In modern software development, release notes should be a staple aspect of both marketing and customer service for communicating changes/updates for a product or when launching a new software product.
Yet, many software development companies made the mistake of making release notes an afterthought and not realizing their importance. On the other hand, release notes will only be effective when they are well-written, which means an adequate amount of time and resources invested in writing them.
When not executed properly, a poorly written release note may be counterproductive and may confuse its reader instead.
With that being said, in this article, we will share actionable tips on how to perfectly design your release notes that are both engaging and informative.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What are release notes?
- The importance of release notes for both the company and your users
- Common mistakes to avoid when writing release notes
- Best practices and actionable tips on how to perfectly design your release notes
Let us begin this article from the basics: what is a release note?
What Are Release Notes?
A release note is a written document (online or printed) that is distributed to accompany the release of a new product or the introduction of changes (updates) to an existing software product.
In the case of a new product release, the release note functions as an official source of information covering the product’s technical information and other relevant details.
When accompanying a product change or update, the release note functions mainly to communicate these introduced changes and how these changes may impact the user’s overall experience and workflow when using the product.
Why Are Release Notes Important?
- Official source of information
A release note’s main role is to inform users (or other stakeholders to whom the release note was published) about any changes introduced to this product, acting as an official source of information.
This way, users will know exactly where to look for when they need any information about your product, especially when it comes to new features, bug fixes, and other changes.
- For audit trail purposes
Besides its informative function for users, a well-kept record of release notes will also play an important role in keeping a comprehensive audit trail of all the changes that have been implemented to the software product going back to when it was first launched. This record may be useful for various purposes (i.e., during legal disputes, when convincing potential investors, etc.) in the present and future.
- To establish credibility
Making a well-kept record of release notes available for users can help establish credibility by showing your users that you are committed to the software product’s continuous development. The trails of release notes will show your customers that the product is continuously being improved and that identified bugs are fixed.
If these bug fixes and new features introduced are made available as a result of you listening to customers’ suggestions or feedback, you can further improve your credibility as a truly caring and committed company.
Actionable Tips for Writing the Perfect Release Note
- Follow the perfect release note structure
In practice, release notes can come in many different shapes, lengths, and formats depending on the changes/releases they accompany and their purpose.
However, all proper release notes should include the following critical elements:
- Header: fairly obvious; all release notes should have a header section that includes the release note’s title, product name, and date of release. The header should clearly explain what the release note is about.
- Overview: this section should be a quick overview of what has been released or what changes have been introduced. This is arguably the most important section of the release note, since many readers will skim this section first before deciding whether they’ll read the rest of the note.
- Body: If the release note is published to accompany a product update, then this section should clearly communicate what has been updated. This section should communicate the problems solved by the bug fix and/or new features introduced in this update. A very important section to set the reader’s expectation about the updates/changes introduced by the release note (or new products being launched.)
- Impact: this section should elaborate on the potential impact of the newly introduced changes or updates on users. This section should not only cover potential user experience changes but also changes in various policies or configurations your users should know about.
2. Focus on communicating value to readers
A very important principle to uphold when writing the release note is that it should be about the user or stakeholder and not the company or the software product.
While you definitely can use the release notes for marketing and promotion purposes, do so sparingly, and focus on communicating value.
That is, rather than simply listing and explaining the new feature you’ve just introduced; it’s better to explain how this feature can benefit your users and how it may positively impact their workflows.
A useful technique here is to use “you” rather than “we” in your release notes to make things more personal and to keep the focus of the release notes on the reader rather than your brand.
3. Adapt to your average users’ technical knowledge
A good release note is one that caters to its user’s needs, preferences, and especially the users’ level of technical knowledge and preferred language.
If your software users are developers with a relatively high level of technical knowledge, then you can (doesn’t mean you should) get away with using technical terms and jargon in your release notes. At the very least, you can include technical terms and acronyms without needing to explain the technical terms.
Keep in mind that for this type of ‘advanced’ audience, release notes that are too basic and simple (i.e., without using industry-specific jargon) might be counterproductive and they may end up underestimating them.
However, if your target audience doesn’t have too much technical knowledge and experience, consider creating the release note in plain language. In such cases, you can use technical language when necessary, but make sure to describe the meaning of these technical terms and their relevance to the newly introduced change or changes.
Always strive to improve readability and clarity with each release note.
4. Mention users’ suggestions or reports in the release note
Quite often, product changes or updates are made as a result of users’ ideas, bug reports, or even complaints.
