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What are release notes?

Last updated

8 April 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Every part of a product launch is important, from conception to watching customers purchase your product or service. 

Your product will continue evolving after launch, so it’s important to share regular updates with your customers. 

Release notes allow product development teams to share what's new, describe an updated product, and update customers on fixes and improvements. 

They can also keep everyone in your internal team up-to-date, streamlining your update process. Let’s look at how to write release notes and everything else you need to know.

What are release notes?

Release notes accompany a launch or product update. This technical documentation is valuable because release notes can inform team members and the product's end users. 

Developers and software engineers can use release notes to inform users about the product, including what's new, what’s fixed, and any critical features they need to know about.

Why are release notes vital in project management?

Communication is one of the most vital parts of project management. Good communication keeps everyone on the same page and keeps customers happy. 

Still, it can be challenging to share important information promptly and effectively. That’s where release notes come in handy. They record what's changing, and they can improve customer retention. 

But how? Release notes can introduce your customers to new or better ways to use your product and show that you're actively improving your products and services.

Who should write release notes?

To some extent, the size of your team determines who should write release notes. In most organizations, the product manager writes release notes. 

However, if you're on a small team or have a small company, the lead product developer will often write release notes. 

Others can contribute to creating and distributing release notes, including members of marketing and even sales. They can share insights and suggestions to make the release notes more personalized and relevant to end users.

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Items to include in release notes

Release notes are unique in every company and differ from product to product. 

While every product should have release notes with details specific to that release, here are a few items to consider including:

  • Header

  • Overview

  • Purpose

  • Notes

  • Disclaimers

  • Contact

No standard format for release notes exists, and you should adjust them based on what makes sense for your product. Be as consistent as possible to ensure end-user clarity.

Release notes compared to changelogs

Release notes and changelogs are important types of documentation in product development. 

However, changelogs are ongoing files or web apps that track notable changes and updates to your product or solution. They’re typically for developer use and contain technical aspects.

Release notes serve as product announcements. They should be written in simple language so any user can understand them, regardless of their technical expertise.

A release note's primary purpose is to explain how the change or update affects the user. While release notes and changelogs serve unique purposes, both communicate product updates.

6 types of product announcement updates

There are six primary types of product announcement updates. Most companies regularly deal with these announcements, so having a template for each release note type can be helpful.

1. Major update announcements

A major update will profoundly affect the way end users interact with your product or solution. 

Whether you’re changing the way users log into your app or migrating to a new platform provider, you should communicate these updates to users as timely and clearly as possible.

2. Non-major update announcement

Non-major update announcements involve changes that don't greatly affect how a customer interacts with your product. 

They could be changes that users won't notice without looking for them, such as an update to terms and conditions or new features that users must enable before use. 

Either way, you still need to inform your users.

3. Bug fixes

No business wants to deal with bugs or technical problems, but a few issues are inevitable. 

Promptly addressing bugs and communicating with your customers will earn their trust and enhance retention. 

When sharing release notes around bug fixes, let users know how you fixed the problem in non-technical language. Share how you're safeguarding against problems in the future.

4. Security updates

Security updates are vital for protecting the integrity of your product and your users' privacy. 

However, they can also surprise your customers if they aren't expecting them. Therefore, let your users know ahead of time about any planned security updates. 

Make sure you let them know how these updates will affect their overall experience and if they need to do anything different when they next log in or use the product.

5. Changelogs

Planning to launch a new product or revamp an existing product? If you want to communicate changes with customers, consider sharing a release note with information on how they can view the changelogs.

This can build transparency and show users you're confident in your processes and your service.

6. Version control system logs

Version control is for project management documents. Version control system logs allow project managers and developers to track and manage changes to software code. 

Sharing these logs with end users can demonstrate your commitment to quality and the lengths you and your team go to perfect a product.

How to write release notes

Writing effective release notes can take considerable time and practice, especially if you're working with a small team. 

Use a release notes template to enhance your chance of success. A template allows you to work from an established structure, saving you the trouble of starting from scratch. It also ensures you remember all vital information.

Designate a person to oversee the release notes creation process. While multiple team members should provide input, setting a project lead can safeguard against lags. 

Release notes best practices

You should incorporate a few best practices into every release note publication. These four tips will help you create an informative and insightful document:

Keep them short

Make sure all information in the release notes is relevant and helpful. Avoid technical jargon.

Group notes logically

Information should flow logically in release notes. Group similar notes and topics together so everyone who reads them can follow the story you're trying to tell.

If you want to encourage customers to read other content related to your release notes, include links in the documentation. 

This makes it easy for your readers to find the information they need, rather than risking them getting frustrated while searching for it themselves.

Show your company's brand and personality

Many companies see release notes as dry pieces of jargon, but they don't have to be. 

Don't be afraid to show your company's brand and personality, share information from behind the scenes, and relate to customers in a way only you can.

Once you've finished your release notes, share them with your team. Be open to feedback and insights, and never be afraid to change something if team members express concern. This should be a collaborative project.

FAQs

What is the difference between internal and external release notes?

Internal release notes are documents purely for distribution within a company, while external release notes are for customers and end users. 

Internal release notes are typically more technical, while external release notes should be easy for the average person to read and free of jargon.

How do you manage release notes?

To effectively manage release notes, designate a project lead, use a template to safeguard against missing information, and find a tone that is easy for readers to understand. This process might take some trial and error.

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