Release Notes

Release Notes Best Practices : Engagement and Distribution

Release notes are a significant albeit neglected asset to connect with users and other stakeholders and convey updates to them. They are published along with new software or updated ones to inform users about new features, improvements, and bug fixes. That’s not all, release notes can also prompt users to try new features while alleviating their bug-related issues and other concerns. 

There’s no doubt that release notes help product managers create a buzz about their products and improve overall engagement with customers. Yet, they are usually not given their due importance in the product development cycle. Release notes that are treated as just another chore will not be read by many users. Hence, it’s important to create them with thought and focus and follow the right practices to create and distribute them.

Mind you, we have used the terms release notes & changelog interchangeably.

Who should write Release Notes?

Managing release notes falls in the domain of the product manager, yet several members of your team can be assigned the important task of writing them. The choice of author depends on factors such as the target audience of the release notes, the product’s market, legal requirements, etc. Here are some members of your team who could write release notes: 

  • Developer
  • Q.A.
  • Technical Writer
  • Product Manager
  • Marketer

Who writes release notes depends on whom they are meant for. Moreover, you may want to create various versions of the release notes that will appeal to different audiences. Putting together updates and new features is usually a team effort, hence documenting it also requires collaboration of different functions. 

One of the release notes best practices is to involve all the relevant stakeholders to collaborate on the release notes documents.

Essential Elements of a Good Changelog

Release notes require customization and innovation but some elements remain common to all of them. A good release note should surely include the following elements: 

  • An introduction and crisp summary of the changes
  • A clear explanation of impacted users
  • Changes to previous releases
  • Feature enhancements or new features/functionality
  • Fixed issues
  • Known issues and challenges and a plan to deal with them 

Product managers must identify specific audiences and their requirements and create reusable release note templates. The use of templates significantly reduces the time and effort to create release notes. They can be tweaked regularly based on feedback and ease the delegation and distribution of release notes. Considering that release notes are a regular feature, you can significantly reduce your team’s workload by adopting release management tools to manage the process of software release and delivery.

As a release notes best practice, try to come up with a checklist that all the collaborators can refer to.

5 Reasons Few People Read Release Notes

Release notes are created with the purpose of communicating with users, yet few read them let alone understand their content. The fault lies with choppy writing that’s often loaded with complex explanations, technical jargon, and a handful of screenshots. Let’s look at some common mistakes made while putting together release notes:

Common Mistake Made While Writing Release Notes
  1.  Lack of clarity

Writing release notes is not as simple as it may sound. The announcement of product updates is as vital as actually creating them. When release notes are written at the last minute in a slapdash manner, it shows. Your audience will not be able to relate to the content of the release notes unless they are specific and comprehensive and covers issues such as bug fixes in detail. 

  1. Overusing technical jargon

While release notes are meant to announce technical updates, they often sound completely technical. By overusing jargon and complex language, you end up creating complicated documents that cannot be related to or understood. End-users barely skim their surface and remain ignorant of any new features or benefits. 

  1. Lengthy Release Notes

Another trap the writers of release notes fall into is creating lengthy documents. Few users have the time or interest to read about every unnecessary detail. They want to know about the uses and benefits of your product and will mostly avoid long, tiring treatises. 

  1. Hard to navigate

Users often seek specific information from release notes and don’t have the time to read the entire document. So, if your release notes run into long and unformatted paragraphs, users will find it tough to find information on new features and bug fixes. They are likely to stay away from documents that are hard to navigate and stored in vague locations that are tough to find. 

  1. Lack of Reaction Options

Updates are meant for customers, and they are unlikely to read them unless they can share their reactions. A lack of feedback options such as comments or emojis will limit your interaction with users and even alienate them.

Best Practices to Create Release Notes 

Release notes hold the key to informing and engaging your users and require time and skill to put together. To create their most informative, yet pithy and engaging version, you must follow these practices:

Best Practices to Create Release Notes
  1. Create relevant versions

The same information may not be relevant to every reader of release notes and product managers must create different variants of the release notes content. One version can be customized for customers to assist them in understanding product updates and improvements. Another set of release notes can be created for stakeholders that helps them quickly scan it and understand the value the update is creating for customers. 

