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3 essentials in an API get-started guide

Developers may need to hook their application up to an API so that the app can get data from somewhere, or share data with another app, or request a service such as displaying a message to the user. The getting-started guide is one of the most important parts of an API documentation set. Often the developer can find their way around an API with just the getting-started guide and the reference documentation.

A getting-started guide for an API (Application Programming Interface) helps a developer get their application interacting with the API.

At a minimum, a getting-started guide tells developers how to:

  1. Download any tools required, such as an SDK (Software Development Kit) or a code library.
  2. Get any necessary authentication credentials for their app, such as an API key.
  3. Fire up a hello world app. This is a program that does very little. Typically, it prints “hello world” to a web page, a screen, or the developer console. The purpose of a hello world app is to make sure the developer has all the tools and configuration required before they can start developing.

Here are some examples of API getting-started guides:

Interestingly, if you examine API documentation on the Web, you’ll come across a few different types of guides called “getting-started guides” or “quick-start guides”. It’s an overloaded doc type. :) For example, some quick-start guides take the form of a tutorial, leading developers through a simple use case for the API. The resulting app is something more than a hello world app, and is useful for developers who need information about what the API does (typical use cases) as well as the authentication and setup steps.

Seattle workshop on API Technical Writing

Will you be in Seattle on Friday, October 23rd? Join me and the Puget Sound Chapter of the STC for a full-day workshop on API technical writing. It’s free, and there’s free food too. :) Join me and other Google tech writers in a day of API doc lectures and hands-on sessions.

Anyone interested in learning about API technical writing is welcome to attend – you don’t need to be a member of the STC.

Quick links: Register to attend, and learn more on the STC Puget Sound site.

What is API technical writing?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. Developers use APIs to make apps that communicate with other apps and software/hardware components. API technical writers create documentation and other content that helps developers hook their apps up to someone else’s API.

For a tech writer, it’s an exciting, challenging and rewarding field. I love it!

This workshop gives you hands-on experience with APIs and API documentation, insight into the demands of the role, and plenty of information for your own follow-up study.

Workshop details

Date: Friday, October 23rd, 2015
Time: 9am to 4pm – breakfast and setup are at 9am, for a start at 9:30 sharp
Instructor: Sarah Maddox  – that’s me ;)
Cost: None. The workshop is given free of charge.
Location: Google Offices, 601 N 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103. (Link on Google Maps.)

This is a practical course on API technical writing, consisting of lectures interspersed with hands-on sessions where you’ll apply what you’ve learned. The focus is on APIs themselves as well as on documentation, since we need to be able to understand and use a product before we can document it.

The workshop includes the following sessions:

  • Lecture: Introduction to APIs, including a demo of some REST and JavaScript APIs.
  • Hands-on: Play with a REST API.
  • Lecture: JavaScript essentials.
  • Hands-on: Play with a JavaScript API.
  • Lecture: The components of API documentation and other developer aids.
  • Hands-on: Generate reference documentation using Javadoc.
  • Lecture: Beyond Javadoc – other doc generation tools.
  • Lecture: Working with an engineering team

Preparation for the workshop

Please take a look at the prerequisites and setup to see what you need to install on your laptop before the workshop. Doing the recommended installations will save you a lot of time at the workshop so that you can avoid missing crucial bits when you’re there.

Meet Google tech writers

There’ll be some Google tech writers at the workshop, assisting with any difficulties during the hands-on sessions. I’m hoping a couple of them will present some of the lectures too.

Hope to see you there!

Here’s that signup link on Eventbrite. I hope to see you there!

Slide from lecture – working with an engineering team:

Working with an Engineering Team

Inspired by technical communication

What are the most inspiring, exciting areas of technical communication? I think this is a cool topic to explore. I’m hoping we have many different ideas and perspectives. Even better, I’m hoping that each of us thinks the area we’re personally working in is the most inspiring of all!

