Release notes are documents that are released alongside a new product launch or update, which concisely describe the new product or any changes made to it.
Every product launch, patch, or update should come with documentation providing users with a brief description of what they’re getting. It could be a short outline of a new product’s features or a list of changes made to a product. This end-user documentation requirement is typically fulfilled by release notes.
In this article, we explore the components of release notes, describe the best practices for creating them and provide a template for writing them.
Table of contents
- What Are Release Notes?
- The Importance of Release Notes
- Best Practices for Writing Release Notes
- Template: How to Write Release Notes
- A Powerful Tool When Used Correctly
What Are Release Notes?
Release notes are a type of technical documentation. They either describe a new product or explain the changes made with a product update. Changes may include new features added, old features updated, or bugs fixed.
Release notes keep your user base informed about new developments. As such, they should always accompany a new launch or release. However, while they provide relevant information regarding the product or the current update, they are not a substitute for a user guide or similar in-depth documentation.
Other names for release notes include ‘changelog’, ‘app updates’, and ‘patch note’, to name a few.
The Importance of Release Notes
Release notes are one of the ways by which your business directly communicates with your users. These characteristics give them unique importance that you can leverage in many ways.
1. They Promote Transparency
The primary purpose of this changelog is to inform customers of new developments in the products they’re invested in. By maintaining regular and accurate patch notes with every patch and product, you promote a transparent relationship between you and your users.
This transparency also makes them the perfect avenue for informing users of new features that you want them to try.
2. They Drive Engagement and Loyalty
Release notes can show users that you value their input and continuously respond to feedback. One way to do this is to acknowledge issues and illustrate how you’ve addressed them. By making your users feel important, like they’re participating in the improvement of the product, you keep them engaged with and loyal to your brand.
3. You Can Use Them to Bolster Marketing Efforts
Whenever you’re launching a huge new feature, you can work with your marketing team to craft attractive release notes to go with it. You can then distribute them over your marketing channels to attract new customers with your big update.
Best Practices for Writing Release Notes
There are no industry standards when it comes to writing release notes. You’ll have to decide on your own how to write them, based on your values and the specific product. However, there are some best practices you can follow to ensure their effectiveness.
1. Employ User-Friendly Language
Many companies rush their patch notes and basically crib off developer notes and feedback to make them. The trouble here is that they end up filled with technical terms that users wouldn’t understand. This greatly reduces the value of the notes.
The key here is to craft them with a layperson in mind. You want to make them short, sweet, and stripped of any jargon. This makes them more accessible to users.
2. Make Them Short and Relevant to Users
Release notes shouldn’t be a full, hyper-detailed list of everything that’s new. Rather, keep them short, and only include what would be of value to your users. For example:
- Changes to the user interface
- New features
- Improvements to existing features
- Bug fixes
3. Provide Links to More Information
While most people turn to release notes for a high-level overview of a new product or update, some users may want to know more. Offer links to video tutorials, guides, in-depth articles, and other more detailed content. Your more technically-minded users will appreciate this.
4. Ensure That They’re Distributed Effectively
Product marketing is often an omnichannel affair. Similarly, your release notes need to be distributed across every channel where your users interact with your product and brand.
Some means of distribution include:
- Email newsletters: You can include them in your regular newsletters to all of your customers. This can encourage them to check out a new product or look back at a recently-updated one.
- Content marketing: Release notes can accompany explainer videos, articles, and blog posts to reach a wide audience.
- In-app notifications: Leverage your app’s notifications to inform users about updates and invite them to read more.
- App store descriptions: Adding short versions of your release notes to your app store descriptions can help entice new users to check out your app’s features.
Template: How to Write Release Notes
While again, there are no industry standards for release notes, most of them have certain elements present:
- Header: They start with a header that may include product name, version number, and release date.
- Overview: A quick overview of the new product, or changes to the existing product. Pay special attention to new features in this section.
- Issue Summary and Resolution: This can be divided into fixes and known issues. For each fix, describe the previously buggy or broken state, and how the issue was resolved. For known issues, describe the bug or issue, and how to reproduce it.
- Impacts: How users are affected by the issues or new features described in the notes.
Make sure that your notes are well-organized. Users tend to skim release notes and only pay attention to what catches their eye. Try to direct their attention to more important issues with images, or by listing down the “highlights” of the current release in a section up top.
A Powerful Tool When Used Correctly
Many companies neglect their release notes, not knowing how important they are in informing and engaging their customers. Follow these best practices and the template, and you’ll be able to harness the benefits of a well-crafted changelog, making positive impacts on your users and ensuring that they’re happy with your work.