  1. Keep content focused on users

Users are the largest group consuming your release notes and they should remain the focus of your efforts. Ensure that the content is crisp, concise, and devoid of unnecessary jargon. Formatting the content in a reader-friendly manner will appeal to users who are likely to view the release on a tablet or mobile device. At the same time, all explanations should be comprehensive and straightforward to avoid any confusion among users. 

  1. Include visuals

Even if your release notes are detailed and informative, nobody likes to read endless pages of text. To avoid fatigue and improve understanding, you can count on visual aids such as images, screenshots, and videos. Look for ways to replace lengthy explanations with short videos or GIFs to make your release notes more appealing and memorable.

  1. Keep notes organized

Release notes are often replete with technical information and not all of it is useful to every reader. You can organize and format the document efficiently by creating separate clickable links and dividing the information into different segments, drop-downs, and subheadings. These simple but significant steps will ease navigation, improve access, and help readers to filter information relevant to them. 

  1. Make room for technical details

Simplifying the language and presentation of release notes is important for more users to understand the information. However, these documents convey some important technical details that cannot be completely avoided for the sake of simplification. Technical leaders at large corporations need to know these details to understand the product’s impact on their company’s goals. Product managers must create space for technical information toward the end of the document or create relevant links. 

  1. Automate

Adoption of the latest technological innovations is the way forward when it comes to releasing notes. To minimize manual intervention, you can opt for project management tools that offer release note automation like automated release notes app. It helps you save time and ensure consistency in communication. You could also follow the scrum approach and create cross-functional teams to get together and create release notes. 

5 Ways to Distribute Release Notes

Creating good release notes is just one part of the job, ensuring that they reach their audience is as important. The channels you choose for their distribution decide how your target audience responds to them. To ensure that release notes are easily accessible, product managers can choose any or all of the following methods of distribution:  

1. Emails are ideal for notes that are not very long and comprehensive. They directly convey updates and should be chosen in cases where customization of messaging or content is not necessary.   

2. Blog posts work when you have more details and information to communicate. You can embed links to these blog posts in support chats with target groups. This format may be more elaborate than a standard email but it helps you convey your message more comprehensively. 

3. Social media is apt if you need to highlight specific new features and create excitement around them. These posts tap into visual elements to highlight these features and then direct users to the release pages.

4. Tutorials and user guides are good to explain and instruct users about new features or UX. They ensure users can learn about these specific features without getting confused with other content of the release notes.

5. In-App Widgets help users keep track of updates, new features, and bug fixes while they are still in the app. They also help solicit user feedback and reviews on new features before they are released. 

How to keep users engaged in release notes

Release notes should be an integral part of your customer engagement strategy and your wider communication plan. They can prove to be a vital marketing tool that unobtrusively promotes your brand while keeping users informed and updated. Release notes can also create engagement with other stakeholders without creating an extra communication overhead. Here are some tips to create better engagement with release notes:

Cater to a specific audience:  Create content that speaks directly to your specific audience. For the users’ version, keep your release notes free of complex terms and technical jargon. On the other hand, if your target audience is developers, make sure your content is not oversimplified and includes important technical details.

Distribute information smartly: Release notes will make an impact only if they are easily accessible to users and other stakeholders. Product managers need to create an efficient distribution network complete with video tutorials, blog links, and user guides.

Create engaging content: Even if the release notes talk revolves around technical details, their presentation can be fun and interactive. You are likely to grab and retain your customer’s attention if your release notes are imbued with some personality and branding.

Improve visibility: For users to remain up to speed with the latest information, dedicate a release notes page for all updates. This creates better visibility and helps to organize all information in one place. You can use app widgets or your website to share notifications about new updates with users.

Stay Ahead with Changelogs 

It’s evident that release notes are more than just feature updates and they are an efficient tool to drive customer engagement and improve brand perception. That’s not all, they are also instrumental in streamlining communication with other stakeholders. Product managers who have mastered the art of writing and distributing release notes are likely to be successful in creating new launches and fresh releases. 

The future belongs to automation and by using Automated Release Notes for Jira you can elevate your release notes by simplifying and automating the process. Our app helps you to include Jira issues in release notes while targeting diverse audiences and engaging users with in-app notifications.

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