Be it startups or large corporations, most software companies today have adopted an agile development cycle for their products, which means that new features, improvements and bug fixes are released at least once a month. In this context, right after the release, product teams make a list of all the changes that have been made and share those updates both internally and externally.
Now, written like this, one could easily imagine some unintelligible jargon that only developers and tech savvy customers would read. Indeed, this used to be the case, but tech companies now tend to put in more and more effort in order to produce release notes that will be understandable for end users and inform them, from their perspective, about the newest improvements in their software or app.
How To Write Release Notes?
In order to reach as many people as possible, from non-technical colleagues to average users, release notes should be written in plain language, organised by category (new features vs. bug fixes) and kept short and concise. It is recommended to address the users directly (“You can now use this function…”) and to start with a summary of the main changes, before going into detail using bullet points and linking to relevant documentation. Once the right format has been defined, it will serve as a release notes template for future updates.
Producing technical documentation requires a specific set of skills and therefore, release notes are usually written by a technical communicator, whose expertise it is to analyse a particular topic and collaborate with engineering and product teams to translate technical elements into plain language.
Even when customers don’t consult release notes themselves, the documentation will be of great help when they contact customer support. As a matter of fact, customer service teams can rely on these notes to have a better understanding of the product’s evolution and reuse pieces of information when answering a customer request.
Release Notes As A Communication Tool
If you have a look at user feedback on the App Store or Google Play, you will notice that some customers actually expect and enjoy product updates. These fans read release notes religiously and can act as influencers, spreading the good word to their friends – for free.
This is an opportunity that most companies haven’t missed, communicating about their latest updates through different channels such as:
- blog posts
- social media postings
Fact is that release notes reflect a company’s innovation capacities (new features and products) as well as its reactivity in fixing bugs and responding to customer feedback. They are also an extension of the brand, especially when they are written in the company’s tone of voice and designed according to the corporate visual identity.
For an international company, it is also essential to localise these release notes so that they are as relevant and precise in translated versions as in the source language. Providing translators with screenshots or test environments will help them achieve this goal.
Writing quality release notes – and communicating about them – has become essential for tech companies in order to show their customers the hard work delivered in order to keep them happy and successful.
To do so, companies rely on technical communicators, who work closely with engineering and product teams in order to write release notes that will be accurate, informative and useful for all users.
If you are interested in a career as a technical communicator, make sure to visit the TCLoc Master’s website (University of Strasbourg). This one-year online degree is a career-oriented programme in Technical Communication and Localisation that includes training and certification by Tekom, the world’s largest professional association for technical communication.