How to Document API Design?

Every developer prefers simple and clean code. The goal in coding is to find the most effective way to achieve more with less. Unfortunately, the skill of keeping things comprehensive yet straightforward does not always apply to API documentation. In a nutshell, API documentation consists of more than just the methods and the endpoints. Unlike computer code, documentation is intended for human audiences. But the commitment to write good documentation begins by following API documentation best practices. This article will outline some of the most useful recommendations you can apply to write excellent API docs.

1 Who is the intended audience?

The API documentation is supposed to provide solutions to real problems. Generally, two kinds of consumers will determine how you will create the documentation. First, you need to consider the people who will decide whether the API is worth implementing. These decision-makers will not work directly with the API, but your documentation will convince them to integrate the API in their product or service. Your next consideration is the people who will work with the API. The documentation should help them learn and integrate the API. The purpose of your documentation is to provide these people with an easy to use reference for the product.

Once you have identified the intended audience for your API documentation, the next step is to employ best practices to improve the overall user experience. Viable documentation should consist of the bare minimum. Experts understand that creating API documentation takes time. But, it does not mean consumers should wait a long time before they are given access. If you put all the essential pieces in place, you can have a robust resource, which you can ultimately update as you build the product and resolve concerns.

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2 Use a dynamic layout

A modern and dynamic layout is easier to navigate. Some essential elements you need to consider are:

  • Tabs. Tabs help developers organize information, especially when there are multiple languages.
  • Syntax highlighter. It may be a small detail, but it helps in making documentation more readable.
  • Multiple columns. When there are several columns, it is easier for the user to see the full context of information laid out.
  • Navigation bar. The navigation bar should be visible at all times.

There are templates available if you do not want to build the layout from scratch.

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3 Provide maximum examples

Developers rely on examples to help them in learning a specific technique. Fortunately, there are tools you can use to generate sample snippets of code to integrate into your documentation. Nevertheless, if you are using a tool, make sure that the documentation self-updates simultaneously as you also change the code.

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4 Explain as much as you can

Although you can outsource some of the work by using tools, you still need to take time in explaining and clarifying the information. In your documentation, make sure that there is an overview of the API. Do not forget to include a detailed explanation for each parameter or call. Lastly, error codes need to be accompanied with readable error-handling information and instructions.

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