Lost in the Desert: How Blockchain Projects Can Create Oases of Quality Documentation

A pervasive issue across many blockchain codebases, tools, and infrastructure projects is sparse, outdated, or completely absent documentation. In the rush to launch MVPs and iterate on rapidly evolving technologies, thorough documentation often falls by the wayside. This leaves developers out in the desert, forced to piece together tribal knowledge from forums, GitHub issues, and guessing.

Without robust documentation, it is incredibly difficult for developers to fully leverage the potential of blockchain projects. Lack of docs also deters new developers from building on platforms for fear they will get stuck. Unfortunately, documentation is seen as extra overhead rather than an integral part of the developer experience.

For blockchain to progress meaningfully, projects must make documentation a priority. No developer should feel lost in a desert devoid of explainers, guides, and API references. Here are some ways projects can create beautiful oases of quality documentation:

Allocate Docs in Project Plans

Treating documentation as an afterthought leads to neglect. Projects should explicitly include documentation in product roadmaps and sprints right alongside features. Allocating real resources and staffing ensures it gets done. Teams like Read the Docs can provide documentation expertise.

Incentivize Community Contributions

Open source projects can crowdsource documentation from their communities. Offering bounties for writing and updating docs engages contributors. Hackathons dedicated to documentation bring fresh perspectives. Promoting contributors as co-authors incentivizes ongoing maintenance.

Keep Docs Front-and-Center

Doc links should have prime real estate in GitHub repos, websites, and other properties. Burying documentation renders it invisible. Prominent positioning conveys importance and facilitates discovery. Usability testing also ensures intuitive architecture.

Establish Documentation Standards

Consistency and quality result from clear templates and standards. Reusing elements like sidebars for common content types eliminates duplication across docs. Concise writing, ample diagrams, and code snippets make concepts graspable for developers with different learning styles.

Integrate Docs Into Code Repos

Docs located externally from code often fall out of date. Projects should integrate documentation directly into code repos via README files, wikis, and tools like GitBook. This positioning makes updating docs part of pull requests to improve accuracy.

Make Examples Actionable

Nothing builds understanding better than running live code. Projects should provide sandbox environments tied to examples and tutorials where developers can tinker with working implementations right from the docs. This interactivity sticks.

Solicit Developer Feedback

The people actually using the docs are the best judge of their effectiveness. Projects should conduct surveys, interviews, and user tests that guide improvements. Simply asking developers what challenges they face can reveal blindspots needing better explanation.

Highlight Doc Contributions

Strong documentation is a tremendous contribution worthy of recognition. Projects should highlight major doc authors and contributors in communications, just as they would persons who contribute code. This inspires others to participate and cultivates pride.

Automate Where Possible

Maintaining expansive docs is challenging. Where feasible, projects should generate API docs directly from type definitions, comments, and docstrings. Automation frees contributors to focus on high-value explanatory guides over rote references.

Make Mobile-Friendly

Developers frequently refer to docs on the go from mobile devices. Optimizing for mobile with responsive design, expandable sections, and downloadable PDFs enables documentation to travel with developers wherever they may code.

Creating outstanding documentation certainly requires effort upfront. But excellent docs pay back that investment many times over in developer productivity, platform growth, and new user retention. Making documentation a first-class citizen sets blockchain projects up for understanding, adoption and impact. By turning documentation deserts into oases, we can quench developers’ thirst for knowledge and help blockchain flourish.