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A Look into the Different Types of API Documentation

One welcome trend to API design and development is how much focus is being given to API documentation. Little by little, API developers have come to know the power of this once-neglected element—and now there’s lots of proof that good API documentation practices lead to more efficient API integration, better chances of API adoption, and fewer delays when launching the API product on the market. 

But interestingly enough, there is no single formula to encapsulate everything you need to in your API docs. The methods to document an API project constitute more than the plain and boring text you’d see in a printed instruction manual. On the contrary, you can get pretty creative while making your API docs—if you consider using hosted API documentation on an innovative API testing platform like Stoplight’s, you’d be able to experiment in different ways  in order to make your code interactive, easy to tinker with, and user-friendly to those who might adopt it.    

Below are five different methods that you can explore for your API documentation. Picking not just one, but rather a combination of these processes, will work to your advantage.

1: Case-focused examples, tutorials, and copy-and-paste “recipes:

This type of documentation, which enables users to copy-paste code and play around with for themselves, is one of the most sought-after among developers. It’s easy to see why—it’s the same principle as being able to test-drive a car or to demo a new gadget to see if it works for you. Tutorials and customizable codes help users visualize how the API works, and thus better adapt the API toward the tasks it’s intended to complete.

2: Reference Guides:

Reference guides are meant to answer the frequently asked questions (FAQs) pertaining to your API: what it’s meant to achieve, what its parameters are, and what its endpoints are. This is the kind of documentation that users already expect to come in large text blocks. Still, you may want to accompany any text-based reference guides with a visual or interactive element, so that users don’t get bored or suffer from information overload.

3: In-depth topical guides:

Topical guides are similar to reference guides, but tackle the nitty-gritty of concerns related to your API. This documentation is what developers can refer to for in-depth explanations about your API’s overall philosophy, advanced instructions for problem solving, and other administrative matters like how the API’s pricing structure is determined. In this type of documentation, you will want to prove how much mastery and control you have over the world of your API—and in turn, what mastery and control you can impart to your developer.

4: Public support forums:

Just like how your favorite smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and other gadgets have their own support forums, this kind of platform can exist for your API. Users can go to the forum with specific queries or concerns, and your answers can serve as an ongoing documentation for how well your API is working. To maximize a forum for documentation purposes, however, you will need to be on a platform that is easy to use, that has a strong search engine function, and that can organize massive amounts of information from all the posts.

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5: Marketing materials:

Lastly, it may help to commission web designers, graphic artists, and copywriters to develop marketing materials for your API. These can help introduce even non-tech people to your API and explain, in the simplest terms, how it will benefit them. These materials can be shared to developers, high-level decision-makers like product managers, and eventually the end users themselves. 

For the best results, choose a dynamic API documentation platform that will enable you to test code, build thorough and searchable docs, and even simplify the API’s reference documentation with automated options. That will ensure that your API documentation achieves everything it’s meant to achieve: clarity, accuracy, organization, and maximum helpfulness.

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