Documentation types describe the types of documents that are used for products, software products and web applications. They can be targeted to external as users, visitors or system administrators – or internal. The can be process oriented or information oriented. Good documentation is short, precise, up to date

The content of the various documentation types are created by technical writer and other stakeholders as e.g. the product manager. The process of generation the different documentation types is called “technical writing”.

Types of documentation

Software and user-centered products typically need documentation to describe the functionality. There are different types of documents and help. Most of them are for the external world as a user guide, knowledge base or an operations manual. The documentation types can also describe process documentation and workflows.

Specific product documentation software can be used to manage the documentation and documents.

Types of Documentation
Types of Documentation

Product Documentation

The Product Documentation contains all information of a specific product. It could be software documentation if the product is a software application or e.g. an online-based SaaS product.

User Manual

A user manual, user documentation or user guide assists the user using the product, service or application. It is more generic and provides an overview. Also additional elements as a troubleshooting section and FAQ could be part of it.

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base contains various information. The data is structured and can be read by the user. If the user base is international or speaks different languages, a multilingual knowledge base should be used.

Release Notes

Release Notes contain information about a new software or product release. Other words and synonyms are Changelog or Revision history. A Release Note is published by the software or product vendor when a new release or version is brought to the user. It contains new features, corrections or other changes made to this specific version. Read more about release notes

Operating Manual

An operating manual contains all necessary information and tasks to operate and manage a product or object. For software products, the operating manual is mostly relevant for IT operations to install, integrate, manage and upgrade the product.

Installation Guide

The Installation Guide is a specific documentation for the IT or operations department. It describes how a specific product or software application needs to be installed. Also pre-requisites, system requirements, configuration options and maintenance can be included. It can be part of the operating manual or handled as a separate document.

Onboarding Guide

The Onboarding Guide describes specific steps how to use the software or product. It is targeted to the user. It contains screenshots, images or specific actions. At the end, the customer knows the main features and can use the product.


A tutorial describes in detail how a specific operation or task is performed. Similar to the onboarding guide, it is very specific. At the end of the tutorial, the user fully understands the feature and can use it.

Product Features

The product feature documentation present the main features and modules. It is a high level documentation introducing concepts. It links or refers to specific documentation as tutorials or explanations.

Troubleshooting guide

For specific problems or “features” of a product, software or web application, a troubleshooting guide with troubleshooting articles can be used.

How-to guide

Step by step guidance of the user to reach a specific goal or solve a problem with a how to article.


An explanation document describes a specific topic in detail. It contains background information, context and discussion of concepts. It is a theoretical document to educate the user.


A glossary lists the specific terms and describes it in a user-friendly language. It can be used for complex, domain-specific products and software applications.

Reference documentation

A reference document lists very specific information and links of a specific topic. It is information oriented.


FAQ or frequently asked questions holds the typical questions of a user or operator. This includes onboarding related issues, typical use cases but also problems and pitfalls.

Internal documentation

The internal documentation holds all docs and information that are related to the product (or company) and only meant for internal use by different stakeholders. They are created during the company or product lifecycle and help the employees. It also includes Technical Documentation that contains all documents and material during the software product development phases.

Internal documentation include the following types

  • Internal Knowledge Base
  • Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) as e.g. employee handbook, sales / marketing playbook describe specific processes
  • Source code
  • Internal development documentation
  • API/SDK/Code documentation
  • Development Documentation
  • System Documentation
  • API Documentation
  • Requirements and Specification
  • Testing and QA documents as test plans, test runs and test cases

Various documentation tools and software products can be used to create, manage and hold the technical document and internal documentation types as e.g. Atlassian Jira or Microsoft Azure DevOps for development related tasks, and Atlassian Confluence to create and maintain internal documents and content of various documentation types.

Summary: use the matching documentation types for your user base

Various documentation types ranging from user documentation, process documentation, system documentation, software documentation and knowledge base can be used to provide helpful guidance to the user of a product.

Documentation tools can be helpful to create and manage the documents and content of the various documentation types for your software product or SaaS application.