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Example of Yuno’s API Documentation done by Write Choice’s specialists

You may be building a fresh new startup and must provide your clients with the basics to integrate your systems. Or you may be responsible for an existing product, but your team keeps receiving complaints about the quality of the information you provide through your portals. It doesn’t matter in which stage you are now, when providing APIs to your clients, you must start caring about the quality of your API documentation.

This article will guide you through the basics: the definition of API, how to build an excellent documentation structure, and some of the many benefits of maintaining top-notch and up-to-date API Documentation for your users.

What Is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface, a resource that allows two different softwares to communicate independent of the programming language they were built with. Thus, we can say that an API works as a bridge that connects systems and enables the data exchange between them.

The communication is based on requests to endpoints. When the client performs the request, the API server will respond, providing the required information if all necessary information were present on the request. Otherwise, the response will inform the error.

However, how clients know what are the endpoints available and what is the required information for accessing each endpoint? Here’s where you will provide API documentation to your clients.

What Is API Documentation?

In addition to writing the API code, you need to create a document to inform your users how to consume your product. It’s the same as writing a manual for someone who just bought a camera. However, instead of teaching what each button does, in the API documentation you will explain what each endpoint does and how to use them.

In case you have a SaaS and your clients will consume your API, the API Documentation is mandatory. However, just providing a simple description of the existing endpoints isn’t enough. To attract clients and win developers, the API Documentation needs to be well-built, written, and maintained. The most clear and concise your API use instructions are, the easier will be your customer onboarding and adoption process.

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Print of the Yuno’s API Documentation developed by the Write Choice’s specialists

Basic Structure of an API Documentation

To create high-quality API documentation or improve existing documentation, it is vital to understand and follow a basic structure. This ensures you cover all essential content and provide users with the necessary information to use the documentation effectively.

Introduction

At the beginning of your documentation you need to make clear to the user API type your service is based on. The most used and known style is REST API, followed by SOAP. GraphQL is also used but is not considered an API style or protocol, only a query language.It is also the moment to present its available methods, such as POST, GET, PUT, PATCH, and DELETE, and the response types the developers can expect from it as JSON or XML.

Authentication

Authentication is essential when developing a secure API for your business and users. It validates if the requests are legitimate and should be processed by the server. To cover this topic, the respective authentication section on the API Documentation must present the authentication system used, where users find the authentication information, and how to send it when performing the requests to the API.

Error Codes

Coding always involves dealing with unsuccessful feedback from the API. Creating an API Documentation that describes all the possible error response codes help the developers throughout the integration process and reduce frustration along the way.The API Documentation errors list may include the status code, the code of the error itself, and a description. As a result, developers can quickly understand the issues they are facing and how to overcome them.

Request and Response Samples

Performing requests and analyzing the response content are critical operations when using APIs. Therefore, users must understand how to use each endpoint to avoid doubts regarding the request and response content. To help users achieve this, providing examples is the best approach. Examples should be made available for all possible request scenarios and configurations related to each endpoint whenever possible. Similarly, response examples should also be provided if needed.

Object Definition

When using API endpoints, users often encounter large response objects. With so many parameters to navigate, it’s easy to get lost and make mistakes. To avoid such problems, it’s a good practice to include object documentation pages in your API documentation. These pages cover the details related to each object parameter, including descriptions, existing limits, and examples to guide users.

Improving the Documentation Structure

In addition to the suggestions above, we recommend you create your User Guide and maintain a clear changelog for your clients.

Changelogs are considered good practice within documentation. They are typically presented on a single page, registering the most significant changes on the APIs as they receive updates.

Also, you can develop User Guides in your API Documentation to bring complementary explanations and connections between the available API endpoints. The User Guides may include step-by-step instructions about installation and setup, the available features and possible use cases, troubleshooting information, and more.

Developing a User Guide and maintaining an updated changelog may encourage more self-service behavior from your users, which can benefit your business. As a result, it can lead to an increased user adoption and more efficient communication between your users and your support team.

Best Practices for Creating API Documentation

First, you must know your user. Which team from your client’s business will use your software and understand how they think and behave, their pain points, and how they communicate. Understanding your product’s persona is the first step to building an empathetic and customer-centric API Documentation.

Once you know your customers, you must understand how they use your product and map the user journey throughout your product. This path may vary according to the persona you built, afterwards their journey depends on the problems they are trying to solve with your product.

That’s why spending time studying your users is so important. Their journey will define how your API Documentation will be written and which examples and information will be provided so your users’ adoption curve becomes as short and simple as possible.

The success of your documentation may be measured by the time it takes for your users to adopt your product thoroughly, the decrease of your customer support effort, and low churn in the first months of subscription.

Why Is API Documentation Important?

Excellent API Documentation provides your business with multiple benefits that can flow from increasing opportunities in the commercial sector, improving the perception of your brand among competitors, and others that we’ll go into in more detail now.

Minimizes Support Effort and Costs

The more you empower your user, the more your client prefers acting self-service to solve their questions and issues. Excellent documentation allows your users to find their way without interacting directly with the support team.

Only highly critical or demanding issues will get through your customer support team because they need specialized attention. When well done and updated, your API Documentation can reduce your customer support effort in general. The less your users demand high-touch attention, the more your team can focus on problems that need human consideration. Investing in excellent API Documentation matters because it is cheaper than hiring and maintaining a bloated customer support team.

Accelerates Onboarding

Your documentation is crucial when it comes to customer onboarding. If you need to guarantee fully integrated software to increase its adoption by your client’s team, your documentation must be your user’s best friend from day one. The better you understand your users and their journeys, the better your user onboarding experience will be if you translate this knowledge into your API documentation.

Reduces Early Churn

One of the critical stages of your user’s journey with your product is their onboarding. Suppose your business invested in having top-notch documentation. In that case, your users will be mesmerized by how easy it is to integrate their software with yours and how easy it is to understand all of your product’s features.

Early adoption makes it harder for your client to churn over time. So, if your API Documentation doesn’t play its part in welcoming your new users, it will be easier to quit your product and choose a competitor instead.

Why Is API Documentation Important?

API plays a significant part in the Software as a Service business’s commercial success. The API allows two different software to communicate and exchange data, but this bridge between both systems needs instructions to be built and maintained. That’s where the API Documentation enters the game and plays a huge part in customer retention and satisfaction.

In Write Choice, we revolutionize how tech companies communicate with their customers by providing top-notch technical documentation and content to our clients. Need help with your API Documentation? Schedule a call with one of our specialists here.

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