For software development companies, release notes can provide value in many different ways: engaging users, building awareness for your software product, audit trail, and so on.
Unfortunately, many companies treat release notes as a chore and do not make the most of these release notes as a marketing and user engagement tool, which is a shame considering the numerous benefits they can bring for both the business and the software users.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of writing release notes, as well as the best practices you can adopt when writing release notes so we can attract more users to read them and maximize their value.
Without further ado, let us begin.
What are Release Notes?
A release note is written documentation produced and distributed to accompany either the launch of a new software product or an update released for a software product (addition of new features, bug fixes, etc.)
A release note can function as an official technical manual for the product launch or the specific product update. For example, a release note can provide a detailed technical explanation for a newly introduced feature.
What’s included in the release notes and how they are structured can greatly vary depending on the software product itself, the changes introduced, branding choices, how they are distributed, and other factors. However, most release notes will follow this basic structure:
- Header: this section should include a clear title, date of publication, and version number for documentation purposes.
- Purpose: a short statement (like an email subject line) clearly stating why the release note was published (bug fix, new feature, UX improvements, new product release, etc.)
- Overview: summary of changes and/or improvements made on this release
- Links: relevant external links to documents and articles to further expand on what’s communicated on the release note. This is to ensure the release note itself remains as concise as possible.
- Notes: you can communicate upcoming changes in the works to manage users’ expectations for future releases.
Since release notes typically should be kept as concise as possible to maintain engagement, good release notes typically include visual elements like images, photos, infographics, or even videos to keep the note attractive and engaging while avoiding clutter.
Why Are Release Notes Important?
In this next section, we will discuss a myriad of benefits you’ll get from releasing well-written release notes to accompany product releases and updates.
However, there’s one most important reason that makes release notes so important for both the software development company and the users: it allows users to make the most of your software product, unlocking its potential.
In turn, this will improve the user’s overall experience in using your product, ensuring their satisfaction and converting them into advocates of your product.
In short, by allowing your users to use your software to its full potential, you can also naturally help your software product and your company grow.
Remember that no matter how good your software is, it won’t matter if none of your users knows how to use it. No matter how great a new feature you just introduced is, it won’t bring any value to anyone if no one knows about it.
Communicating releases and changes is critical, and this is the main reason why release notes are so important.
Besides this main benefit, however, there are other benefits you’ll get from releasing well-written release notes:
1. Establishing credibility and reputation
If your release notes are well-written, engaging, and informative, they can help improve both your software product and your company’s overall credibility and reputation.
You can make the release notes available to the public (i.e., as blog posts) so prospects who haven’t purchased your product can still read them. This way, your release notes can act as an inbound marketing tool to help you generate leads and encourage conversions.
When your release notes are aesthetically appealing and engaging, your software will also look more professional and credible.
2. Showing that you are actively working on the software product
In today’s agile software development environment, users simply expect software products to be regularly updated: bugs should be identified and fixed, new features should be introduced, the interface should be refreshed, and so on. The software product should continuously evolve and improve.
When users see that a software solution isn’t updated, they may suspect that the product has been abandoned by the manufacturer (even if that’s not the case,) and they may look elsewhere to the competitors.
Regularly publishing release notes is a great way to show your users that your company is actively working on the product, which can help in improving use rate and retention.
3. Giving you the opportunity to elaborate your decisions
Release notes can give you the ability to explain yourself when you fix any bug or release new features.
No matter how well you try, you won’t always see eye to eye with your users. Sometimes a feature you’ve just released might be met with a backlash, or there may be bugs and issues that are challenging to fix right away.
Release notes help prevent your users from feeling like they’re in the dark by actively communicating your progress. This can also give users the impression that their voices are being heard, which can help improve engagement and satisfaction.
4. As an important customer service channel
By regularly publishing your release notes in a centralized place, you give your users an easy way to find out new information about your software product, so they don’t have to spend their valuable time contacting you through other means.
For your company, this also means you can minimize the need to provide active customer support, so you can spend your team’s time and resources on more important issues rather than explaining the new features or new bug fixes that have been addressed in the release note.
By providing a centralized and accessible source of information, you can also help users avoid fake information provided by fraudsters and cybercriminals, which will be beneficial to both your users and your company.
5. A two-way communication channel between you and your users
Many software development companies underestimated the release notes’ ability to provide a direct way to communicate between the company and its users.
Not only do release notes allow you to inform them about the latest changes and releases, but you can (and should) use them as a way to provide answers and feedback to users’ requests and concerns: addressing bugs they’ve reported, questions they’ve asked, features they’ve requested, and so on.