When that’s the case, you can mention (and, if possible, link) the user’s feedback or submission directly in the release note. For example, you can say, “Thanks to the user who reported this bug, which you can view here (link).”
By mentioning or linking the idea or feedback on the release note, you show users that you do listen to their feedback and that you value their ideas. This will encourage more users to leave their feedback and suggestions, which will be very valuable in regard to continuous improvements of your software product, and at the same time, can help improve overall user satisfaction.
5. Leverage images, infographics, and videos
Reading a big block of text is boring and tiring, and let’s face it, most people will avoid doing so.
Thus, if you need to say more in your release notes, include images, photos, infographics, or even videos to help you in doing so.
This will help your users to digest the information better, which in turn, can help improve engagement.
6. Consistency is key
You’d want to keep your release notes consistent both in terms of format/structure, design, and tone. Familiarizing your users with the same format can help improve the engagement rate. Not to mention, familiarity breeds credibility.
So, once you’ve created and published your first release note (at least the first good one,) make sure to keep the subsequent release notes consistent.
Also, keep your release note consistent with your brand’s design guidelines (font choice, font size, color palette, logo placement, etc.)
7. Include the release date and make it clear
When you’re just starting out with your release notes and just have a few of them, keeping track of each one might not be a big issue.
However, once you’ve got quite a lot of these release notes, users may have a hard time figuring out when each update/change has been implemented and whether a feature is still active at the moment.
Whenever possible, include a specific publication date for each release note so both users and your internal team can easily find out when a bug fix or a new feature actually rolls out.
8. Add tags for search-ability
Consider adding tags to your release notes so that it’s easier for users (and your team) to search for them (don’t forget to also add a search function on your website or platform for this purpose.)
Adding tags also makes it easier for the user to find out what each release note is going to cover (i.e., “new feature,” “bug fix,” etc.)
However, It’s best to keep things simple. Don’t use too many tags, or you may end up confusing your users instead. In most cases, 3-4 tags in total are sufficient.
Common Mistakes in Writing and Publishing Release Notes
Below are some of the most common (but dangerous) mistakes when writing and publishing release notes which can make them counterproductive despite their benefits:
1. Not optimal length
Release notes that are too long may bore users, and you can quickly lose engagement.
On the other hand, release notes that are too short may not contain enough information for them to be valuable.
Find the optimal length of your release notes and the right balance between being engaging and informative.
2. Making them an afterthought
Too many software development companies made the mistake of not making their release notes a priority in marketing their product, which is a huge waste of opportunity.
Not effectively utilizing your release notes may result in lower adoption of new features, increased churn, and lower overall user satisfaction.
3. Not well-written
Some companies make the mistake of publishing release notes that are too technical and boring, while on the other side of the spectrum, there are also those who make their release notes too vague without telling the users anything.
It’s very important for your release notes to be specific, clear, and comprehensible by your specific target audience.
Always strive to optimize your release notes for readability: keep paragraphs and sentences short, use blank spaces, and structure them well so users can easily consume the content.
Using ReleasePad to Create Your Perfect Release Notes
By using an advanced release note tool like ReleasePad, you can streamline and even automate many steps of developing and publishing release notes while minimizing friction and lengthy approval processes.
While there are many release note tools available in the market, with ReleasePad, you’ll get the following features and unique benefits:
1. Public changelog to view your release notes in one place
With ReleasePad, you can create and publish a custom public changelog page where your users can easily browse all the published release notes in a single place.
Not only can this improve your user’s overall experience in interacting with your product and your release notes, having this centralized public changelog can also assist your site’s SEO performance, which will ultimately translate into increased traffic and lead generation.
2. Intuitive interface and great release note UX
ReleasePad offers an intuitive interface, so it’s easy for you (or your team) to write and publish your release notes. You don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort on these release notes, so you can instead focus on improving your software product and growing the business.
On the other hand, ReleasePad also produces release notes with optimal UX, encouraging your users to consume and engage with the release notes.
3. Optimal branding and customization capabilities
ReleasePad offers easy-to-use but powerful customization capabilities, so you can easily create and publish release notes that fit your branding in just a few clicks.
By ensuring consistency in design, format, and tone, you can also use the release notes to build familiarity and credibility.
Release notes are now a critical part of the software development and marketing processes of any software development company, giving way for software developers and product teams to effectively engage and keep in touch with users without disrupting the user experience.
By regularly updating the users about what’s been released, you can maximize the adoption and utilization of newly introduced features while also communicating the fact that you are committed to continuously improving the software product.
In the long run, regular publication of release notes can minimize churn from users who were waiting for new features or bug fixes.