Documentation standards

Documentation standards in a software project are important because documents are the only tangible way of representing the software and the software process. Standardised documents have a consistent appearance, structure and quality, and should therefore be easier to read and understand.

There are three types of documentation standards:

  • Documentation process standards These standards define the process that should be followed for document production.
  • Document standards These standards govern the structure and presentation of documents.
  • Document interchange standards These standards ensure that all electronic copies of documents are compatible.

Documentation process standards define the process used to produce documents (example here). This means that you set out the procedures involved in document development and the software tools used for document production. You should also define checking and refinement procedures to ensure that high-quality documents are produced.

Document process quality standards must be flexible and able to cope with all types of documents. For working papers or electronic memos, there is no need for explicit quality checking. However, for formal documents, that is, those that will be used for further development or released to customers, you should use a formal quality process.

Document standards (examples here) should apply to all documents produced during a software development project. Documents should have a consistent style and appearance, and documents of the same type should have a consistent structure. Although document standards should be adapted to the needs of a specific project, it is good practice for the same ‘house style’ to be used in all of the documents produced by an organisation.

Document interchange standards are important as electronic copies of documents are interchanged. The use of interchange standards allows documents to be transferred electronically and re-created in their original form.

Assuming that the use of standard tools is mandated in the process standards, interchange standards define the conventions for using these tools. Examples of interchange standards include the use of a standard style sheet if a word processor is used or limitations on the use of document macros to avoid possible virus infection. Interchange standards may also limit the fonts and text styles used because of differing printer and display capabilities.