Again, by doing this, you can show your users that you are genuinely listening to their concerns and suggestions and that you value your relationship with them.
6. Setting user’s expectation
Another very important benefit of release notes is to help your company set (and meet) users’ expectations.
By regularly publishing your release notes in a centralized place, you can make sure your users are always on the same page, and they’ll know what to expect.
To make the most of this benefit, communicate your plan for future updates and changes in your release notes, and actually deliver on your promises.
7. Telling your software product’s story
Having a historical log of release notes can help you tell the story of how your software product has evolved over time: what improvements have been introduced, what bugs have been fixed, what features have been added over time, and so on.
This historical log of your product’s story won’t only be a celebration of your team’s work but also as official documentation for when the need arises for you to provide an audit trail.
Writing Great Release Notes: Best Practices
A good release note should maintain the right balance between being informative and engaging, and to achieve that, it should be concise and clear.
Here are the best practices you can follow to achieve this objective:
1. Focus on delivering value for human readers
Remember that the main objective of the release note is to inform, or to be exact, to inform your human users.
Many companies make the mistake of over-optimizing the release notes for SEO. While optimizing release notes so that they rank higher on search engine results can be a great way to generate organic traffic, it shouldn’t compromise readability and user experience.
Also, avoid using too much technical language. Make your release notes as clear as possible and adequately detailed for human readers.
2. Keep it concise
Release notes should be kept short and to the point, and the challenge is to keep them concise while staying informative.
This can be quite challenging when the product release or update involves complex or numerous changes. However, a common workaround is to only include the overview of the changes in the release note and then link an external page containing the complete information at the end of the release note.
Always aim to keep the release note only as long as absolutely necessary.
3. Make sure it’s value-centered
A key principle to uphold is that the release note should be centered on communicating the benefits your users/stakeholders will get from the release or update.
A common mistake is to bombard users with too much technical information without telling them the positive impacts they’ll get from this update or release. Even worse, some companies use release notes for hard-selling the product or the company.
When writing your release notes, aim to communicate how this release would benefit the user or stakeholder.
4. Make it visual
Adding visual assets like images, photos, gifs, and even videos to your release notes would offer twofold benefits.
First, aesthetically-pleasing visual assets can improve engagement. Users are more likely to be attracted to cool photos or images rather than a block of text, and they tend to be more engaged when texts are accompanied by visuals.
Second, is that pictures speak louder than words. Infographics and videos can help you include more information in your release notes while keeping them concise.
However, it’s important to maintain balance. Don’t include too many photos or videos, or you’ll risk making the release notes too cluttered and messy.
5. Use plain language
With very few exceptions, for example, if the release note is intended for a highly-technical audience like your internal development team, in general, you should use plain and straightforward language in your release notes.
Aim to make the release notes accessible to everyone. This also means you’ll need to take cultural and language barriers into account.
Choose your wording carefully, and avoid including tech lingo unless it’s really needed.
6. Anticipate questions and provide context
While you should aim to keep the release note short and concise, don’t be afraid to provide additional context if it can help your users make the most of the release or change.
Anticipate your users’ questions and needs whenever you can. If you are releasing a new feature, inform them of how they may need to perform additional configuration and how their experience may change. If the release is about a bug fix, then inform them how this bug fix may affect their user experience.
By anticipating their needs and questions, not only will you provide a better experience, but it can also minimize the need to provide additional customer support. You can let your customer support team spend their time and energy addressing more critical issues rather than helping users with the new features.
7. Keep them organized
Keep your release notes in a centralized, organized place so you’ll have a clear historical log of how the software product has been improved over time; this is important so you can maintain a clear audit trail of the product.
For individual notes, you should also keep them organized and easy to read. Use a well-designed layout and segment the content into headers, bullet points, and short paragraphs. Mention what the release note is going to cover (i.e., bug fix, new feature, etc.) so your user can quickly scan the note to find the information they need.
8. Keep a positive tone
Be mindful of the tone you use when writing the release note. You want to keep things fun and show them that you’re excited about the new release or the new change you’ve introduced, but at the same time, don’t sound like you are overselling the new features or the new product.
Remember that the purpose of the release note is to inform and that it’s not a sales pitch. Put yourself in your users’ shoes.
Writing and publishing well-designed release notes can provide so many benefits for both your software development company and your users.
While preparing these notes may seem like a burden at first, they are actually pretty simple and are absolutely worth it to invest your time into once you’ve got the hang of it.
Above, we’ve also shared the best practices you can follow to start writing effective and engaging release notes for your users. ReleasePad’s release notes software allows you to easily create and publish engaging release notes with ease, so you can help your users make the most of every release and product update.
ew features or bug fixes.