Working with APIs is an integral part of the developer’s workday.
The developers need to access API documentation frequently, and it’s up to you to provide an optimal experience for them as they browse the documents you’ve worked so hard on.
For this reason, many documentation features were developed to help users find what they need quickly and actually enjoy the time they spend reading about the API.
This article will show you some excellent examples of API documentation from companies that have done their best to accommodate busy developers.
There are some great practices to pick up here so, without further ado, let’s jump right into our first example.
Google Maps: The Three-Column Approach
The Google Maps API holds an entire world of possibilities for developers to try out and implement into their projects.
As such, providing extremely efficient navigation through the app itself is a must.
Otherwise, developers might get lost in all the features the API offers and waste time looking for the correct document or guide.
Therefore, Google implemented a classical solution: three-column navigation.
The code takes front and center stage, of course, and users can navigate the document using a handy contents feature on the right.
The left-hand side column allows users to browse the topics in this space so that they can quickly jump between different sections of the API.
Last but not least, a search bar is placed in the upper right corner for the users who know exactly what they are looking for and need to find it quickly.
We’ll be mentioning navigation capabilities a few times in this article, but Google’s three-column approach is probably your best bet if you want your users to easily find their way around a large documentation base.
Stripe: Clean Design for Easy Use
Stripe’s API reference is often mentioned as a prime example of API documentation designed with user experience in mind.
Developers using the reference are met with a cool and sleek interface where explanations are given on the left and code snippets can be found on the right-hand side.
There’s nothing to distract you from your goals here, and the explanations are given in plain English, allowing developers to get what they need fast and continue their work.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from Stripe, it’s that excellent API documentation doesn't need any bells and whistles to provide an optimal developer experience.
Sleek design and simplicity are definitely the way to go.
Twilio: Providing API Documentation Accessible to Everyone
This is a great example of an incredibly rich API reference that provides developers with everything they need to do their best work.
Along with an authentication guide and a quickstart guide, developers have access to endpoint definitions and examples of code, as well as the code snippets themselves, of course.
What really sets Twilio’s API documentation apart is the wealth of amazing copy that actually takes the time to explain the API, from the basic concepts to the advanced features.
Technical writers writing for developers sometimes think they don’t need to wow their audience with great copy, but rather focus on delivering simple, short explanations of the product.
Twilio’s API documentation is an excellent example of a documentation resource that doesn’t shy away from longer articles, taking the time to explain everything in their space.
That way, API documentation becomes more accessible to everyone, including beginners.
GitHub: Who Says API Documentation Needs to Be Boring?
API references are often accompanied by explanations and copy that can be quite dry. Not GitHub’s REST API, though.
Their documentation features some of the most engaging, at times even hilarious, copy we’ve ever seen.
Much like Twilio, GitHub understands that API documentation is consumed by humans and presents their documentation in a conversational style, making it that much easier to follow.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with breathing some fresh air into developer lingo, and GitHub does this very well.
But it’s not just about coaxing a smile from users.
GitHub’s rest API comes with every resource users need, including guides, references, and code samples, all of which is adequately explained for developers’ quick and easy use.
Just find what you need in the exhaustive left-hand menu and dive right into the code.
Twitter: Documentation Built for Exploration
Twitter’s API documentation has a neat feature for developers coming to the API without a clear idea of what they want to do with it.
Their documentation has an entire section dedicated to ideas and innovation that can improve Twitter and provide its users with more useful features.
This gives this API a collaborative, community-building character that isn’t very common.
The documentation offers plenty of resources for users who want to use the API to build new tools and products.
These include commonly used endpoints and even examples of successful projects built using the API.
If you’re building your own API reference, see what you can do to inspire users and get their creative juices flowing.
After all, the purpose of APIs is to unlock new possibilities and help developers achieve their goals, however large or small they may be.
IFTTT: Resolving Issues Quickly with a FAQ Section
Another amazing example of an API reference that entices developers to flex their imagination and build new stuff across a variety of industries.
IFTT’s documentation is a complete resource that features a quickstart guide, endless how-to guides and sample code collections, and easy examples.
All of this is packed in a simple, clean documentation base that’s easy to browse and simple to use.
A special mention needs to be made for the handy glossary and FAQ sections that will prevent even the most inexperienced users from getting lost and confused.
If anything is unclear, developers don’t need to keep rereading the documentation looking for clarity, they can simply look up their questions in the FAQ section and get easy answers.
A little read recommendation just because we talked about frequently asked questions: 5 Questions Technical Writers Face with API Documentation.
Shopify: Navigating Users to Success
Shopify is probably the most famous platform in the eCommerce space.
Their API documentation page is an exhaustive resource for developers who want to provide the Shopify experience to desktop, app, and even video game users.
The great thing about their API reference is that it’s divided into sections according to the user’s needs.
There are a lot of resources available, so having a roadmap like this one is definitely appreciated.
Users coming to the API documentation homepage can simply choose an option that suits their goals best and start exploring the API.
Efficient navigation is a hallmark of good documentation, so take a page from Shopify’s book and provide an easy way to get around for your users.
