Everybody who deals with authoring release notes finds them tedious, boring, and out of context. You often see people literally running away from them.
I deal with release notes on a weekly basis. (Not to mention that I actually work at AnnounceKit.) I've discovered techniques on how to make the whole process more bearable and effective. Because release notes are about communicating what has changed. And either you like or not, it is an important point of interaction with users. Also it has its benefits like building trust and credibly of your brand.
What are Release Notes?
Release notes is a document in a bulleted form that comes alongside a software release to tell users what has changed. Although there isn't any universal format, typical release notes include information about bug fixes, new features, and sometimes know issues. Basically, release notes can be boring technical document nobody like to read and write.
After any release, a company prepares a launch plan and release notes are usually given the lowest priority. So, when you ask anybody in the industry about release notes you hear a very long UGGGGHHHH.
And sometimes Release Notes aren't real and honest. Who would write:
"Finally developed a feature that you requested 7 years ago". or "Our app no longer behaves the opposite of what you've expected".
Where is the Release notes problem?
3 main problems typically associated with release notes are management, broken communication, and a distribution channel.
The biggest problem I face is broken communication within the team. Even in small companies, the technical team finds it difficult to explain what was changed. Often they fix something, and a few weeks later even forget what was done in this month. Or sometimes they do remember, but when they explain it to me... I simply don't understand. :)
Well, and leaving release notes task to dev team is a mistake as well. They tend to write very technical release notes, for people with Ph.D. in computer science.
Believe me, readers don't care how something was fixed, they only care about the final result. How can they benefit from the update?
Release Notes templates
Taking aside the topic of humor in release notes for later, the majority of release notes information can be templated into an understandable form. So, the next time when a developer sends you notes about a fixed bug or a new feature, you will both save time.
So, instead of receiving a comment from a developer that doesn't make any sense. You'll have a deeper understanding of what has changed and how to better communicate it to the end-users.
So, here we come to my personal list of tips and tricks I use to make great release notes!
1. You can now
Don't start with "We've done this". Users don't care what YOU did, they care only what THEY receive from what you've done.
You can now [perform this action]. This is one of the most effective ways to explain a new feature or update.
2. User-focused release note
Use "YOU" more often. It is a copywriting trick that instantly transforms the way the textual information is perceived. They will be unconsciously more likely to read the text when they see "you".
3. Follow simple release notes templates
Create those templates and ask you, developers, to write you notes in this format only. This way you'll avoid misunderstanding and you will exactly know what was changed and how it works, and what goals it tries to accomplish. These 4 templates alone cover 90% of all release notes.
1. Previously X is now Y
2. You can now do X instead of Y
3. X no longer does X, Y when Z, Q, W.
4. X no longer does Y. This means you no longer need to do Z.
4. Avoid being too formal
Of course, it depends on your company's branding. However, formal writing is usually long and not straight to the point. So it makes it harder for readers to scan the text.
5. Expand then simplify
Good release note is short and concise. However, to get there expand the text, make sure that it reflects everything a new feature, a bug fix is all about. Also, a lot of release notes writing is taking a big amount of information and squeezing it into short paragraphs. Make sure that each release notes is not taken out of context.
Let's look at the best Release notes examples. 3 companies with great Release Notes pages and how can you learn from them?
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Salesforce Release Notes Examples
Salesforce is a CRM platform with many products under their umbrella. So keeping customers updated about new features and product changes is hell for technical writers, product managers, and developers.
I assume the company prepares release notes quarterly and is called "Salesforce Summer ’19 Release Notes", which is a very comprehensive release notes page with its categories and subcategories.
Salesforce release notes is a blend of regular release notes as well as product map. It is a detailed explanation of how each feature is going to work, and specifically to which users they are going to be available.
The obvious benefit of such comprehensive release notes pages is taking work from support departments' shoulders. For example, if they receive a customer question related to a specific topic. They easily can redirect them to the page, where users can find the answer.
Key pro tips to take out:
1. How to use the Release Notes section
2. Detailed, visually understandable tables with a product roadmap
3. Filter section
4. Generalized explanation, generalized explanation and then followed by a detailed description of how a new feature works.
