Have you wondered how will you feel if IKEA sent your furniture without a guide about its installation steps?
How about setting up your new iPhone 14 without the iOS wizard?
In today’s tech-heavy world we are so dependent on software and apps for our daily lives. Without proper documentation, reference or tutorial we can’t use machines, phones, or any software. Even Alexa can’t help with instructions for lack of proper documentation. Thus comes the need for API Documentation.
Every API or Application Programming Interface comes with proper documentation and instruction to properly use and integrate the API. In this AP Documentation guide, we will discuss the best practices, how to write API documentation, how to read API documentation and learn with examples.
What is API Documentation?
Companies of all sizes are heavily relying on APIs lately for their digital transformation. You can see the application boom everywhere. Whether your API is meant for internal organizational use, between developers only, or for public usage, everyone needs a reference manual.
API Documentation is technical content that documents the API. Once the API is published, API Documentation makes sure another party (developer or public) knows what to do with it. Anyone using the API will need both complete and accurate documentation for proper usage. Think of API Documentation as a reference manual that contains all the information you might need to use the API, like an instruction manual that comes with your mobile phone.
API documentation can also be viewed as an agreement between two parties. This document describes how the second party and its software will respond to requests from the first party.
What to include in the API Documentation?
The API documentation contains several types of content. Some are meant for the developer to explain how the API can be integrated for them to get started quickly, whereas, some are meant for the end users. Robust API documentation should be useful for developers to work on.
Your API Documentation must contain extensive information about the API’s functionality. If you want to learn how to write API documentation you need to ensure the accuracy of the API’s functions and integration possibilities. The API Documentation must be educational and inspire usage.
Here are broadly five aspects that must be included in an API Documentation
1. A description of the API –The overview must contain an abstract and description of the API & the problem is going to solve. This API documentation mentions the benefits of this API over other similar APIs.
2. Functionality – This part explains the functionality of the API in detail making it easier for users for developers and end users.
3. Guides and tutorials – It is an important part of API Documentation. In this documentation, various content formats are used to explain the API concept to the user. It can provide references and step-by-step instructions on integrating APIs & understanding their functions properly.
4. Examples and use cases – After the steps and tutorials, provide examples of responses, calls, and error handling of the API. This will help the developer to interact with the API.
5. Glossary – As an optional component, include a glossary with links to the meaning of different terms, and schemas used throughout the document for easy readability.
How to Write API Documentation?
In this section, we’ll learn how to write API Documentation and see API Documentation examples. For writing API Documentation you need to know your API well, follow best practices, and you will learn how to Write API Documentation in no time.
To write robust API documentation that uses templates, the API documentation tools, & follows a step-by-step method.
#1 Plan and structure the Documentation
Understand the audience of the API and plan a structure of the documentation accordingly. This will help you determine the structure, language, and overall design of your documentation. You can use API documentation tools such as Postman (1), SwaggerHub (2), or apiDoc (3). Ensure you understand the API blueprint, API, & API design key before getting on to the documentation process.
#2 Include the Critical Sections
API document must include sections like Examples, Status and Errors Authentication, Error Messages, HTTP Requests, Parameters, Tutorials, Resources, SKDs, etc. Without these sections, it will be difficult for the developers or end users to fully understand the functionality of the API. Check the API Documentation sections of Microsoft.
#3 Use Interactive Examples
Instead of using lengthy blocks of text in your API Documentation, engage your readers with interactive code samples and demos. That will provide a context that links multiple concepts and enhances learning.
#4 Use Industry Use industry-standard layout
Use industry-standard layouts for your API Documentation.
· Dynamic layout – Dynamic docs are easy to look through, update, and bookmark.
· Sticky contents – Always keep the contents in sight.
· Three-column layout – This layout allows you to have an additional column on the right for the code examples.
· Use contrast colors for syntax – Make it readable and separate different components by color.
#5 Write and design for humans.
Not everyone who reads the documentation is a developer or coder. Both developers and beginners should be able to understand API documentation, regardless of their level of familiarity with the API. If you want to learn how to write API Documentation that is understood by users write and design it for humans without using too much tech jargon.
Check the API Documentation of MailChimp that is catered for non-tech marketing professionals and not just for developers.
How to read API Documentation
Most API documentation begins by explaining what the API does, and you don’t have to understand everything. Check the reference doc that lists out all the API’s functions. Go through the parameters and examples, to determine if you can successfully use the API for what you want. The most important part of the API Documentation is the tutorials, dive into them for a better understanding of how the API works.
API Documentation is a lucrative field in the modern tech-savvy world. An API Documentation writer is a technical writer who writes the documents and there are fantastic job offers in this field.
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