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The Complete Guide on How to Write Perfect Release Notes in 2022

Release notes should be a staple part of any software marketing strategy, especially when it comes to launching new products, as well as when releasing changes/updates for a product.

Yet, creating and publishing great release notes can be easier said than done. If you’re not careful, a poorly written release note may confuse both prospective buyers and existing customers, and it may end up disappointing your customers or preventing a conversion.

Planning to write a release note for your product but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to write a perfect release note that your customers will love.

By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:

-What actually are release notes?
-Why are release notes important?
-Common mistakes surrounding release notes that hinder companies from writing a great one
Best practices in writing a perfect release note

And more.

Without further ado, let us begin right away.

What is A Release Note?

A release note is a published report or document (i.e., a web page) that is published to communicate the technical details of a software product. Release notes have two main roles:

  1. For the release of a new product, a release note should function to provide prospective customers and existing users with a brief summary of the product’s technical features and other relevant details. 
  2. For updates to existing products, the release note should communicate the changes implemented to the newly released update and how the new version of the software improves upon the former.

For the software manufacturer, the release notes also play an important role in letting the company maintain a comprehensive record (and audit trail) of changes they’ve implemented to their software/application, going back to when the software was first launched. 

Keeping this record (for example, in a dedicated blog category) and making it available for the users/customers could also show customers that the software product is continuously being improved, which can help improve your credibility as a company.

How To Effectively Distribute Release Notes

Typically release notes are published to users on a web page or a designated page within the software/application itself (i.e., a pop-up when the software has just been booted.) However, forcing users to journey through the app to find these release notes can disrupt the overall user experience (UX), so you may want to consider other methods of distribution:

  • Social media: not only social media is a great way to communicate new releases or changes to your product, but you can also use social media to highlight/explain specific features and build buzz for new updates and releases.
  • Email: a great channel you can use to directly communicate updates to users without needing to wait for them to log in/use the software—also a great way to introduce new products and announce important feature changes.
  • Blog: if you need a longer release note (i.e., an in-depth explanation of specific features), then you can publish it as a blog post. As discussed, having a specific blog category to keep a record of all release notes is a popular and effective practice.
  • Play Store/ App Store notes: for mobile applications published on Apple App Store, and Google Play Store, publishing release notes on the platform is mandatory.

Keep in mind that you can also use a combination of different channels and don’t have to stick with one.

Distributing Your Release Notes With ReleasePad

Another great option to consider when it comes to distributing release notes is to incorporate in-product alerts via a widget. 

In-app alerts allow a user to easily read the release note about a new product or updates while staying active with the app, so they can experience and try the changes/features right away.

ReleasePad’s release notes software allows software owners to easily release in-product alerts to distribute release notes. You can use this feature to deploy the widget when a user first start-up the app or when they access a specific feature that has experienced recent change. 

With ReleasePad, you can also easily create and publish a custom public changelog page where you can keep a comprehensive record of all releases.

With these features, you can use the release notes to improve user experience (UX) rather than disrupt it, so you can use the release notes as a tool to keep your users delighted.

The Anatomy of a Perfect Release Note

While in practice there are many different ways you can use to structure a release note, here are the necessary elements that should be included in every release note:

1. Header

This is fairly self-explanatory; the release note should include a header (i.e., title) to inform readers what it’s going to be about. You can go beyond a basic, formal title and add fun and engaging sub-headers. Don’t be afraid to be creative here.

2. Overview

This section should be a quick overview of what has been released or what changes have been implemented to the product. Arguably the most important section in the release note. People will often look for this section first for information and may decide to continue reading the release note (or not) after reading this section. 

3. Information about solved issues

If this release note is published together with an update, then you should include a statement about the previous problems with the product and how the latest patch has solved these issues. 

This is an important section to set expectations about the new product release or update. Keep it natural, easy to read, and to the point. Make sure your users can easily understand your statement, and it doesn’t sound like a robotic, too-technical script.

4. Impact

Elaborate on the potential impact the new changes may bring, not only to the user experience but also whether there are also changes in your security or reclaim policies your users should know about. Make sure your users and/or prospective customers can easily understand all the necessary steps they should take.

Common Mistakes When Writing Release Notes

While release notes actually offer so many benefits, both software companies and their users won’t be able to experience these benefits when the release notes are not read.

Yet, so many users simply skip reading release notes, or they may miss the release note alerts altogether. 

