What are Product release notes?
Product release notes are the documentation distributed with the launch of a product or feature. This can include new changes, feature improvements, bug fixes, etc. Release notes go into details of the specific changes rather than high-level information. The expected target groups are users and internal teams.
Release notes also helps companies be honest about their development efforts and maintain transparency with their users. You can also use them to stand out from the competition by displaying your latest releases intuitively. Note that release notes are not a substitute for user guide or in-depth documentation.
Why are release notes important?
Release notes are essentially customer-facing technical documentation. They reflect all the work that your developers, engineers and researchers have been doing behind the scenes. It’s a great opportunity for your company to tell users that you care and that they have the latest product with so and so specs.
Release notes act as an educational material for your customers. New features in software products can be frustrating if not made clear and communicated properly. Another great benefit of release notes is, it helps your team keep track of product updates in a sensible way.
Best practices of writing Product Release Notes
Let’s explore some best practices for creating your release notes that serve their purpose with style.
1. Use simple language
It is best to leave the jargon out. Write release notes like you are explaining it to a friend. Preferably someone who is not related to the field of computer science.
2. Keep it short
If you have added a new integrated calendar that users can access from the dashboard, just say that. It shouldn’t take more than one or two sentences to explain it. Don’t turn them into boring long reads.
3. Categorize them logically
When you write release notes, keep the new features highlighted in big, bold category headers. Mention fixes, improvements, new features, etc. so that users can zero in on what interests them the most.
4. Include relevant links
If you have a new feature, make sure your release notes contain a summary of what it does and where to find it. Give more information like links to detailed guides or walkthrough videos.
5. Show your company’s brand and personality
Release notes present an opportunity to create engaging content for your community of users and deepen your relationships with customers. Companies like Slack and Trello are known for presenting engaging release notes.
Slack, included this update in the release notes accompanying its version 1.99:“Fixed: A crash would occur on launch if a highlighted word matched an emoji. This was emojiist and has been remedied.”
Examples of Release notes
Intercom’s release notes are quite good. Before getting there, let’s look at the URL they use: www.intercom.com/changes
Calling it ‘changes’ helps shift the focus to the sole purpose of release notes. A release note serves two purposes – a list of changes and a record of how the product evolved over time. If you are a user, you are more likely to read ‘changes’ than ‘release notes’. While it’s a small shift, the effect of user engagement is huge. Rejecting formality in favour of personality is a theme throughout intercom’s release notes.
There is a way to gather feedback on each release using emojis (smiley or frowny faces). Intercom also showcases the people behind the release like engineers and product specialists. This is a nice human touch. All of this add to a rich product release note which is more personal and attention grabbing.
While Intercom nails personality, Invision’s strong side is in the details. Check out their November 2020 release notes. They track changes for multiple products over time – and they have landing pages for each item for those who want to dig deeper. InVision makes sure users can easily find what they need. Sometimes, users just need one iteration of a tool for a specific purpose. Their release notes are categorised by product, with a ‘what’s new’ section at the top followed by ‘what’s fixed or improved’.
InVision also adds a sticky menu on the top left of the page so users can easily find the sections that matter to them. Additionally, they also provide support documentation and help articles to inform the user about everything new.
HubSpot doesn’t confine their release notes to a blog post or support article. They create product spotlight videos that take users on a tour of how the product evolved over the last month. You can watch the video for a quick walkthrough of everything new or skip to sections you are interested in. Additionally, they also have the traditional text-based release notes if you prefer that. Hubspot does a great job at creating tutorials on using a new feature of their product using screenshots. These help get users back on the platform and try out other things HubSpot offers.