Salesforce also follows release notes templates.
Step 1: Explain what the new feature is all about.
You no longer have to switch to Salesforce Classic to manage territory assignments on the Account page. You can now edit the Assigned Territories related list in Lightning Experience. Previously, the related list was read-only in Lightning Experience.
You no longer have to [do X action] to perform [Y action]. You can now do [Z action]. Previously you were able to do only [Q action].
Step 2: Explain how to enable or access the feature
Where: This change applies to Lightning Experience in Performance and Developer editions and Enterprise and Unlimited editions with the Sales Cloud.
Step 3: Explain how to use the feature
How: If your Account page layout includes the Assigned Territories related list, no setup is required. Click Assign Territories and assign to manage assignments.
Sketch Release Notes Examples
If your product is not that complicated and is not a platform with a big umbrella of sub tools, check out Sketch company.
The layout is interesting. At the right side, you have a detailed description of all new features and bug fixes and on the left side, there are main big features descriptions. And CTA.
Smart Distribute Upgrades
You can now use Smart Distribute to control the spacing in grids. You can easily adjust the vertical spacing between rows of layers, as well as the horizontal spacing between each layer in a row. We’ve also introduced a new ‘Tidy’ button to the Inspector. It quickly aligns a selection of multiple layers into a neat grid, making it even easier to create and manage complex layouts.
Again, we see a simple template:
You can now do [X action]. You can easily do [Y action]. We've also introduced a new [Z feature]. [Description of what the Z feature helps users to achieve.]
We’ve added a new Select All in Artboard command to the Edit menu so you can quickly grab all of the layers on any Artboard you’ve selected. We’ve also given the different Select All commands their sub-menu.
- We added [X feature], so you can now do [Y action].
- Fixed a crash that could occur when you try and drag-to-select with the Magic Wand tool.
- Fixed a bug where the correct type weight wouldn’t appear for fonts with the same name.
- Fixed a bug in the Pages and Layer Lists where selections wouldn’t highlight correctly when connected to an external display.
So, coming back to user-oriented release notes, we need to understand that we are writing our release notes for our target audience. Salesforce writes their releases for people without technical backgrounds, for sales departments and marketers, entrepreneurs, founders, etc.
The sketch is used by graphic designers and artists. Thus both Salesforce and Sketch use generic tone, very user-friendly, oriented for real people.
Getpostman Release Notes Examples
If your product is technical and your users are developers, then the opposite is a rule of thumb. The shorter, more technical, not visually appealing is better.
For example, Getpostman is a technical product for developers.
Release Notes can be quickly scanned through to have a generic idea of what's new. And it follows a very simplistic format.
Update number, date, and information in one sentence about each update without details about what it means for a user, how to use it or how to access it.
The simpler the better. They'll understand.
Humor in Release Notes
We've already talked about in-app release notes examples that are hilarious and entertaining to read. However, the tone of voice is not suitable for the majority of tech companies. And they need a style guide for Release Notes. Moreover, not every software product has a mobile version and the majority of companies publish their release notes on a separate page somewhere under support or help section. (Companies strategically bury their release notes and then complain about why nobody reads them.)
There are many smart ways to announce product updates. For example, writing a great email to introduce product updates or create a separate blog post.
👉 Related article: The best and the worst app Release Notes that will inspire you
AnnounceKit helps companies to keep their release notes pages organized and engaging. We believe that release notes are important points of interaction and can indeed build your brand credibility.
When users see your company progressing and improving, they are less likely to seek out other alternatives.
It works simply by combining small, flashing widget with a typical release notes page. Widget thus captures people's attention and your hard work is being recognized and appreciated. Our clients love AnnounceKit because they finally receive the praise they deserve and it makes release notes process a ton easier.
You publish release notes like a blog. Easy peasy.
Like in anything in life, by bringing structure and organization as well as modern technologies we create an easier solution, that is not that boring and unnecessary.
Hopefully our release notes templates and examples helped you. Have a great day!