Why Writing Release Notes Is an Essential Skill for Product Managers

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For many product managers, writing release notes is an afterthought or seems like a boring chore. Release notes are often written haphazardly at the last minute, lacking depth and details. If you fall into this category, you definitely want to have a rethink.

Release notes help you communicate with your end-user. It also shows them how much quality work you put into your product development process. You have the power to turn what seems like a pointless, routine exercise into a remarkable tool to engage your customer base, excite people about your brand, and build customer loyalty.

In this article, you’ll find out why writing release notes is an essential skill for product managers. You’ll also find some tips for writing better release notes.

release notes product manager

What are release notes?

Release notes are the written technical documentation produced and distributed alongside the announcement of a new product or product update, such as additional features, bug fixes, among others. They are an important way of helping your customers understand the current state of your product, see past updates and release versions, and recognize what your new product is supposed to do.

Product managers write release notes to directly inform end-users about changes to products, mainly minor and major adjustments, likely to affect their experience. This helps to engage your customers’ community and raise awareness about your existing product.

Why you need to check out release notes examples before writing yours

A fast way to know how to write release notes is to check out great release note examples. Looking at patterns and comparing these samples will help you draft your own. Many reputable brands have cracked the code of release notes. Understudying them and picking relevant characteristics will serve you well when you’re writing yours.

Why is writing release notes an essential skill for product managers?

Release notes keep your users informed of new product features

Release notes are an excellent communication channel that plays an important role in ensuring a high-quality experience for your end-users. With release notes, you educate your users about your new feature and keep them engaged with your product. This shows them that you acknowledge their feedback and are actively working to improve your product and satisfy their concerns. As a result, your users feel like they are part of something big. A positive result of this is that it improves customer loyalty and sets you apart from the crowd.

Release notes improve product utilization

When users know what product or features are being released, they know what to look forward to and try. This gets them curiously scouring through your product for new elements, and eventually using the product more. Additionally, if the users are satisfied with your product or feature update, they are likely to share the news with people around them, resulting in lead generation and conversion.

Release notes tell your product’s story

For every product, release notes are an integral part of the development cycle, showcasing your brand’s personality. They can also be referred to as your product’s diary with details on the historical log of every change, fix, and improvement made to your product. As your product evolves, developers, product managers, and end-users can look through the release notes to see how far you have come and get more insight into what is going on with your product.

Tips for writing better release notes

Although release notes do not have a one-size-fits-all format, some rules can help you write your notes better. Most importantly, your release notes must always adhere to your brand’s standards. If you are out of ideas, check out other release notes examples for inspiration.

Check out these tips to help you write better release notes.

Keep it simple and jargon-free

The content of your release note may contain new features, recent bug fixes, or maybe even deprecated features. However, some of the terminologies associated with these updates are pretty bogus for an average user. Therefore, leave technical jargon out of your release notes. Your release notes must be accessible to the target audience, which will not be the case if a product manager uses solely technical language.

Include relevant links

Even if you provide an elaborate summary of your new products or features, still include helpful links for those users curious to get more information about your updates. These links can lead to a user guide or a video tutorial.

Format and organize your release notes

Organizing your release notes in a way that’s easy to understand allows your users to quickly skim through your notes and locate whatever they are looking for. Break your notes into different sections, bold and italicize characters, use bullet points, and include images to make them visually appealing.

Focus your release notes on the users

When writing your release notes, remember that your target audience is the users. So, rather than saturating your release note with in-depth details of the new additions you have included in your product, include ways that the new additions can benefit your users. Ensure your users know they are the focus and reason behind the new product or feature update. Your product will feel closer to home when your users can relate to it personally.

Distribute your release notes among multiple channels

As much as release notes are meant to keep your customers updated with your product, they are also a great way to drive business growth and success. Each channel has its different mode of operation, and your outcome will differ across channels. Examples of the channels include:

  • Emails
  • Social media
  • Blog posts
  • In-app messaging
  • App stores 
  • Online groups and communities such as Slack channels and LinkedIn communities

Choose whatever channels work best for your company, but don’t overwhelm yourself; any channel that isn’t helping your product is worth cutting off.

Reward users for reading your release notes

Release notes are the right time to reward customer loyalty, especially as the people that will read your release notes are likely your most devoted users. Polymail used this tactic and gave stickers to customers who thoroughly read through their release notes. 

Brandon Shin, the cofounder of Polymail, explained how they made release notes exciting for their customers. According to him, they looked for ways to grow the feeling of appreciation and interaction among their users and decided to include small prizes – stickers, in their release notes. So, users who thoroughly read through their release notes would get a free sticker.

What to include in your release notes

There’s no typical format for release notes. For a brand-new product, the release note might be more detailed than a release note for a new product feature or bug fix. In all, ensure that your release notes are in line with your company standards.

Generally, have these components in your release notes:

  1. Header: The header includes the product name, document name, date of release, release number, release note version, and release note date.
  2. Overview: The overview briefly describes the product or feature update.
  3. Purpose: This section discusses the product’s history and explains why the product update is needed or why the new product was launched. The overview also describes a summary of the product features, emphasizing new features.
  4. Issues/Limitations: Here, provide a list of issues resolved and a brief description of what was done. Also talk about all the obstacles you encountered while completing these changes.
  5. Resolutions: This section explains all the changes made to address the issues. Include details of how you’re implementing the new changes.
  6. Impacted users/products/software: Here, add what products or services are being changed and which category of your users will be affected.
  7. Support impacts: In this section, include the specific changes required to operate the product. This section can also serve as action items for stakeholders that support the release.
  8. Notes: In this section, have essential notes about product documentation, software and hardware installation, and product upgrades.
  9. Disclaimers: This section includes product and company disclaimers.
  10. Contact: Here, add your company’s contact information for support requests.

What to include in your release notes

There’s no typical format for release notes. For a brand-new product, the release note might be more detailed than a release note for a new product feature or bug fix. In all, ensure that your release notes are in line with your company standards.

Generally, have these components in your release notes:

  1. Header: The header includes the product name, document name, date of release, release number, release note version, and release note date.
  2. Overview: The overview briefly describes the product or feature update.
  3. Purpose: This section discusses the product’s history and explains why the product update is needed or why the new product was launched. The overview also describes a summary of the product features, emphasizing new features.
  4. Issues/Limitations: Here, provide a list of issues resolved and a brief description of what was done. Also talk about all the obstacles you encountered while completing these changes.
  5. Resolutions: This section explains all the changes made to address the issues. Include details of how you’re implementing the new changes.
  6. Impacted users/products/software: Here, add what products or services are being changed and which category of your users will be affected.
  7. Support impacts: In this section, include the specific changes required to operate the product. This section can also serve as action items for stakeholders that support the release.
  8. Notes: In this section, have essential notes about product documentation, software and hardware installation, and product upgrades.
  9. Disclaimers: This section includes product and company disclaimers.
  10. Contact: Here, add your company’s contact information for support requests.

Wrapping up

Release notes are a perfect opportunity to send a message and communicate with your users and the general public. Many people underestimate the impact of release notes; however, they play a significant role in your product’s reach. 

If they are written well, release notes can boost customer loyalty and improve engagement. Moreover, customers appreciate knowing what’s being fixed, removed, or added from your application. Ensure you keep them in the know by using the information in this article to write great release notes and make them readily available.

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