Release Notes Style Guide: How to Get Started

Many companies struggle with release notes. Either they don’t see them as necessary and treat them as an after-thought or overthink the process entirely and get into far too much detail. Release notes don’t have to be a pain to write, but they should be treated as an essential part of your marketing process.

If you are a company that is struggling with release notes, it may be time to consider developing a style guide. Style guides are essentially roadmaps that effectively translate the expectations of what should be included in a release note and how it should be presented.

By creating a style guide, you can more easily translate to your release note writer(s) the expectations and help them standardize their approach to make the entire process come together faster and less complicated. 

What to Include in Release Notes 

Many companies struggle with what to include in their release notes. While some keep it simple, others want to add more detail. Typically, a release note may contain items such as:

  • A Header (document name, product name, release number, date)
  • An Overview (a short description of the product, feature, update, or fix)
  • The Purpose (what is in the new release)
  • The Issue (a description of the bug/feature)
  • A Resolution (modifications made to fix/add a new feature)
  • The Desired Impact (actions needed by a user or the effect of the changes and any functionality adjustments)
  • The Support Impact (changes that are required to administer the software)
  • Any Disclaimers 
  • Contact Details (typically an email to handle support requests)

What to Avoid in Release Notes

While it is essential to make your notes accurate, clear, and concise (and make sure your content is user-focused with enough context to help a user understand the value of the release note itself), you want a few pitfalls to avoid as a writer.

For example, it’s essential not to fall into formal language or language that is too technical or too casual. Using jargon or technical language will ensure your audience will get lost and may not understand the Purpose of the release note itself. It’s crucial to keep release notes at a relatively high level without getting into too much complexity.

That said, if you do feel a portion of your audience would enjoy getting into the weeds of the release minutiae, you can always link out to more technical details in a dedicated section of your site. That way, your release notes stay concise, and you are still able to offer deeper insights to those interested in learning more.

How to Write a Release Note Style Guide

Focus on Tone and Language

If you are a company that already has a style guide in your marketing arsenal, you may already be partway to building out a release note style guide. Style guides, in general, will give writers the parameters of the style and tone they should be using, and these elements can be translated to release notes themselves. 

Otherwise, take a moment to consider how your company communicates with its audience. Is it casual and friendly? Or more professional and buttoned-down? Is the language punchy and quick, or more descriptive? Use these cues to dictate how much detail your release notes should contain.

Consider How Release Notes Will Be Used

Does your company plan on using release notes as an extra marketing touchpoint? Or perhaps your company plans to turn the content in the release notes into blogs. Depending on how you use your release notes, the length and detail may also change. For example, blog-like release notes will be longer than pop-ups for in-app updates. They also allow you to punch up your SEO. If your company is going to use release notes as blogs, make sure the release note writer has a sense of SEO keywords to integrate them seamlessly into the copy. It may be something essential to add to your style guide as well.

Find Your Inspiration

Many great companies are already writing pretty special release notes. If you don’t think you know quite how to make a release note effectively, seek out a few of your favorite companies and see how they navigate the art. For example, these companies, while stylistically diverse, have done a great job of standardizing and releasing notes:

Take inspiration from a few companies and use the elements you like best to dictate how to effectively create your own unique style.

Template Your Notes

In your style guide, make sure to include a formula for how the release notes should be written. You can start with a title and date and then decide the maximum amount of bullets/characters/words if you are working with limited space or working to keep things concise.

Continue to make formulas your release note writers can follow. For example, you might want to start your release note with an introductory sentence and then offer bullets that break down the changes. Or, you can divide your release notes into sections (updates, bugs, new features, etc.) if your company typically fixes multiple issues in one release.

Decide on Who Writes Release Notes

Once you’ve standardized the process, it’s time to assign a person/team to the dedicated task of writing. Remember that release notes are customer-facing and should be treated as marketing material. That means the job for writing these notes should be moved away from developers or engineers. Instead, put them into the hands of your marketing team. While developers can write briefs on updates and fixes, it really should be the marketing team that polishes the language and makes it presentable for your customers.

It’s best, of course, to have whoever is in charge of the notes to check back in with your development team to make sure they have sign-off. That way, everyone gets a chance to make some great content for your audience while ensuring you don’t make the mistake of misrepresenting an update or change.

Use Your Notes as a Marketing Tool

If you begin to think of your release notes as a marketing tool, you should consider where you can deploy your updates. While many companies have a dedicated web page or have them visible in their app store, consider adding release notes to:

  • Newsletters
  • Social media
  • Facebook groups
  • Emails
  • In-app pop-ups
  • Etc.

Want to find ways to make your Jira usage as seamless and stress-free as your release notes? Find out more about our apps and add-ons here.

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