Wednesday February 21, 2018:
ABOUT THE PRESENTATION
Beyond mere endpoint reference — the overlooked content in API documentation
Most discussions about API documentation center on the reference content — the endpoints, parameters, sample requests, and responses, and so on. But actually, the reference docs make up only a fraction of the total documentation related to an API. API documentation also includes how-to topics, tutorials, and other conceptual information. In this presentation, we’ll dive into the non-reference content that is typically found in API documentation. Some of these non-reference sections include the following:
- API Overview
- Getting started with the API
- Hello World tutorial
- Authorization and authentication
- Status and error codes
- Rate limiting and thresholds
- Code samples and tutorials
- SDK and sample apps
- Quick reference for the endpoints
Here’s a little more detail of what we’ll cover with these topics:
How-to topics. When it comes to documenting common tasks (the how-to topics in documentation), API docs pose unique challenges for technical writers. The common paradigm of providing step-by-step instructions for achieving a goal doesn’t always come so easily with APIs. The endpoints can often be used in innumerable ways and combinations to support a variety of outcomes and purposes. As such, how do you go about creating documentation around specific tasks? When the tasks involve assembling chunks of code, is step-by-step the right approach? In what scenarios would you provide the code up front followed by lengthy explanations or inline comments?
Hello World tutorials. The Hello World tutorial is one of the most common topics for getting started. But this kind of tutorial varies significantly from the traditional task-based topics in regular documentation. What should a Hello World tutorial cover? What is an acceptable “Time to Hello World?” And how can you accelerate the success of this key tutorial without getting bogged down in lengthy explanations of authorization and configuration?
Sample apps and SDKs. Although most APIs are language agnostic, you often provide client SDKs in specific programming languages, such as Java or C++. A single API might have 3-4 SDKs, including implementations for Android and iOS apps. How should technical writers document these sample apps, especially when they’re in programming languages the tech writer doesn’t know? Should you document a sample app with inline code comments?
ABOUT THE PRESENTER
Tom Johnson is a technical writer for Amazon in Sunnyvale, California. He writes a popular blog on technical writing called Idratherbewriting.com, where he explores topics such as API documentation, trends, information design, and more. He also has an extensive online course on API documentation that includes extensive tutorials and other exercises you can follow to build your expertise with APIs, including the OpenAPI specification, Swagger, and more.
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