Different Types of System Documentation

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Woman working on desktop in office.
Woman working on desktop in office. (Image: Todd Warnock/Photodisc/Getty Images)

System documentation consists of written material used to describe the applications of a computer hardware or software system. The documentation can be displayed as printed manuals, flash cards, Web pages or on-screen help text. System documentation is a vital component of the success of any computer system. However, many developers have a difficult time creating sufficient documentation for their products. Different types of documentation have different objectives, so the content of any documentation will depend on its intended audience.

Project Documentation

The purpose of project documentation describes the project as a whole. The project documentation gives executives, managers and employees a broad view of the project's proposed methods, resources and objectives. The project proposal documents show executives the goals and budget of the project. The technical specifications outline the hardware and software requirements for the projects. The project plan details the steps the programmers, technicians and designers will take to achieve the project's objectives.

Test Documentation

Test documents illustrate the plans for testing the product before its release. The quality assurance department develops testing plans for both internal "alpha" users and external "beta" testers. The test documentation includes testing instructions -- such as a specific set of steps testers must follow -- to determine if the product is functioning as planned. QA staffers also collect issue logs, bug lists and reports from testers.

Team Documentation

The exchange of ideas among team members is vital to the success of a project. Team documentation records these exchanges for use on the current project and on future projects. Team plans, schedules and status updates are major components of team documentation. Checklists help project managers view which tasks the team has completed. The minutes of team meetings allow managers to track various issues, suggestions and assignments among team members.

User Documentation

The most critical element of system documentation is the content that reaches the customer. The user documentation must be free from overly technical jargon and contain clear, concise language. The user manual is typically the main component of the user documentation, but users also rely on other sources. Training resources -- including manuals and videos -- can help users quickly and easily understand how the system works. When the system does not perform as expected, a troubleshooting guide can help the user find and solve the problem.

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