For modern software companies, release notes are important as a form of communication bridging the developer company with the users. Release notes, when properly written and managed, can also act as a powerful marketing tool to improve user engagement and satisfaction, which can ultimately help in reducing churn.
Yet, release notes are only effective when they properly cater to their target readers’ needs and preferences. This is why choosing who writes the release note according to whom they are written for is very important.
In this article, we will especially discuss which role in your company is the most effective in writing the release notes, but we’ll also cover actionable tips on how to use your release notes to boost engagement. This article will cover:
- The importance and benefits of release notes
- What to consider when writing release notes
- Different roles that can best write your release notes; pros and cons of each
Without further ado, let us begin this article right away.
Why write and publish release notes?
Release notes are published with one main goal: keeping your stakeholders informed about a product release. As we know, there are both internal and external stakeholders:
- Internal stakeholders: development team, QA (Quality Assurance), customer service agents, managers, marketing/sales team, etc.
- External stakeholders: customers or clients, partners, sponsors, affiliate partners, etc.
Software releases—both in the form of new product releases and updates/changes.—are becoming more frequent and agile than ever.
Thus, without well-documented release notes in place, it can be increasingly challenging for stakeholders to keep themselves informed of all these changes.
With that being said, publishing release notes can offer the following benefits;
- Demonstrating to users (customers) that your product is regularly updated and growing, showing your commitment to your product’s development to minimize churn.
- Show users that you are listening to their feedback and that you’re fixing bugs and adding requested features.
- For your internal team, release note documentation can help keep track of key metrics of the software product, such as build time, performance test results, build failures, and so on. These metrics can provide crucial information for properly improving the product.
- As the software becomes more developed with more updates and changes, release notes become a central hub of audit trails and documentation.
- Keeping your internal stakeholders—especially those with technical roles—in the loop on how recent changes may affect their workflow.
How should you write release notes?
A key point of consideration when writing release notes is deciding the structure of the release notes and what should be included in them.
The thing is, release notes should be unique according to the release/update/change/fix they are communicating, so there isn’t any catch-all template that will fit all types of release notes.
However, some of the common elements that often appear in proper release notes:
- Title, number, and version identifiers
- Instructions and guidelines (i.e., installation instructions for a new feature introduced in the release. Not a mandatory section; decide whether it’s applicable or not.)
- Advice for the QA team (for internal release notes)
- Featured changes/updates. If there are more than one changes in the release note, use this section to highlight the main item or items.
- New feature section. You can give users/internal stakeholders the chance to vote for new features. In such cases, you can include the number of current votes in this section.
- Improvements. Elaborate on improved features or any impacted features.
- Bug fixes. If this update involves any bug fixes, elaborate what has been fixed, its severity, and priority of future fixes.
- Known issues. Issues that haven’t been fixed and the priority of future fixes.
- Screenshots. (If applicable).
- Attachments. Documentation links, etc.
- Next release date. Give a tentative release date when applicable, and brief details around what to expect in the next release notes.
Key considerations when deciding who should write release notes
When writing release notes, and especially deciding who should write a specific release note, you should always remember the objective that the release note should be informative and engaging for its target audience.
Therefore, we should consider:
- The target audience’s profile
The best release note is one that caters to its target audience: the better you know and understand who your target audience is, the better you can write your release notes.
You should definitely use your knowledge of your target reader’s needs and preferences in choosing which role is the most appropriate to write this specific release note.
For example, if your product is more geared towards the younger audience and your software product is branded as a “fun” product, then you might not want your release notes to be too technical. In this case, probably having a content writer or a marketer write the release note will be a better approach than your developer.
On the other hand, if your product is geared towards other developers or people in the IT department with technical experience, you wouldn’t want your release notes to be too shallow in technical information, and in this case, you’ll be better off having a developer or technical writer to write the release note.
In short, the better you understand your target audience’s needs and preferences, the better you can choose the ideal writer for your release notes.
2. The importance of the update/change introduced by the release note
Software development is dynamic, and the release note may be used to communicate different types of changes or updates to the users: bug fixes, small security policy updates, new but small features, major new features, compromised security, and so on.
When writing a release note for a major feature introduction or change, for example, you’d want it to be more technical and in-depth, so consider having a professional technical writer for writing the release note.
On the other hand, if you need the release note to communicate something more “human,” like an apology due to a security compromise (i.e., data breach,) you may need a marketer to write the release note instead.
3. The type of information required
For example, will you need infographics or video content to make your point across?
