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Creating an API to share or sell? Here are the steps you need to take in writing the documentation and why it matters.

API integration is a core part of software development; many applications are built with APIs and might not function efficiently without them. Nonetheless, developers usually go through processes before integrating an API into their project. One of these processes involves reading the API documentation to understand how it functions.

What is API Documentation?

API documentation is content that describes the functionality of an API through relevant references, guides and illustrations to help a developer understand and utilize the API. With API docs, a developer can know its capacity and have a clear step to apply it. This document can serve as a point where developers return to seek solutions to challenges encountered while integrating the API.

API docs can come in numerous forms depending on the target audience and objective. The goal is to ensure developers find and understand the information needed to integrate the described API into their project. However, many fail due to poor understanding of the audience, unclear writing and outlines, etc.

The best API documentation is written by those who understand the integration process and what information each audience needs. Whether for beginners or experts, successful documentation is clear and meets every user’s needs at every stage.

Types of API Documentation

Reference API Documentation

Reference documentation provides the complete methodology, functionalities, versioning and challenges of an API. It presents detailed information to help developers efficiently understand and use the API. While grasping this type of documentation can be difficult for amateur developers, experienced individuals will find it comprehensive and valuable.


Tutorials introduce an API to developers through scenarios that show how the API works. It also offers practical problems and solutions that you can encounter during testing. Tutorials are helpful for less experienced users looking to understand an API.

Quick-Start Guide

A quick-start guide provides developers with an overview of the features of an API. While it is for users with limited time, it can be comprehensive enough to make API integration easier. The guide includes practical examples and illustrations to facilitate understanding of the new API.

Developer’s Guide

The developer’s guide provides detailed information about the API, including features, code snippets, API call samples, troubleshooting guides, etc. It serves as a complete resource for users to understand all aspects of the API before utilizing it.

What is the Importance of API Documentation?

User Education

API documentation helps users learn details of the API, such as its features, usage guidelines, security vulnerabilities, terms and conditions, etc. Understanding these details enables users to achieve better results and encourages wider software usage.

Enhancing Security

API documentation usually contains information about security weaknesses to help developers stay abreast and apply preventive measures. Some common vulnerabilities in APIs include scraping, injection and information disclosure vulnerabilities. By addressing these loopholes, developers can improve their API security.

Wider Adoption

API documentation enhances the usability of the software. Easy and successful integration of an API will encourage experienced developers who are members of technical communities to promote the API among colleagues and experts, leading to increased consumption.

Reduced Cost of Time and Technical Support

API documentation includes a section that outlines possible challenges that may arise while using the API and provides solutions. It eliminates the need for developers to constantly invest time and money in troubleshooting with the support team.

Best Practices for Documenting API

Understand the Audience

API documentation varies in form, tailored to meet the needs of diverse developers. It is crucial to understand the kind of content your audience requires and present it well. While some might want a quick-start guide to save time, an in-depth guide with comprehensive reference of the API will satisfy others. For example, novice developers will need a tutorial form of documentation. It should also come with enough illustrations to help the user get clarity.

Maintain a Simple Form of Communication

API documentation should be written in clear and concise language so that anyone, irrespective of their experience, can easily understand the content. A big reason for abandoning APIs is due to how difficult some developers find it to grasp what it is about and how it functions. Providing information about an API sparks more interest and adaptation.

Comprehensive Description

An essential step to writing good API documentation is referencing everything about the API, including features, methodologies and objects. This information reassures the users and gives more insight on the API usage.

Utilize Brief Outlines

An outline includes steps that demonstrate how developers can use an API. Brief guides include essential information and saves time for developers who want to test your API.

Write with Examples

Examples demonstrate the original message in your documentation. By using examples, you will clarify technical terms to different levels of readers. For instance, you can show the readers how to fix versioning and compatible issues through an illustration rather than providing only the steps.

Include Tutorials

Tutorials usually come in video forms that show and explain everything about the API. With tutorials, developers can see a live example of actions they would experience while working with your API. This includes how to apply code, make API calls and others. Adding tutorials in your API documentation clarifies complex steps, drawing on experiences that other developers may encounter.

Easy Accessibility

Easy access to the documentation means it is always available and convenient to use by relevant individuals. To ensure an API’s general acceptance, make sure the documentation is accessible and easy to navigate. Difficult-to-find documentation or complex navigation therein can discourage developers from using your API.


Documentation is a crucial aspect of API development and writing it may be easier than you think.

However, many end up providing improper documentation, which is one of the reasons behind the numerous unsuccessful API integration cases. An example of elements that can qualify documentation as bad includes poor choice of words, inaccessibility and complex navigation processes.

To solve this, writers can try to understand their audience and include examples, tutorials and references in their writeup. They can also try to maintain the use of simple languages so that any audience can easily understand their work. In addition, searching, finding and navigating the documentation should be straightforward to improve the user experience.

About the Author

Nduka John

Nduka John is a cyberthreat intelligence analyst and a technical writer for SaaS brands. His publications give clear insight on how to stay proactive towards cyberthreats through healthy cybersecurity practices.


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