|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
Release notes are documents that are distributed with software products, often when the product is still in the development or test state (e.g., a beta release). For products that have already been in use by clients, the release note is a supplementary document that is delivered to the customer when a bug is fixed or an enhancement is made to the product.
Purpose and Responsibilities
Release notes are communication documents shared with customers and clients of an organization detailing the changes or enhancement made to the features of service or product the company provides. Thus this communication document is usually circulated only after the product or service is thoroughly tested and approved against the specification provided by the development team.
Release notes should be written by a technical writer, with input from Project Development Lead or Project Manager. Release notes can also contain test results and information about the test procedure. This kind of information gives readers of the release note more confidence in the fix/change done; this information also enables implementers of the change to conduct rudimentary acceptance tests. Release notes are also an excellent mechanism to feed the process of end user documentation; user guides, marketing materials, and revisions to training materials.
Content and Format
There is no standard format for release notes that is followed throughout different organizations. Organizations normally adopt their own formatting styles based on the requirement and type of the information to be circulated. The content of release notes also vary according to the release type. For products that are at testing stage and that are newly released, the content is usually more descriptive compared to release notes for bug fixes and feature enhancements, which are usually brief. Release notes may include the following sections:
- Header – Document Name (i.e. Release Notes), product name, release number, release date, note date, note version, etc.
- Overview - A brief overview of the product and changes, in the absence of other formal documentation.
- Purpose - A brief overview of the purpose of the release note with a listing of what is new in this release, including bug fixes and new features.
- Issue Summary - A short description of the bug or the enhancement in the release.
- Steps to Reproduce - The steps that were followed when the bug was encountered.
- Resolution - A short description of the modification/enhancement that was made to fix the bug.
- End-User Impact - What different actions are needed by the end-users of the application. This should include whether other functionality is impacted by these changes.
- Support Impacts - Changes required in the daily process of administering the software.
- Notes - Notes about software or hardware installation, upgrades and product documentation (including documentation updates)
- Disclaimers - Company and standard product related messages. e.g.; freeware, anti-piracy, duplication etc.. See also Disclaimer.
- Contact - Support contact information.
A release note is usually a terse summary of recent changes, enhancements and bug fixes in a particular software release. It is not a substitute for user guides. Release notes are frequently written in the present tense and provide information that is clear, correct, and complete.