In today’s digital ecosystem where regular patches and updates for software are the norms, release notes are now essential not only for documenting all these updates but also to communicate and explain what each update is about and how the user experience may be affected by these changes.
With the importance of these release notes, software development companies must pay extra attention to how they write their release notes, but in practice, writing an attractive and informative release note can be easier said than done.
In this guide, we will share how you can effectively write and distribute release notes, and we’ll also showcase seven of the best release note examples at the moment.
Yet, let us begin this guide by discussing the concept of release notes and why they are important.
Release Note: What Is It?
A release note, in a nutshell, is mostly text-based content (which can also be supported by images, photos, and videos), that is published and distributed with the purpose of communicating the technical details of a software solution or application.
A release note can have two major roles:
- If it’s a release of a new software application (or a major overhaul), the release note’s role is to introduce the software and provide brief but concise information about the software’s technical features.
- For updates or patches, the release note’s role is to communicate the changes implemented on the update, how the new features improve the software compared to the previous version, and potential changes in experience the users may face after the update.
Also, depending on the industry and/or location, software development companies may be legally required to keep comprehensive documentation of updates and changes implemented to the software product as an audit trail, from when the software was first released up to its end-of-life stage. Well-written and well-documented release notes can help in this purpose.
Release Note: Format and Structure
In practice, a release note can follow many different formats and structures depending on the note’s objective, among other factors. However, all release notes should contain the following key elements:
A section that informs the reader (and potential readers) of what the release note is going to be about.
A typical release note’s header should include the following items:
- Title: pretty self-explanatory, should inform the key changes of this update and how it can benefit new and old users.
- Product name
- Date of release/launch of the product
- Versions of the release notes
- Pay attention to the release note date
A quick overview of the changes implemented to the software product. This is, in most cases, the most important section of the release notes. Many people will read this section first when reading release notes before they may decide to purchase and continue reading the rest of the notes.
- Information about changes and solved issues.
Assuming the release note is being published together with software updates, this section should be optimized to communicate the previous issues identified in the product and how the latest software updates have solved these issues.
Most likely the longest section of the whole release note. It’s important to keep this section easy to read and to the point. Focus on ensuring readers can easily understand its content and don’t be too technical unless it’s absolutely needed.
- Potential impact
Communicate the potential effect of the update/patch and the changes included in the overall user experience. Also, communicate whether there are changes in policies and security concerns your users should know. If there are any actions the users should take after the update, make sure they can easily understand all the required steps.
How and Where Should You Distribute Your Release Notes?
How should you distribute your release note to make sure it reaches as many users as possible while ensuring an optimal user experience? There are five different methods you can consider:
- In-app distribution
The most common, and arguably the most effective release note distribution method is via in-app notifications, for example by having a pop-up window as soon as users open the software.
While in-app notification maximises the chance of the note being read by users, if you’re not careful it can disrupt the overall user experience since you are technically “forcing” the release note to users when they want to do something else.
However, changelog software like ReleasePad allow in-product notifications to be more intuitive, for example by showing the notification widget only when the user accesses a specific feature that has experienced recent changes.
- Social media
Pretty obvious, with most of our customers/clients now being active on social media, it would only make sense to also leverage social media to introduce new features or communicate the changes/bug fixes on your product.
The main advantage of distributing release notes via social media is that you can reach more people, while at the same time can help generate buzz surrounding your product.
A great distribution method you can leverage to communicate updates and changes to users, especially if you collect email addresses during registration.
A key advantage of this method is that you can introduce new features and communicate changes to users before they login or use the software, which actually helps in bringing back inactive users to use the app once again.
- Website content (including blog posts)
You can drop a link to your release notes on your website, or you may also want to publish a full blog entry dedicated to your release note.
A great method to consider if you need to publish longer/more in-depth release notes. Having a specific blog category to keep a record of all release notes is also a popular practice among software developers.
- Play Store/ App Store notes
For applications published on Apple App Store, and Google Play Store, publishing release notes on the platform is mandatory.
Examples of Great Release Notes You Can Take Inspiration From
Slack is now one of the most successful team communication and collaboration tools available in the market, and its mission of improving business communication is heavily reflected in the company’s release notes.
The first is how Slack’s release notes are so concise and intuitive with their smart categorization. Being a multi-platform solution, Slack separates its release notes into four groups: iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows, so they are easy to read and never too cluttered.
