Documenting REST APIs: 5 Best Tips & Strategies for 2022

on API, Data Integration, ETL, REST API • January 11th, 2022 • Write for Hevo

Documeting REST API FI

REST APIs facilitate communication between different online services. When using an application, you may want to pull data or information from another application. Instead of using the traditional mechanisms for this, which consume more time and are not secure, you can use an API. An API can help you to pull information from a system without the need of interacting with the user interface. 

API developers should ensure that it is easy for anyone to use their APIs. This is also good for any new member who joins the API development team. One of the ways to ensure this happens is by having the proper documentation available for APIs.

An API is only as good as the quality of its documentation. When Documenting REST APIs, you should put best practices into use to make the guide more readable and understandable by anyone. Documenting REST APIs helps provide a quick reference guide that covers all you need to know about the API, including details on functions, classes, return types, arguments and more, all backed up by tutorials and examples.

In this article, you’ll come across 5 Best Tips and Strategies for Documenting REST APIs.

Table of Contents

Understanding REST API Documentation

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An API documentation is a reference document that explains how to use a particular API. It is a technical manual with information about the services offered by the API, how to use its different parameters and endpoints, and other instructions about the implementation of the API. Having robust API documentation is good for API governance.

APIs make it easy for developers to move data between different software products with ease. You can use an API to fetch the features of a product and then add them to your application, without having to begin from scratch. 

Documenting REST API can help developers to understand how to use a REST API and incorporate it into their use cases without having to deal with any programming obstacles. The impact of this will be the increased adoption of products from your company. 

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Best Tips and Strategies for Documenting REST APIs

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Below are some of the best practices for good REST API Documentation:

1) Plan for the Documentation

You should plan well before commencing the documentation process. This will increase your chances of success. The vice versa is also true. Before Documenting REST APIs, first know the people you are writing the documentation for. By knowing your target audience, it will be easy for you to make the right decision on the structure, language, and design of your documentation. 

You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Who reads your API documentation pages?”
  • “What do they want to use it for?”

Having a clear understanding of the scope and purpose of Documenting REST APIs will help you to create useful content that will enhance the use of your API. Documenting REST APIs with the user in mind will help you structure the documentation in a way that will address their needs.

2) Add Fundamental Sections

There are a number of sections that are mandatory for great API documentation. While Documenting REST APIs, such fundamental sections turn out to be crucial in improving the readability and boosting its adoption.

Some of the fundamental sections that you should consider when Documenting REST APIs include an “Overview of What the API is About”, “How to Acquire Authentication Credentials”, the “Resources Required to use the API”, “Possible Error Messages when Interacting with the API”, and “Terms of Use”.

3) Maintain Consistency and Avoid Jargon

Another best practice for Documenting REST APIs is to be consistent in the use of terminologies in the entire documentation. Use a uniform write-up without contradictions in language and code. Proofread your documentation sufficiently and remove any sections that are ambiguous or difficult to understand.

Always be consistent with your naming conventions and terminologies. Be creative in the use of HTTP verbs, status codes, and other conventional item names that may cause unnecessary confusion.

For example, when Documenting a REST APIs, the GET HTTP verb should be used to query data from a stated resource. Remaining consistent in the use of well-established conventions will save you from the need to write many explanations and make your documentation easier to understand.

Additionally, it’s important for you to avoid using unnecessary technical jargon in your API documentation. Use simple language and ensure that it resonates well with the needs of your target audience.

4) Add Interactive Examples 

Most developers like to test what they read in the documentation and see whether it works. Add interactive sample codes in a coding language that most of the developers are familiar with. This will reduce challenges during the implementation of the API.

Adding interactive samples is a good way of improving the learning curve when using your API. You can also add test data that users can use to run requests and see the kind of responses that they get.

Other than interactive samples, you can add other resources when Documenting REST APIs. This will help users to make maximum use of the API beyond what has been provided in the documentation. Some of the resources that you can use to supplement the API document include a getting started guide, libraries, SDKs, and tutorials.

5) Write for Entry Level

Documentations are normally created by technical writers, not by the developers. The reason is that technical writers are good at translating technical aspects into a readable format. However, even the technical writers tend to add some technical jargon into the documentation. 

Every API is created for a specific target audience. However, the API documentation has a vast audience. For example, developers who will interact with the documentation, decision-makers like solution architects and CTOs who need to quickly know whether the API will be a good fit, and observers like tech writers, journalists, and your competitors.

All these people have different roles and skills and they should feel comfortable when reading your API documentation. Thus, you should target the least experienced users. 

By considering the above practices when Documenting REST APIs, you will ensure that the REST API documentation is readable by individuals even with different levels of experience in using APIs. 

Conclusion

This blog discussed the best tips and strategies to be followed when  Documenting REST API and provided a brief understanding of REST API and its documentation process.

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Share your experience of learning about the best strategies and tips that you must incorporate while Documenting REST APIs. Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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