What Is a Release Note?
A release note refers to the technical documentation produced and distributed alongside the launch of a new software product or a product update (e.g., recent changes, feature enhancements, or bug fixes). It very briefly describes a new product or succinctly details specific changes included in a product update.
The job of drafting these frequently falls on product managers. The primary target audience is the product user, but a release note can also be used internally.
While a release note provides relevant information about a new product or product update, it’s not a substitute for a user guide or other in-depth product documentation.
Why Are They Important in Product Management?
For many companies, release notes are an undervalued, perfunctory activity performed during a product launch or update.
In truth, however, release notes can play a vital role in the overall product experience because they provide a valuable opportunity to communicate with customers and your broader market. When done well, they have the potential to nurture engagement and increase customer loyalty.
What Should Be Included in Release Notes?
While there’s no standard format for release notes, they should adhere to your own company standards. Release notes for a brand-new product might be slightly more descriptive than for bug fixes and feature enhancements. As with any other product-related documentation, consistency is key.
In general, they contain a variation of the following:
- Document name
- Product name
- Release number
- Date of Release
- Release note date
- Release note version
A brief overview of the product, feature update, or bug fix.
What’s new in the release.
Short description of the bug or enhancement.
Steps to Reproduce
Steps followed when the bug was discovered.
Brief description of modifications made to fix the bug.
List of specific actions needed by users or functionality impacted by the changes.
List of specific changes required to administer the software.
Notes about software or hardware installation, upgrades, product documentation, etc.
Company and product disclaimers.
Contact information for support requests.
How to Craft Engaging Release Notes
Keep these best practices in mind:
1. Use Plain Language: Eliminate technical jargon and overly complex language.
2. Keep It Short: Use descriptions that are concise and quickly digestible.
3. Be Customer-Centric: Make it obvious and easy for users to zero in on what’s of interest to them (e.g., fixes, improvements, new features).
4. Include Relevant Links: Keep release notes to high-level information, but include links to more detailed information (e.g., user guide, video tutorial, etc.).
5. Let Your Brand and Personality Shine: Seize the opportunity to create a meaningful interaction with your user base.