What Is API Documentation, and Why Does It Matter?

API documentation is an essential component of any successful API launch. For your API to reach widespread adoption, it has to be easily used and understood by developers across the globe. High-quality API documentation is what makes that possible. Below, we’ll share everything you need to know about what API documentation is, why API documentation matters for your business, the best tool for API documentation, and how to generate API documentation. Let’s dive in!

What is API documentation?

First, let’s back up a second. Before we can talk about API documentation, we need to establish what an API is in the first place. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and you can think of it as the middle man between two software applications in order to connect them. Virtually everything we do in digital spaces involves an API to send and retrieve data from a server.

As you can imagine, APIs are incredibly important, but they often pose a challenge for web and mobile developers. These developers have to understand how your API works in order to use it effectively for their applications.

That’s where API documentation comes in. API documentation is like the instruction manual for your API, giving developers and other users all the information they’ll need to work with the API successfully. It can take a number of forms, including instructional documents, tutorials, and reference works. It’ll also include a variety of information types, including guides, functionalities, and examples of the API in use.

API documentation is typically made available to the general public in order to give everyone who needs it adequate access. In addition to guiding developers who are already working with your API, this also helps developers who are evaluating whether your API will work for their intended purpose or not.

Why does API documentation matter?

API documentation can be the difference between widespread adoption and complete failure for your API launch. Developers are skilled problem solvers, but they can’t be expected to inherently understand every new tech solution that’s placed before them. Your API only has value to the extent that it’s usable by the audience it’s designed for.

Without adequate API documentation, developers may decide not to use your API in the first place, or they may become frustrated with the implementation process once they’ve started. Neither of these scenarios is compatible with your API’s long-term success.

Keep in mind that developers are often well-connected within their field. They’re likely to collaborate and seek recommendations from others who have experience with a particular process. If your API documentation is top-notch, you may be praised and highly recommended in these circles. If your API documentation is sloppy (or doesn’t exist at all), you may find that developers go out of their way to let others know not to engage with your API in the future.

How can I generate high-quality API documentation?

Hopefully, you’re convinced that robust API documentation is an important step in launching and promoting your API. If so, here’s what you’ll need to generate documentation that rivals tech giants like Stripe and Google.

Generating API documentation is simple when you have the right tools in place. That’s why we built Theneo: to simplify the process of creating beautiful and interactive API documentation. Our process only takes a few clicks, and when you’re done, you’ll have complete API documentation that’s suitable for use by virtually anyone—including your most technical and least technical team members.

When you begin the process with Theneo, you’ll create a new project which will auto-generate three documentation sections:

  • API Reference: Summarizes your API, including what it does and what type of API it is
  • Authentication: Explains the details involved in authenticating the API
  • Errors: Automatically outlines your API’s standard error types and status codes

We’ve found that these three sections tend to apply to most of our clients, but you’ll also have the option to delete these sections and/or add new ones to customize your documentation according to your needs.

Next, you’ll improve your collections to easily drag and drop them into the documentation. You can also drag and drop response code and templates for error types and status messages, and base URLs will be auto-detected throughout.

Lastly, you’ll publish your documentation. It’s that simple! You’ll be able to designate whether your documentation is public or private, and your share link will reflect the privacy settings you select.

Here is an example how the published documentation looks like https://app.theneo.io/demo/theneo

Here are a few best practices as you prepare your API documentation.

Go Step-by-Step

Because you know how your API works, it’s common for those preparing API documentation to accidentally skip steps that they perceive to be obvious. Try not to do this, as it can accidentally alienate developers who aren’t able to follow along in sequence. When in doubt, have someone else on your team view the documentation and see if they can follow along. If anything is unclear, you’ll need to add or amend what you have.

Use Accessible Language

Although most API documentations are written for third-party developers, try not to use overly technical language without also using simple terminology. A common solution is to include both the technical jargon for developers who may prefer it and the layman’s terms for anyone who seeks to understand the API with a less technical background.

More Is More

Lastly, the common phrase “less is more” doesn’t often apply to API documentation. Err on the side of inclusivity; if you’re not sure whether something should be explained in the documentation or not, chances are it should. Including too much is always a better outcome than leaving developers with unanswered questions.

There you have it! API documentation is improving as more companies embrace the importance and devote the appropriate time and resources to the process. Next time you need to create high-quality API documentation, check out Theneo to make your job easier. We pride ourselves on taking the headache out of API documentation, and we can’t wait to support your efforts.

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