Why am I asking this question right now? Well, I do think it’s a very cool topic that will give us insight into the depth and breadth of our field. Also, I’m thinking of incorporating this topic into an upcoming presentation. If you’d like to add some thoughts via comments on this post, I’ll credit you with anything that I mention in the presentation.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll say that API technical writing is the best. :) It’s no secret that I love my role and talk about it non stop. Being so deeply immersed in APIs, I have the opportunity to play with them myself, build stuff with them, and show other people how they work. It’s a demanding, constantly challenging role – but that’s the way I like it.

It comes down to this:

APIs are the communication channel of the online world.
Developers need help hooking their apps up to someone else’s API.
Technical writers who can give that help are in a very good position.

Other inspiring or even revolutionary tech comm?

There are other areas of tech comm that seem equally appealing, at least from afar. How about documenting the software used by 3D animation specialists, or tools used by artists, or the games industry, or smart hardware, or the medical industry?

Perhaps there are tech writers working in areas that are revolutionary as well as inspiring. Here’s a challenge: top my description of API tech writing if you can. :)

An inspiring mushroom

I came across this Veiled Lady Mushroom while walking in the bush near Sydney, Australia:

Inspiring mushroom

Delete or remove?

What’s the difference between delete and remove? When should you use the word “delete” on a user interface or in a document, and when “remove”? Here’s an explanation that makes sense to me.

Use “delete” when you’re getting rid of the thing entirely – when it’s disappearing from the data store. Use “remove” when you’re subtracting it from a group or a list, but it remains available in the data store.

An example is the model of users and groups. Let’s say the user arthurdent belongs to two groups: spacers and earthlings. When Arthur no longer lives on planet Earth, you would remove arthurdent from the earthlings group. But if Arthur has departed the universe without leaving so much as a towel behind, you would delete the username arthurdent.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you have a number of credit card charges, which you’re adding to two expense reports. By mistake, you’ve added one of the charges to Expense Report 1 as well as Expense Report 2.  So you need to remove that charge from the report. In addition, there’s an erroneous credit card charge of zero dollars, which you can delete without adding it to a report.

Delete or remove

Works for me. :) What do you think?

Introduction to API tech writing – upcoming webinar

On Wednesday February 11th, US EST (that’s Thursday here in Australia), I’m presenting a webinar about API technical writing. It’s the first in a series on API technical writing from the Society for Technical Communication. I’d love it if you could join me online.

The role of API technical writer is exciting, rewarding, and challenging. I’ve been working as a full-time API writer for 18 months now, and I love it!

APIs are a hot topic in our field, and technical writers with the skills to document them are in high demand. Many technical writers are keen to know more about the role, but it can be hard to find information. Sometimes there’s so much information that it’s difficult to know where to start. In presenting this webinar, my aim is to give you a good idea of the role of API technical writer, and some excellent starting points to explore the world of APIs.

Details of the webinar

Title: Introduction to API Technical Writing.
Date and time: Wednesday, 11 February 2015, at 2pm EST (GMT-5) – that’s 6am on Thursday here in Sydney!
Duration: One hour.
Fees and registration/signup: Please refer to the STC announcement: Part 1 in API Series: Introduction to API Technical Writing.

The session covers the following topics:

  • What an API is and does.
  • Introduction to the role of API technical writer and our audience.
  • Overview of the types of developer products we may be asked to document – APIs and others.
  • Types of APIs, including REST APIs, other web services, library-based APIs like JavaScript, and more.
  • A couple of live demos of APIs that you can play with at home: a JavaScript API and a REST API.
  • Examples of good API documentation.
  • The components of API documentation, and the technical writer’s role in the creation of each component.
  • A day in the life of an API technical writer.
  • Tips on getting started in the role.

Here’s a link to the slides on SlideShare: API Technical Writing.

Introduction to API technical writing

More in the STC’s webinar series on API technical writing

Following on from my introductory webinar, the next two sessions in the STC’s series have already been announced. In episode 2, Ed Marshall talks about documentating Java and C++ APIs. In episode 3, Joe Malin describes how to write effective code samples.

I hope to “see” you at the webinar!


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