An application programming interface (API) technical writer creates documents that explain how an API works. Their audience is usually programmers, developers, system designers, and system architects. The technical writer creates documents that contain code samples, use cases, authentications, and other resources that give developers a starting point of information to plan, design, and build a feature.
API technical writers also make arguments in favor of how an API is used, and its interactions with the host system. When you write API documentation you must:
- Provide use case examples that explain the most effective ways to use an interface.
- Provide thorough descriptions of an API's functions, and how it interacts with the application.
- Make arguments in favor of how the API is used, and its interactions with the host system.
- Create tutorials about how to use the API. This can be done as eLearning or video tutorials.
Table of Contents
What is API Documentation?
API documentation describes how an API works. It contains code samples, authentications, classes, functions, and other information that is required so that users can connect with an API.
For example, there are two applications that must "communicate" with each other in order to work. They pass information back and forth to each other such as parameters, security tokens, and so on. API reference documentation includes all of the details and set up so that developers can use their API with another one. API documentation must also include less technical
There are three different types of APIs:
- Software APIs
- Hardware APIs
- Web APIs
To write good API documentation, you must understand what the reader needs to know in order to use the API. This includes code samples, functions, parameters, use cases, endpoints, error messages, and more. Good API documentation is essential to increase API adoption and to optimize the developer experience (DX). The better the documentation for your API is, the easier it is to use and work with your API, and the happier everyone will be.
To write API documentation, you need to have a Bachelor's degree in a related field, for example programming, technical communication, or English. You must also know at least one programming language, and be comfortable writing it and explaining it to users. To write API documentation, you must have both technical and writing skills.
If you have the degree, but maybe you lack programming skills, take an online or higher-education course. To be an API writer, you must know at least one programming language. Having programming experience can also be a great way to enter a career in API documentation.
Creating Useful API Documentation
API technical writers have a procedure that they need to follow to document structured data. This includes hours of research, time spent on compiling data, analyzing it, and writing API documentation. A writer must first analyze the data, then create the structure of the document.
To create useful API documentation, technical writers must include:
- Use cases: Research the most relevant topics and provide valuable examples for the user. Create real-world scenarios that are relevant to the subject matter and highlight the most important features.
- API functions: List them according to their value to the user. For example, list the most important and frequently used functions at the top. Create structured lists that explain functions from the most to least prominent. Remember to always highlight the most important functions.
Tips For Becoming a Great API Writer
- Familiarize yourself with API documentation tools, such as specialized software that creates structured and detailed API documents. An excellent example of this is Swagger UI. This is an interface description language that uses JSON to create an interactive form of user documentation. Users can check out your REST APIs with this tool. This helps you get a real-life look at how your documentation is working. A few more programs that you can use when you are documenting APIs are:
- API Blueprint. A great API documentation tool that allows you to design and prototype APIs and create documentation for them. You can also test and deploy APIs. This is a great tool to use in collaboration with other team members.
- Apiary. Another great tool that enables team collaboration from the creation, testing, deployment, and documenting of APIs.
- Doxygen. This tool focuses on working with C++.
- ReadMe.com. You can try working API examples, get developer metrics, and generate links for error messages.
- Brush up on your coding. There are countless websites where you can learn coding, for example, uDemy and codeacadamy.
- Take classes to learn how to document structured data. The more informed you are about how to write API documents, the more valuable you will be in the field.
- Network with other API writers and software developers to keep up-to-date with the evolving field. This is also a good way to hear about new job opportunities at top companies.
If you are interested in programming and writing, consider a career in creating API documentation. As an API technical writer, you must have proven experience in understanding popular structured data formats and understanding an API design. You can document software APIs, hardware APIs, or web APIs, depending on your interests and familiarity. In today's world, APIs are everywhere, and API technical writers are essential. Good API documentation paves the way to a popular and functional API.