Second, is that all their release notes are very easy to understand, even by non-technical users. Bugs are explained in easy-to-understand manners and are never too technical. Slack has consistently found the right balance between being informative and engaging in its release notes, a feat that’s never easy to do, much less maintain.
Medium is a great example of release notes that go out of the box while being consistent with what the Medium brand is all about.
Medium is a place where its users read, so its release notes come in the form of fully-fledged blog posts where every release note is written like a story: engaging, informative, and fits the platform users’ preferences and needs.
This is an example of how you don’t really need to follow the ‘rules’ when developing your release notes. Instead, know your target audience inside-out and remember what your brand mission is about. Write your release notes accordingly: ensuring they align with your brand identity while meeting your target audience’s preferences.
Microsoft is obviously one of the most well-known tech brands in the whole world, and is also one of the best in the business when it comes to writing and publishing release notes, especially considering the number of products they have on its lineup.
What’s impressive is how Microsoft keeps comprehensive update history lists for all its products. You can easily track changes and bug fixes from updates from years ago, which can be useful in the event of troubleshooting or when you haven’t updated a Microsoft solution for quite some time.
Microsoft also keeps a sleek, optimal layout for its release notes, complete with support for dark mode/high contrast mode. Very attractive and easy to read, Microsoft’s release notes show how simplicity is often the best approach in release notes.
While it’s not perfect, Microsoft’s comprehensive categorization and intuitive layouts are hard to beat.
HubSpot is one of the most prominent B2B SaaS brands available, focused on helping businesses grow via the implementation of inbound marketing.
With content being the center of inbound marketing, Hubspot really shows that they do what they preach in their release notes.
Similar to Medium, Hubspot’s release notes come in the form of a storytelling blog post, complete with the use of images and sometimes videos to help readers easily understand what the release note is about, what changes can the reader expect, and how these changes will impact how they use HubSpot’s products.
Hubspot’s release notes are concise, attractive, and to-the-point, allowing HubSpot to fit a great amount of information on a single page. Also, they have a great search filter on the blog, so you can easily search for previous notes, this also allows HubSpot’s release notes to be SEO-friendly, which will help HubSpot’s own inbound marketing in the long run.
One of the few that get the right balance between being attractive and informative.
Intercom is a popular CRM solution with a creative approach to its release notes.
Similar to HubSpot, Intercom leverages the use of images, gifs, and even videos to keep its release notes interesting. Intercom also often grouped similar changes and features into a single release note as a one-stop announcement. This helps customers who rarely check release notes to stay relevant with the updates by simply reviewing this announcement of recent relevant updates.
Intercom also runs its “new in Intercom” webinars on a regular basis to accompany its text-based release notes. Users can register to attend the webinars (which are typically quite short), and registered attendees will also get a recording of the webinar if they are not able to attend.
With a wide variety of ways of announcing changes and budgets, Intercom offers versatility to its users so they can learn about the changes and improvements at their own pace and time.
Unsplash is a community/social media platform for photographers where photographers share high-resolution images for free, making it a popular source for freely usable images.
With that being said, the Unsplash platform is updated relatively infrequently when compared to others, but it doesn’t stop the Unsplash team from having well-written release notes.
Most of Unsplash’s release notes come in the form of Q&A, and the answers are kept short and to the point. This is yet another example of how release notes don’t necessarily need to follow a set rule, but should be designed based on the product’s unique needs and the target audience’s preferences.
Missive is a shared inbox solution allowing businesses to improve their team’s collaboration via email, and as you can see from the image above, Missive offers a rather unique approach to their release notes with a bullet-point/roadmap format.
This structure allows users to closely follow Missive’s overall vision for the future of their product: what’s fixed, what’s improved, and what’s totally new.
Missive effectively uses the changelog not only to showcase the changes they’ve made and the new features they’ve introduced but also to engage their users and build better credibility and stronger relationships.
Also, the release notes are short, to-the-point, and easy to understand, and Missive often keeps things fun by including emojis, images, and gifs.
For software companies, publishing release notes should be a crucial element of your software development and marketing processes. Yet, writing high-quality release notes can be easier said than done.
Above, we’ve shared some actionable tips on how to develop and publish effective release notes for your users, as well as examples of effective release notes you can use for inspiration.