What are Release Notes? Explanation & FAQs
softLearn how release notes provide valuable insights into the latest features, improvements, and bug fixes in each software release.
Communicating with users is not that different from catching up with a good friend. You want to tell them what’s new in your life, what’s going well, what isn’t, and what you plan for the future. In a way, you’re compiling a sequence of release notes that keep your friends informed and engaged with your personal developments.
For SaaS businesses, release notes play a pivotal role in keeping your users, internal teams, and external stakeholders up to date with the latest changes and improvements in your software. Proactively communicating product updates is an important product-led growth (PLG) strategy, as it’s one of the most effective ways to demonstrate a product’s evolution and showcase efforts to enhance user experience.
If you’re in the business of enabling seamless product experiences, this article is your go-to resource for understanding, creating, and leveraging release notes effectively.
What are release notes and why do we need them?
Release notes are concise documents that provide detailed information about the changes, enhancements, bug fixes, and new features introduced in a software release or update. They serve as a communication tool between product teams and users, keeping them informed about and engaged with the latest developments in the product.
In essence, release notes answer the question: What has changed in the software, and how does it affect users? These notes are crucial for various stakeholders, including end-users, developers, product managers, QA teams, and even investors, as they help in understanding the evolution of the product, the resolution of issues, and the introduction of new functionalities.
Release notes typically include sections such as:
Release notes that announce new features describe any new functionalities or capabilities introduced to the product and explain how users can benefit from them. The goal of new feature releases is not only to inform users but also to get them inside the product, activating features and finding value quickly.
New feature announcements also demonstrate your product’s evolution and dedication to fulfilling users’ needs, becoming valuable displays of product growth.
Release notes related to bug fixes list and describe any issues in the product that have been resolved, along with information about the nature of the bugs, their impact on users, and how the fixes improve the software’s performance.
Product performance must be taken seriously, as even the smallest signs of friction can turn your users towards the competition. Promptly addressing bug fixes demonstrates a commitment to continuously improving user experience, and can have a lasting impact in product adoption.
Some product updates aim to simply improve an existing feature or functionality in your software. Release notes about product enhancements introduce these improvements and explain how they contribute to a better user experience or increased functionality.
User feedback is the primary material to lay the foundation for product improvements. From qualitative feedback like user reviews and quantitative assessments like NPS scores, you can learn what enhancements need to be prioritized to make users happy.
Collecting feedback to inform changes in your product doesn’t have to be an arduous and time-consuming task. With Beamer Feedback, for example, users can leave various types of feedback directly on release notes: comments, reactions, and even feature ideas or suggestions.
Changes and deprecations.
Software is like a living body constantly going through changes that impact its functionality and performance. Release notes that document any modifications to the product, including features that are being deprecated, serve to ensure that users are not caught off-guard by change.
Like with previous examples, the goal of these release notes is not only to inform but also to educate users, providing guidance and resources to help them adapt to what’s new.
Users love good news, but sometimes they also need to be informed about mishaps in your product that can negatively impact their experience. Communicating any known issues that still exist in a current release, including details about the nature of these issues and providing workarounds or expected timelines for resolution, can proactively evade user frustration.
These updates should be clear and transparent, leaving no room for misinterpretation of the severity and impact of the issues being reported.
Release notes best practices and examples.
Release notes can be straightforward, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that there’s no need for a cohesive structure and strategy behind them. Following some simple best practices will ensure that users understand the information being relayed and increasingly engage if your product updates.
Let’s get into them.
Use clear and concise language.
When crafting updates, clarity is key. Leave the technical jargon that might confuse some users to developer docs, and instead focus on transparency. While users are your primary audience, release notes serve to communicate with a diverse pool of stakeholders, including internal teams, prospects, and business partners.
If you need help formulating concise release notes, use one of our release note templates.
Format using bulleted lists.
Bullet lists enhance the overall readability of your release notes and make information more accessible. They create structure and are easy to read, conveying your key message quickly and clearly.
In this example of an email release note sent by Linktree, a bullet list is used to succinctly introduce and summarize the benefits of a newly released feature.
Release notes are a reflection of your roadmap, so presenting information in chronological order, following the sequence of changes, helps users and other stakeholders follow your product’s evolution. This also makes it easier for readers to understand the context of each modification, as product updates can often riff off one another.
