Software documentation

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When various kinds of software products are developed then not only the executable files and the source code are developed but also various kinds of documents such as users’ manual, software requirements specification (SRS) documents, design documents, test documents, installation manual, etc are also developed as part of any software engineering process. All these documents are a vital part of good software development practice. Good documents are very useful and server the following purposes:

• Good documents enhance understandability and maintainability of a software product. They reduce the effort and time required for maintenance.

• Use documents help the users in effectively using the system.

• Good documents help in effectively handling the manpower turnover problem. Even when an engineer leaves the organization, and a new engineer comes in, he can build up the required knowledge easily.

• Production of good documents helps the manager in effectively tracking the progress of the project. The project manager knows that measurable progress is achieved if a piece of work is done and the required documents have been produced and reviewed.


Different types of software documents can broadly be classified into the following:

• Internal documentation

• External documentation


Internal documentation is the code comprehension features provided as part of the source code itself. Internal documentation is provided through appropriate module headers and comments embedded in the source code. Internal documentation is also provided through the useful variable names, module and function headers, code indentation, code structuring, use of enumerated types and constant identifiers, use of user-defined data types, etc. Careful experiments suggest that out of all types of internal documentation meaningful variable names is most useful in understanding the code. This is of course in contrast to the common expectation that code commenting would be the most useful. The research finding is obviously true when comments are written without thought. For example, the following style of code commenting does not in any way help in understanding the code.

a = 10; /* a made 10 */

But even when code is carefully commented, meaningful variable names still are more helpful in understanding a piece of code. Good software development organizations usually ensure good internal documentation by appropriately formulating their coding standards and coding guidelines.

External documentation is provided through various types of supporting documents such as users’ manual, software requirements specification document, design document, test documents, etc. A systematic software development style ensures that all these documents are produced in an orderly fashion.

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