The Art of Writing Release Notes I: Defining Your Audience

In our new blog series, we talk about how to write great software release notes with a simple, single goal: Get your customers actually reading and engaging with your updates.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll be talking in detail about how to write product release notes.

By the end of this series, we want you to be armed with everything you need to write something that's not on helpful, but actually readadble, too.

If "readable" seems like a low bar to set for yourself, take a look at the average product release notes from just about any large tech company and let me know how much fun you had reading them. You'll be suprised how writing something for actual humans to read is going to already set you apart from the crowd.

Step 1: Defining Your Audience

Whether you’re updating your SaaS release notes or writing a novel, defining your audience always has to be your starting point. And yet, it’s a step that’s very often skimmed over.

Perhaps in your ideal world, the answer to who is reading your product release notes would be “everyone”, but that’s a touch unrealistic. Luckily, you’ve probably already got some idea of your audience in a general sense, you just need to adjust and refine that down.

After all, you could resurrect Keats from the dead and have him write your product notes as a brand new romantic sonnet and two-thirds of your customers would still be surprised to hear you’ve made any changes at all.

The 3 Most Common Types of Changelog Reader

So with necromancy ruled out, what next? Well, we can't tell you who your audience is, but we can tell the types of people who are most likely to engage with any sort of product updates.

Here’s a good general example. The splits of each segment vary heavily depending on the type of business you’re running, and, generally speaking, how good your software and service actually is.

Existing customers that are highly engaged: Those lovely customers who just love what you do, stay updated and engaged about everything you release and even help you with feedback and feature suggestions. Hard to find, but easy to please.

Existing customers that are highly annoyed: Or to put it another way, customers that have a vested interest in you either fixing a problem or adding a feature that they think is missing. These guys are checking for a particular problem to be solved. Easy to find, but hard to please.

New customers that are checking you out: If you’re using a release notes widget like the one we offer to help product updates become more visible, you’re likely to attract more of this third segment. They’re usually more interested in frequency and tone of updates than they are about content.

Can you appeal to all of these groups in every update? Not always, but you should be aware of them before you write.

If you’ve had a bug in your software for weeks that’s affecting a large portion of your customers, now probably isn’t the time to put out a funny release note about a new feature, or start throwing memes around like candies.

Likewise, if you’re aware that there will be lots of new visitors coming to your site because of a promotion, maybe you can update your release notes a bit more frequently and with a little more flair and energy to show off some off your activity a little more.

Simple Segmenting

Changelogs with custom categories can be an easy way to get around sending the wrong messages to the wrong people. By setting up a category for updates and one for fixes, you can go a long way to getting your message to the right people faster.

ChangeCrab, our software release notes tool, lets you set custom categories for free. Our competitors seem to like to charge for this service, which should show you just how useful it can be in terms of basic but highly effective audience segmentation. You can give it a go by signing up for a free changelog.

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