Incorporating visuals such as screenshots or diagrams to complement textual descriptions will effectively catch users’ attention. Visuals provide additional context and help users better grasp the changes introduced in the release, especially if they’re only skimming through your changelog.
In this example from Beamer’s own newsfeed, a bright visual is used to announce a new integration with Zapier. It’s eye-catching and immediately delivers the message, making this release note hard to miss.
Highlight key points.
A sequence of release notes tells a story, but a single release note tells users what matters. They should focus on the key points of a release, which can be emphasized using formatting techniques like bolding or bullet lists. Addressing the key points of a product update ensures that users don’t overlook important news while getting distracted by noise.
Who reads release notes?
As briefly mentioned above, release notes cater to various audiences, not only end-users. Understanding who you’re targeting when announcing product updates will help you better craft your messages, making sure that all bases are covered and that every stakeholder is considered and acknowledged.
So who reads release notes?
- End-users: Rely on release notes to understand and keep up with changes that might affect their product usage and experience.
- Developers: Consult release notes to stay informed about technical changes and the software’s development progress, using it as an asynchronous channel to keep up with what their colleagues are working on and deploying.
- Product Managers: Reference release notes to gauge alignment with the product roadmap, update internal communication, and measure user sentiment around product changes and updates.
- Sales and CS Teams: Use release notes to better support customers and prospects, relaying product updates and changes that will convince an undecided buyer or unlock a blocked customer.
- QA Teams: Check release notes to understand what issues have been resolved and what needs to be retested. For QA leaders, release notes can also help assess the performance of their teams, as in how proactively new features are flowing through the QA cycle.
- External stakeholders: Access release notes to stay informed about overall product development and growth, inferring how quickly and efficiently the work is done to enhance and expand the product.
How often should release notes be published?
Release notes should be published with each significant software release or update. The frequency of release note publication depends on several factors, including the development cycle, the number of changes made, and the urgency of communicating updates to users.
Here’s what you should consider when planning your release note calendar:
- Significant changes: Release notes are most relevant when there are significant changes to the software. This includes introducing new features, bug fixes, enhancements, or any modifications that impact the user experience.
- Development cycle: Consider the frequency of your software development cycle. If your team follows an agile or iterative development approach with frequent releases, you may have more frequent release notes to keep users regularly informed.
- User impact: If an update includes changes that directly affect users, it’s important to publish release notes promptly. This helps users understand what to expect and how to make the most of the new features or changes.
- Urgency: In some cases, urgent updates or critical bug fixes may require immediate communication through release notes. In such situations, timely and clear communication is paramount.
- User expectations: Establish a predictable schedule for release notes if possible. This helps set expectations for users and stakeholders, and they can anticipate when to look for updates.
Remember that the goal is to keep users informed without overwhelming them. Balance the frequency with the significance of the changes, and ensure that the information provided is clear, concise, and valuable to your user base.
How can Beamer help you with release notes?
Beamer is a versatile product management and user engagement platform designed to assist SaaS teams in effectively managing user communication assets like release notes. Here’s how Beamer can help SaaS teams:
- Effortless updates: Beamer provides a user-friendly platform to streamline creating and publishing release notes, ensuring that users are always informed about the latest changes.
- Changelog management: With Beamer Changelog, you can document and showcase product updates in a structured newsfeed, helping users easily track and understand the evolution of your software.
- User feedback: Beamer streamlines the process of collecting and interpreting user feedback, helping SaaS teams gather insights to improve their product with new features and enhancements. This interactive feedback loop helps in understanding user sentiments and addressing concerns promptly.
- NPS tracking: Enables SaaS teams to gauge user satisfaction and loyalty based on specific releases. This data is valuable for understanding how well-received a release is among users.
- In-app notifications: Beamer allows SaaS teams to use in-app push notifications to communicate directly with users, without directing them out of the product. Engaging users in-app also contributes to better product adoption.
- Feature prioritization: Beamer provides insights into user preferences and feedback that SaaS teams can use to make informed decisions about the prioritization of features in future releases.
- Integration & automation opportunities: Beamer integrates with various tools and platforms, either through direct integration or via our API and webhooks. These integrations help you automate the process of managing release notes and user feedback.
By leveraging Beamer, SaaS teams can enhance their product updates and release management, engage users effectively, and create a positive user experience throughout the product lifecycle. Beamer contributes to transparent communication and user satisfaction, which are necessary to keep your product evolving.
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