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The Importance of Reading Documentation

An Introduction

I have been helping out a Junior dev at our startup company, and suddenly noticed I have a very specific problem solving patttern - which I was trying to convey to the new dev.
The pattern is:
Google Search it -> Look in the documentaion -> Test/play around with it if possible -> Ask my collegaues for advice

And thats when I realized how much I had become comfortable reading documentaion.

I remember when I first started coding, one of the things that I found most frustrating was trying to understand code that other people had written. It was like trying to decipher a secret code, and I often felt like I was missing some vital piece of information that would allow me to unlock the mysteries of the code.
Thankfully, over time I learned that documentation is key to understanding code. Documentation can provide context for why something was done a certain way, and how it can be used in the future. It can also help with understanding code that was written by someone else.

For example, let's say you're looking at a piece of code that uses a library you're unfamiliar with. If there is documentation for the library, it can help you understand how to use it in the context of the code. Or, if you're trying to understand a complicated piece of code, documentation can help provide some clarity.

How Documentation can Help You

Documentation can be in the form of a user manual, a help file, or an online tutorial. If you are new to a program, it is advisable to start with the user manual. This will most often have a few examples to get you started with the software. If you've never used the software before, try spending some time looking around the online docs, and familiarizing yourself with the core concepts of the software. Then, as you get stuck with the software or want to use a new object/function you are unfamiliar with, refer to its relevant documentation.

What Happens If You Don't Read Documentation

Documentation is an extremely crucial part of any software project, yet it is often overlooked or ignored. This can be a mistake, as documentation can provide valuable information that can help you complete your project successfully. In this article, we'll discuss what happens if you don't read documentation and why it's important to take the time to read it.
If you don't read documentation, you may miss key information about the software you're using. Documentation can provide details about how a system works, what features are available, and how to use them. It can also offer troubleshooting tips and guidance for fixing problems. Without this information, you may struggle to complete your project or may not be able to take advantage of all the features that are available to you.

Not reading the documentation can also lead to problems when using the software. For example, if you're unfamiliar with a feature or don't know how to use it properly, you could inadvertently cause problems or damaged data.

So why do people neglect to read the documentation? There are a number of reasons. In some cases, people simply aren't aware of its existence or don't realize how important it is. Others may find documentation difficult to understand or too technical. And in some cases, people simply don't have the time to read it.
Whatever the reason, not taking the time to read documentation can be a costly mistake. If you're working on a software project, make sure you take the time to read the documentation carefully. It could save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Tips for Reading Documentation

  1. Read with a purpose in mind. What do you need to learn from the documentation?
  2. Skim first. Get a general sense of what the documentation covers before reading it in detail.
  3. Take notes. Writing down what you learn will help you remember it later.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're having trouble understanding something, reach out to a friend or colleague.

As riju_bro pointed out, colleagues will be much more inclined to help you if you've done your due diligence - google search, documentation, and the like - don't just immediately ask others when an unknown problem pops up!

  1. Use the index and search functions. Documentation can be long and dense, so use these tools to help you find the information you need quickly.
  2. Some IDEs will have documentation built-in - make sure to use it!

For example, Pycharm has this feature. I often look into the documentation for something specific I need. If that's not enough I can dive into the library code (with Ctrl +B) and see the code with its doc string and parameters! Hopping around source code like this can save a lot of time searching through online docs.

In conclusion, it is very critical to read the documentation when using new software, especially when that software is complex. By reading the documentation, you can avoid making common mistakes, and you can learn about all of the features that the software has to offer. Additionally, documentation can be a great source of entertainment, as it can be very dry and boring (/sarcasm :P)

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Top comments (4)

riju_bro profile image

Nice article bro!
But the 4th point in tips for reading documentation must be described very carefully. Because some people are annoying and constantly asking questions without reading the documentation very well. They should be educated that it is nice to ask questions after you search through the internet and read the documentation very well.
Thanks bro. Good article :-)

chainguns profile image

Thanks alot! and I completely agree, I edited the 4th point to include this.

vincentferraro profile image
Vincent Ferraro

Thanks for your article! It confort me in the way i do at the moment. I'm junior dev and after watch some tutorial, i began to read documentation to have independant thinking about the framework or language i learn. Youtube tutorial can help us to see first approach of the framework, completed with the documentation is indispensable.

earthcomfy profile image
Hana Belay

Nice post! and so true.