What is API Documentation & Why Does It Matter?

By The Good Words Team
August 3, 2022

APIs allow businesses to grow and innovate as quickly as possible, and as a result, APIs are now more popular than ever before, with over 90% of developers using them (Source: Nordic APIs). API documentation is key for helping your own developers succeed and accelerating the adoption of your API. 

By API documentation, we’re referring to any and all technical content that documents the API. This can include:

  • Instructions on how to effectively use the API
  • Reference documentation for your API objects and calls
  • How to integrate the API with other apps, programs, websites, etc.
  • Updates on the API’s lifecycle (new versions, retirement, etc.)

We’ve found that one reason companies don’t pursue API documentation is because they’re unsure whether to do it internally or outsource it. Below, we’ll explore the pros and cons of both of those options. But first, let’s get clear on why API is so important for your company and for the development process. 

Why API Documentation is Important for Your Company (and Your Developers)  

API documentation is the primary resource for explaining what is possible with your API and how to get started using it. When APIs are well defined and documented, internal and external developers can use the API without burdening support resources. 

While developers could technically use an API without documentation, doing so will almost always require more time, energy, and bandwidth on their part in order to understand and integrate everything properly. Bear in mind that developers already spend 30% of their time coding APIs (Source: Nordic APIs). The more of their time you free up with better API documentation, the more time they can spend on actually using them effectively to grow your business.

Documenting how to effectively use and integrate your API also improves the experience for everyone using your APIs, not just your own developers. In this way, API documentation is also one of the best ways to accelerate API adoption among your customers and external developers. Consumers are more likely to promote your API to other developers (and increase your growth and network effect) if everything is well documented and defined. 

In short: API documentation helps developers be successful with your products, so it’s critical to the product development process and to your company’s success overall. 

Should You Do Your API Documentation Internally?

So what’s the best way to go about documenting your API? Many companies  attempt to rely on their own developers to write the documentation, but this is often not the best choice. Simply put, your developers are developers, not technical writers:They are trained to write code, not documentation. 

Furthermore, your developers probably have enough on their plate from, well, developing your projects and products. Do you really want them to put development on the backburner to write documentation when it’s not their core skill or competency? Doing so can cost you over the long haul, and result in both development work and documentation that aren’t as effective as they could be. 

Should You Outsource Your API Documentation?

Given the hurdles mentioned above, outsourcing your API documentation is usually the better choice for most companies. This allows your developers to focus on what they do best, and  you can relax knowing that your documentation is being handled by experts. 

We recommend engaging an agency that specialized in API documentation. You should look for a partner that has experience documenting APIs, creating any necessary trainings and tutorials, and more. If you have questions about API documentation or need guidance with projects, reach out to us today.