In such cases, you may need to involve a graphic designer or videographer to help write the release note.
Above anything else, when choosing whom to write the release note, we should always consider the objective of the release note itself: communicating information while engaging its target reader.
Knowing your options: different roles that can write your release notes
Choosing who should write your release notes is mainly about ensuring the right voice is speaking to the right audience, and within your team, you may have several different options:
- Software development team
If you need your release notes to be technical and/or if the target reader is mainly of technical roles, then your own dev team will be the ideal role to communicate the technical aspect of the new updates/changes introduced by the release note.
Your experienced developer is likely to have better knowledge regarding how users (especially more technical users) are going to use different elements/features of the software product and any technical concerns they may have.
Of course, not all developers are good writers, and in this case, you can have your developer/coder pair up with a content writer to help polish their writing and get their point across.
2. Product manager
If your team has a dedicated product manager (or project manager), then they can also be an ideal role to write the release note in some scenarios.
The product manager is an especially ideal role when it comes to communicating strategic or tactical changes since they are typically the most knowledgeable when it comes to product strategy and development roadmap. They should understand exactly how each change would impact the whole development process and can expect how users would react to each change.
Your product manager is also typically the most ideal role for writing internal release notes. Internal release notes can be effective in communicating what changes are coming to the product, so your team members and internal stakeholders can know exactly the coming changes in the next versions of your product and the milestones they’ll need to achieve.
For such release notes, the product manager can help in providing a clear roadmap for the whole product team.
3. Marketing and sales team
Your marketing and sales teams should be the ones with the best knowledge and familiarity about your target reader. Thus, they are often an ideal role for communicating the value and benefits the users would get from the new changes and updates introduced by the release note.
Your marketer or salesperson can approach the release note with their product marketing focus and can enhance the engagement aspect of the release notes by communicating the value and impact of the release notes in a simple and easy-to-digest way.
Especially if the release note doesn’t need to be too technical or if the target reader is not of a technical role, then having your marketing or sales team write your release notes can be effective.
On the other hand, this approach allows you to use your release note as a part of your product’s marketing, so they can help your marketing and sales teams in achieving their objectives.
4. Quality Assurance (QA)
Quality Assurance (QA) is a role that is responsible for guaranteeing the quality of the software product, and similar to the marketer or salesperson, having your QA write the release note can be effective in communicating the product’s value to readers.
With the QA’s day-to-day work involving inspections and enforcement of quality standards, they should be familiar with current and past issues that affect the software’s overall experience. Meaning they should be able to effectively elaborate on any improvements in quality and experience when writing their release notes.
QAs are especially great when writing release notes involving bug fixes and updates that significantly affect user experience.
5. Professional writer
Not every software development company has the luxury of hiring a professional technical/content writer on their time. However, as your company grows, you will need to have this role in your team (or at least outsource it) sooner or later.
Yet, for a relatively complex/technical software product, you may want to consider having an in-house writer from the start, not only for facilitating the release notes but also to help create proper documentation (i.e., user’s manual, API details, guidelines, legal documents, etc.) related to your product.
If your product requires heavier documentation and/or if you know there will be frequent updates or changes to the product or frequent changes in different business areas, then consider having a professional writer on your team as early as possible.
Writing release notes: considerations and best practices
As we can see, different roles can offer different values to readers when it comes to writing release notes.
Also, keep in mind that collaboration between different roles can be an option. Especially if the release note is directed at multiple types of target audiences.
With that being said, here are some important best practices to consider when writing release notes, especially when collaboration between roles is a necessity:
- Proactively educate your team members and internal stakeholders about the importance of release notes:
- Especially focus on informing them on how properly written release notes can offer so many benefits, including easing their future work and helping them achieve their objectives
- Clearly assign responsibilities to different roles during collaboration
- Properly document the release notes creation process to maintain transparency and accountability
- Start the release note creation process as early as possible rather than asking the writer at the last minute to finish the release notes
- Create multiple templates for different release note types and different audiences to help the creation process to be faster and more efficient
Writing great release notes with ReleasePad
ReleasePad offers an easy-to-use, cost-effective, and engaging way to write and publish your release notes.
ReleasePad’s core feature is the in-product changelog widget that helps you keep your users updated every time they use your software or platform. ReleasePad sits within your software or app that will pop up without disrupting your UI and UX, maximizing user engagement.
With ReleasePad, you can publish all kinds of release notes to communicate anything: new features, bug fixes, updates, new content, tips for users, and anything to engage your users.