Chapter 10. Documentation

Of the complaints most engineers have about writing, using, and maintaining code, a singular common frustration is the lack of quality documentation. “What are the side effects of this method?” “I got an error after step 3.” “What does this acronym mean?” “Is this document up to date?” Every software engineer has voiced complaints about the quality, quantity, or sheer lack of documentation throughout their career, and the software engineers at Google are no different.

Technical writers and project managers may help, but software engineers will always need to write most documentation themselves. Engineers, therefore, need the proper tools and incentives to do so effectively. The key to making it easier for them to write quality documentation is to introduce processes and tools that scale with the organization and that tie into their existing workflow.

Overall, the state of engineering documentation in the late 2010s is similar to the state of software testing in the late 1980s. Everyone recognizes that more effort needs to be made to improve it, but there is not yet organizational recognition of its critical benefits. That is changing, if slowly. At Google, our most successful efforts have been when documentation is treated like code and incorporated into the traditional engineering workflow, making it easier for engineers to write and maintain simple documents.

What Qualifies as Documentation?

When we ...

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