs. The latter can be done on a platform that enables mock testing and customization of sample code.

When choosing between static and interactive API docs, think about the following:

• Which type of documentation your team is most comfortable with,
• Which type of documentation your target developer audience will appreciate more, and,
• Which type of documentation will afford the clearest possible picture of what your API can do.

What Your API Documentation Will Contain

Another important factor to consider is what the content of your API docs will be. The best API docs, no matter which type, contain the following details about an API:

• A quick-start guide to using the API
• The API’s endpoints
• The API’s functions
• A list of API calls and what they do
• Each parameter in the API, inclusive of its type, its formatting, and its possible values
• Sample responses to each API call
• Error messages
• Tutorials for specific functionalities or situations for implementing your API
• Sections for special topics like authentication and HTTP requests

Once you have this content, you’ll also want to lay it out in a manner that’s intuitive and easy to follow. Common methods for presenting API documentation include single-page and multi-column layouts. For the latter, the left pane should always serve the function of making it easy to navigate through the API docs.

Who’s Involved in the Documentation Process

To compile a winning set of API docs, you’ll also need to pay attention to the people who are responsible for handling them. Key persons in the API documentation process include:

• Your in-house API documenters, who’ll take the lead in compiling your docs
• Your technical writers, who’ll turn the info in your docs into readable and comprehensible content
• Your company’s product managers or marketing people, who’ll be promoting the product to others

It’s important that everyone’s on the same page for how you’ll assemble the docs, what you’ll include in them, and what tools you’ll be using. It must be acknowledged that API documentation is often a difficult concept to explain, especially to newbies and outsiders in the industry. But if even the least code-savvy among your team members has an idea of what API docs can do, that’ll be a great advantage.

Who’ll Be Reading the Documentation

Lastly, consider your target audience for your API documentation. Think of the demographic of developers that you hope to reach. Determine what kind of documentation they’d like, and how to convey in your docs that your API is the best one for their applications. Great API docs will leave a solid impression on developers and pique interest in your product.

Conclusion: Compiling Excellent Documentation for Your API

Again, the X factor for your API’s success may very well lie in its docs. So, before you document your API, have a clear idea of what’ll be on your docs and how they’ll be designed. Excellent documentation practices will lead you to developers who’ll be more than happy to work with your API.

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