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The Art of API Documentation

API Documentation 3: Teaches technical writers how to write API overview material, tutorials, etc.
4.1 (105 ratings)
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549 students enrolled
Last updated 2/2017
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  • 1 hour on-demand video
  • 1 Article
  • 13 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What Will I Learn?
Write API conceptual documentation, such as overviews, getting started sections, and tutorials.
Make calls to REST APIs using visual and command-line tools.
Find an open source project to document as a way of gaining experience.
View Curriculum
  • You should be familiar with APIs and how to document requests and responses (for web APIs) and classes and members (for platform APIs).
  • Google Chrome is required for one of the exercises.

Course Description

This is the third in a series of courses for technical writers who want to learn how to write API documentation. The first two courses are called "Learn API Technical Writing: JSON and XML for Writers" and "Learn API Technical Writing: REST for Writers", and it's recommended that you first take those courses, unless you are very familiar with API documentation, and how to document reference material.

This course teaches how to write conceptual API documentation, such as overviews, getting started sections, and tutorials. For the most part, no programming experience is required, but technical writers with programming experience will still find it useful.

In addition to conceptual material, this course covers guidelines for good sample code, tools for making REST requests, and how to find an open source project to document as a way to get into the field of API writing.

What are APIs?

APIs (Application Program Interfaces) define how software systems talk to each other, and API documentation is a rapidly growing field. There is a strong need for writers who can understand APIs and explain them so that software developers can understand how to use them. API writers get to be in on the cutting edge of technology in high-paying positions.

What is Conceptual Material?

API documentation consists of reference material and conceptual material. Reference material describes the details of the API: what are the pieces of each request and response, or each class and member. Conceptual material orients developers so that it's easy for them to get started with a new API.

What is in This Course?

By the end of the course, you will understand how to write good API conceptual material, how to make REST calls using GUI and command-line tools, and how to find an open source project to document. In this course you'll find:

  • 8 videos that:
    • Describe how to write good conceptual material
    • Provide guidelines for good sample code
    • Demonstrates how to use tools to make REST calls
    • Leads you through examples of how to find open source projects on the internet
  • 2 hands-on exercises to lead you through making REST requests using tools
  • PowerPoint presentations as a resource for every video lecture
  • A PDF with resources for finding open source projects

The course takes approximately 1 hours and 30 minutes to complete, depending on how fast you are with the exercises.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is designed for technical writers who have some understanding of how to write API reference material.
  • No programming knowledge is required.
  • Take the first two courses in the series if you need a stronger understanding of APIs.
  • This course does not cover how to document reference material (requests, responses, classes, members, etc.)
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Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 13 Lectures Collapse All 13 Lectures 01:00:36
1 Lecture 04:44

This lecture covers:

  • What are APIs and why are they important?
  • Why is API documentation important?
  • The difference between conceptual and reference material
  • What is in this course
Preview 04:44
API Conceptual Material
5 Lectures 23:58

This lecture covers:

  • Why is API conceptual material important?
  • A quick description of:
    • Overviews
    • Getting Started
    • Tutorials
    • Sample Code
Preview 03:57

This lecture covers:

  • Explaining "Why", not just "How"
  • Key Concepts
  • Workflow diagrams
  • Architecture diagrams
API Overview Material

This lecture covers:

  • Why a Getting Started section is critical
  • What "Hello World" means
  • The structure of Getting Started sections
  • What should be in a Web API Getting Started section
  • What should be in a Platform API Getting Started section
Getting Started Section

This lecture covers:

  • The importance of tutorials
  • Identifying common tasks
  • The structure of tutorials
  • Screenshots
Preview 03:02

This lecture covers:

  • Why developers like sample code
  • Guidelines for good sample code
  • Web API vs. Platform API sample code
  • Link to an article on this subject
Sample Code
3 Lectures 07:58

This lecture covers:

  • Why tools for calling REST APIs are useful
  • GUI tools
  • Command-line tools (cURL)
Tools for Calling REST APIs

This lecture shows you how to install Postman, the GUI REST Chrome app, and then use it to make REST calls.

Hands-on Exercise: GUI REST client (Postman)
5 pages

This lecture how to install cURL, the command-line tool, and then use it to make REST calls.

Hands-on Exercise: Command-line Tool (cURL)
6 pages
Where to Go From Here
4 Lectures 11:57

This lesson covers:

  • How to break into the field of API documentation
  • What is an open source project?
  • GitHub
  • How to find an open source project to document
Finding an Open Source Project to Document

This lecture covers:

  • A summary of all previous lectures
  • Next steps

This lecture contains an outline that shows a suggested structure for API documentation.

API Documentation Outline
1 page

Get a discount on the first course in the next series, which is Coding for Writers: Basic Programming.

Bonus Lecture: Offer for First Course in the Next Series
About the Instructor
4.6 Average rating
711 Reviews
2,483 Students
4 Courses
President, SDK Bridge

Peter founded SDK Bridge to bring together his love of technology and writing. After 10 years as a software developer, he learned the skill of API writing at Microsoft. Since then, he has worked as an API writer to describe APIs for eCommerce, automobile traffic prediction, electric utilities, mobile phones, and tractors, just to name a few. In addition to API and SDK documentation, he creates video tutorials for software developer audiences. Peter received his BA in Physics from the University of Chicago and his PhD in Applied Physics from Stanford University.

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