Below are some of the most common mistakes made when writing release notes that caused them to be ineffective:

1. Too boring and/or vague

It’s no secret that release notes have a bad reputation of being too technical and boring, or on the side of the spectrum, there are also release notes that are too vague and don’t really tell the users much of anything (i.e., “security fixes and performance enhancements”)

It’s crucial for release notes to be specific and clear but at the same time easy to understand. Release notes should be written in a user-friendly language that can be understood by a broad audience. Optimize the release notes for readability: keep sentences short, use blank spaces, and use an optimal layout so users can easily read and comprehend the release note.

Test the release note on a focus group before publication if possible, and ask your team whether they would read and be engaged with the release note if it was sent to them.

2. Too long or too short

Most likely, you’ve experienced reading a release note that simply goes on and on forever and with a bad layout, so it’s a huge block of text that’s very difficult and uninteresting to read. Don’t make the same mistake.

Keep the release note short and to the point, but at the same time, it should be informative enough and not too short. 

3. Not making release notes a priority

Too many software companies treat release notes as an afterthought, or worse, abandon the idea of putting serious efforts into writing an engaging and informative release note. 

Yet without comprehensive release notes, your users may miss otherwise useful new features or important security updates, and you may miss the chance to delight your customer.

It’s crucial to have a clear plan in place regarding release notes and commit to making release notes part of your development and product release process. 
Commit to writing release notes for all changes implemented and any new product releases.

Best Practices: Writing the Perfect Release Note

So, how should we write and optimize a release note?

Here are some of the most important best practices to consider when writing a release note:

1. Make it user-centric

Remember that the purpose of the release note is to inform your users, so you should focus the release notes on the user rather than on the product or your company. 

Meaning, the better you understand your users: their behaviors, the problems they are facing, their needs, and so on, the more effective and engaging your release notes will be. 

Focus on catering to their needs when writing your release notes, which will help in keeping your notes easy to read, engaging, and informative at the same time. This way, the users are more likely to understand the changes you’ve implemented or the product you’ve just released, and they’ll be more engaged with your release notes. 

2. Communicate the intent of the changes

Not all users will read release notes (and some will just skim them or skip them altogether.) Yet, those who do are there for a reason: looking for information, so make sure your release notes are informative. 

Clearly communicate what’s been changed, and elaborate on how these changes may impact the user in various scenarios. 

The secret to a successful release note is the balance between being informative and attractive: you’ll need to provide enough detail, but at the same time, your release notes should remain engaging and don’t overwhelm the user with overly long and/or overly technical content. 

Keep it concise and to the point, but don’t oversimplify the information, or else you’ll risk the content being vague for the users. 

3. Use plain language

Aim to reach the broadest audience possible with your release notes and make sure it’s accessible to everyone. 

Use plain language and avoid using technical lingo whenever possible. Also, learn your audience’s demographic data and pay attention to geographical locations, languages, and potential cultural barriers.

Unless you absolutely need to be technical on your release notes, you should generally avoid any technical jargon that may confuse your average user. Instead, use straightforward words and phrases that are easily understandable.

4. Use visuals whenever possible

It’s no secret that people tend to pay more attention and comprehend better when texts are accompanied by visuals: photos, images, infographics, gifs, and even videos. 

Instead of using lengthy text to explain specific features in your release notes, consider including a well-designed infographic or gif to enhance the user experience. 

Yet, be careful not to include too many visual elements and make your release notes too cluttered.

5. Format and optimize the layout

Using a lengthy, monotonous block of texts in your release notes will easily bore your users. 

Instead, carefully format your release note and segment it by including subheaders, interactive drop-down menus, bullet points, and blank spaces. 

Don’t underestimate the power of an optimized layout. Simply breaking down your texts into different segments can significantly help in improving readability and user experience.

6. Don’t stuff the release notes with promotions

While it’s definitely okay to use your release notes as a tool to promote your brand and/or brand messages, do this sparingly. 

Too much branding or promotion may hurt your company’s credibility in the eyes of customers, so be very careful and do it strategically. Avoid promising things you can’t deliver, and be humble in your branding approach.

Wrapping Up

A well-written release note can be a very effective tool in converting prospective users, as well as in retaining existing users. So, don’t underestimate its importance. 

An effective release note should be about your customers/users and should cater to their needs and preferences. If you really put your users first, you’ll be able to write and publish the perfect release notes in no time.