Having trouble filling out the changelog page of your software product? You don't know what distinguishes good changelogs from bad ones? Wondering what improvements you can do to your existing process to document feature changes in your software? Don't worry, you're not alone.
Despite being a key aspect of software design that helps users and developers understand and contextualize changes, most companies don't pay enough attention to changelogs, sadly, and this results in a range of bad outcomes from users misunderstanding a new feature to team developers not being on the same page regarding an issue.
And that's why in this article, we'll give you all the tools you need to create good changelogs. Starting from laying out its differences with release notes, going over its format, and then finishing with some tips and best practices. Continue reading to learn more!
Changelogs vs Release Notes: Understanding the Difference is Key
Changelogs and release notes are used interchangeably around the net, but understanding their differences is key to making sure you design a good changelog. Below, we'll go over all the key things that distinguish changelogs from release notes: this should give you an idea of what it is, what purpose it serves, and the basic ideas behind creating a good one.
- Release notes are longer: a more detailed changelog that goes over the minute details of the changes made to the software. Release notes are meant to expand on the existing information in the changelog. You relegate the information to a release note when you want to delve into more details. If you want to write a good changelog, you need to keep it short. Changelogs need to give the reader a quick idea about the changes.
- Release notes are more comprehensive: Users have different needs. There are some that only need to take a cursory glance at the list of changes as they go about using the software while others might need a comprehensive breakdown before they okay the update for a crucial project. A changelog is meant to serve former users, while release notes are meant to serve the latter.
- Release notes act as reference material for changelogs: since a changelog is meant to be terse, where do users go when they need to learn more about particular changes or new features? The release notes. This means that not only do you have to write the notes in a specific way, but when you write a good changelog page, you should include links to specific sections of the release note where more information is available, etc.
Changelog Format and Changelog Entries: How to Design One?
How do you properly design the changelog? How do you make it readable? How do you stop overloading it with information? The answer to all these questions is "proper formatting" - proper formatting helps with readability, helps with changelog design, and it helps with creating a reusable and universal changelog template that will help you save both time and money. Below, we'll go over a few examples of key formatting and design rules you need to follow here:
- Proper, consistent formatting: Do not use lengthy phrases or paragraphs. Maintain audience interest by properly formatting. Using headers, subheadings, and bullets is required for an effective design. Your changelog will become easier to read as a result. Use bold text, italics, and, if necessary, code blocks to carefully integrate important information into the changelog. Formatting is vital if you want the changelog to be readable. For projects with several components, it is even more crucial to divide the changelog into various graphic components.
- Use reverse chronology: If you want to create a proper changelog, you need to use reverse chronology - this is the most crucial element. Start with the latest update and then work your way through the past updates documenting changes in reverse order. Your users will be interested in the latest changes, not updates that have been rolled out months ago. And as you continue using and updating the changelog, you need to make sure information about the latest version and the newest changes are always at the very top.
- Group changes together: It is very vital to organize the changelogs by sections and dates. We'll go through both so you can learn how to create a changelog that best meets your design requirements. Assemble all alterations in a single day. The majority of changelogs are written in this manner. Yet, some teams find it difficult, particularly when the upgrades have an impact on many software components, end users, or both. The alternative is to compile all updates made by a single team or to a single software module on a specific date, providing each impacted department or user their area in the changelog.
Changelogs Best Practices
If you want to produce an excellent changelog that will detail product changes and bug fixes, then you need to get more than formatting right. In this section, we'll detail some best practices and examples that will help you produce an excellent changelog.
#1 Where to Publish Changelogs
Why are you writing a changelog? It is to let your users know about the latest features, changes they need to be on the lookout for, and bugs fixed that they no longer have to worry about, but how can you do any of this if your users can't access the release logs?
This is why the place it is published is more important than you might initially think. You need an accessible, readable location for your release logs users can easily find and read. Blog posts are traditionally used, but they're by no means the only option. You can also use dedicated tabs in your mobile app or desktop application. You can also use push notifications to bring attention to new changes. Whichever you choose, ultimately, you should make sure they reach your users.
#2 Getting the Level of Detail Right and Staying Consistent
Consistency is vital for both readability and user experience. Your clients will be left confused, annoyed, and frustrated if you don't use a consistent format, consistent wording, and a consistent structure in your design. If you include examples, they should all follow a similar structure. If you include GitHub links for a bug fixed, then the inclusion of the links should be consistent. If you refer to a specific feature change, you should make sure you give the readers enough context clues.
#3 How to Maintain Changelogs
Producing a changelog is not a one-off process. Most of its value comes from its proper maintenance and the detailed inclusion of information about each new iteration of a piece of software. So, from the very first steps of designing the changelog, you should already think about how you can maintain it. A range of solutions exists to make maintenance easier from creating templates to using tools.
A changelog is a file that chronologically lists all the changes made, new features added, notable bugs fixed, and more over the lifetime of a program/service. It is the key document you consult if you want to learn about how a program has changed over time. It's meant to inform and educate users about the program, improve user experience, and act as a hub to document all notable changes. Changelogs are necessary for all medium and large programs and services.
Deciding what your changelog entries should include and in how much detail should they cover each change are the two most important decisions you'll make regarding your changelog. It'll decide whether you're creating a good changelog or a bad one. It'll decide if your changelog has utility or not.
And though it can vary from one use case to another, changelog entries usually include a few key things:
- New features added,
- Changes to existing features, especially breaking changes,
- Bug fixes,
- Known bugs that still exist in the latest release.
A changelog tool is a software product that will help you design, create, distribute and manage changelog entries. It'll help you create templates, it helps you fill them out with each new version, makes sure users see them, and creates a readable timeline of all the changes over various release versions. It is an excellent tool to improve workflow, detail product changes, and log useful information, and if you have a product you need to update frequently, they're worth using.
- Releasecat Team
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