Gadgets like laptops or smartphones are usually marketed through the use of promotional photos and videos. These types of content often highlight the concrete aspects of a device, like its appearance or its graphical user interface. But this kind of approach doesn’t suit a software product like an application programming interface (API). Communicating what an API does, and why it has value to customers, isn’t so easily done with these methods. Given that challenge, what can a company use to demonstrate the capabilities of its API? How can it distinguish its product from others like it in the market?
The answer lies in publishing the API’s documentation—and putting extra care into that process. Though they’re thought of as “user manuals” for APIs, modern API docs can serve a greater purpose than that. They can also double as the API’s actual product interface. A full set of docs containing vital info, instructions for use, and all API calls and requests can help users visualize what they’re buying. If they can visualize how the API works, then they are definitely more likely to adopt it.
Thus, an API company should aim to release good-quality docs. There’s no better way to establish the appeal of the product. By the time they’re published, the API docs should have the following qualities:
- Representative of the API
- Practical to use
- Easy to navigate
If you can see these qualities in your API docs, then you’ll have gotten them to a publishable standard. Here are five tips that will get you on the right track!
Choose the Right Publishing Tool for Your API Docs
Using a reliable toolset will often set the precedent for quality API documentation. Luckily, the former is not hard to find. There’s a variety of open-source solutions out there for implementing hosted API documentation. You can use one of these to publish beautiful, interactive API docs.
Make Sure the API Docs are Complete
In order for it to be considered publishable, the final set of API docs should be complete. When looking at it, the end user should have a sense that everything they need to know is all there in the manual. They shouldn’t feel like they’re working with a mysterious, difficult, or half-baked API product. Ensure that every set of docs you release is as comprehensive and as up-to-date about the API’s features as it can possibly be.
Have an Expert Go Over the API Docs to See if They’re Technically Sound
API docs contain highly technical details. Even a few wrongly placed letters, numbers, or symbols could change the meaning of the reference text or prevent syntax from working correctly. Your docs should be technically sound before they’re released. To avoid errors and misunderstandings, put someone in the API documentation team in charge of editing the docs, as well flagging areas of concern. This editor can find someone more well-versed in the coding and technical language of APIs to greenlight a publishable version.
Format the API Docs for the Target User’s Workflow
Two types of users will be encountering your published docs. There are those who will read them from start to finish before coding, and those who will want to code while they’re reading. It’s recommended that you format the docs to appeal to both kinds of users. One way to do so is to publish docs-as-code compilations, so that developers can integrate the docs directly into their workflow. Such a format will enhance developer experience and get users to feel more enthusiastic about adopting your API.
Make the API Docs Visually Appealing
Before they’re published, the API docs should stand out visually. They should look clean, come in a readable font, and arranged with an intuitive layout. Users will prefer colorful, dynamic, and visually interesting API docs to the chunky and static tri-pane kind.
One of the best things you could do for your API development process is to cap it off with API docs you’re proud of. Use these tips to release great documentation and showcase the best of your API.