Mailchimp: Mentioning the Tools Needed for the Job
Working with APIs often requires extensive knowledge and developer tools. However, not all APIs are equally difficult to work with.
That’s why it’s an excellent idea to preface API documentation with a short section on what level of skill is required from the developers and what tools they’ll need to implement a certain feature.
Mailchimp does this really well. Their API articles start with a “What you’ll need” section explaining the tools for the job.
It’s no secret that developers are busy people.
Enabling them to save time in their work will definitely earn you some appreciation, and listing the proper tools for the job is a great way to do precisely that.
That way, users know exactly what they’re getting into when preparing to use the API.
If there’s a component missing, they know to first resolve that issue before continuing with the action, saving them time and making it more likely they’ll be successful while using the reference.
Parse: Taking Things Slow
Parse does an excellent job of guiding users through every action that can be taken with the API.
It provides a seamless experience for users who never feel lost while using the documentation.
Providing easy-to-follow walkthroughs is essential if you really want your users to enjoy using your documentation, and Parse goes a step further by providing editing capabilities for users of the library.
That way, users can continually improve the documentation and make it better for every subsequent visitor.
Consider doing something similar with your API documentation, or at least allow users to leave feedback to alert you to the things that need improvement.
After all, documentation should be user-centric and your users deserve to have their voices heard.
Slack: Providing Documentation for All Skill Levels
API documentation should motivate users to develop new tools and products, not put them off because it's too complex to understand.
Therefore, providing resources for beginners as well as veterans is a great practice to follow.
To go a step further, you can also provide information about how advanced each document is to allow users to find documentation according to their skill level.
Some API references, such as Slack’s, have an amazing feature that lets users know how advanced their skills need to be in order to use a particular feature.
In the case of Slack, users can find a skill-level indication at the very top of the article.
That way, absolute beginners can start working with the actions that are appropriate for them and not feel discouraged when encountering documentation meant for more seasoned pros.
Of course, experienced developers can jump straight to using quickstart guides that skip the basic theory and dive straight into the work.
The trick here is to offer resources to every level of skill so that the entire team can use the API and achieve success.
This is also great for distributing work because project managers will instantly know which tasks can be completed by novices and which need more seasoned developers.
Plaid: Code That Stays With the User
Different API documentation presents the code in different ways.
Some libraries have code snippets and examples directly below the explanation, providing a sequential order to the information.
Others present code side by side with the text, allowing users to view the code and documentation in parallel.
Plaid’s API documentation falls under the latter category, but what’s really interesting is that the code doesn’t scroll with the text in cases where more space is needed to explain the code.
Instead, the right-hand window stays fixed until the end of the section so that the user can conveniently keep looking at it without having to scroll back.
This is a great UX feature and provides a smooth reading experience for the developer, who is much more likely to understand each line of the code individually.
How do I write an API document?
To write an effective API document, start by understanding your audience and their needs. Consider who will be using the API and what they need to accomplish. Once you have a clear understanding of your audience, organize your documentation in a way that is easy to navigate and understand.
Use clear and concise language, and provide examples and code snippets to help users understand how to use the API. Be sure to provide information on authentication and authorization, error messages, and any limitations or restrictions that users need to be aware of.
Another important consideration when writing an API document is to keep it up-to-date. As the API evolves, make sure that the documentation stays current and accurate. Consider using tools that can automatically generate documentation from code, which can help ensure that the documentation is always up-to-date.
What does API documentation include?
API documentation typically includes information on the API's endpoints, parameters, and responses. It should provide clear explanations of how to use the API and what the expected results are.
Documentation should also include information on authentication and authorization, as well as error messages and how to handle them. Some API documentation may also include code examples, tutorials, or other resources to help developers get up and running with the API.
Good API documentation should be well-organized and easy to navigate. It should provide a clear overview of the API, and help users quickly find the information they need. It should also be up-to-date and accurate, reflecting any changes to the API.
What is an example of a great API documentation?
Stripe, a popular payment processing company, is often cited as an example of a company with a great API. Stripe's API documentation is well-organized and easy to navigate, and provides clear explanations of how to use the API.
The documentation includes code examples, tutorials, and other resources to help developers get up and running quickly. Stripe's API also includes a robust set of tools for handling payments, subscriptions, and other features, making it a popular choice for developers looking to integrate payments into their own applications.
Another example of a great API is the Twilio API, which provides tools for building voice and messaging applications. Twilio's API documentation is also well-organized and easy to navigate, and includes code examples and other resources to help developers get started.
Twilio's API provides a range of features for building voice and messaging applications, including the ability to send and receive SMS messages, make and receive phone calls, and more.
In this article, we showed you some fantastic ways to structure and present your API documentation using examples from companies who have perfected their documentation for the convenience of developers.
The various structuring, UX, and technical writing features we showed you are all possible to achieve if you’re using quality documentation software to explain and present your APIs.
Our own documentation software product, Archbee, was uniquely designed to support writers and companies who want to offer pristine API documentation to developers.
Archbee offers complete API integration and a code editor block with multiple programming language input capabilities, making it the perfect tool for creating API documentation.
Hope our article about the best API documentation examples helped you on your way to a better API documentation.