Documentation Guidelines

Documentation helps us work more effectively.

It can clear doubts from people’s minds and frees us from the need to explain the same things repeatedly.

The act of writing documentation helps us understand things more clearly ourselves. If we can’t explain something in words, then it probably doesn’t make sense.

Documentation helps us understand historical reasons for why things are like they are, especially when the pages are stored in Git repositories.

Something is better than nothing

Remember that it’s better to have some information, rather than none at all – providing that it’s correct of course.

Documentation doesn’t need to be perfect. Just write something. It can be improved and expanded upon later.

Don’t worry too much about using correct English if it’s hard. On the other hand, if you find some spelling mistakes or odd sentences in our docs, and you know how to fix them, then just go ahead and edit the doc.

Types of documentation

Different types of documentation serve different purposes, and therefore have different standards and styles.

Process documentation

Write these in collaboration with the team.

Keep them short and to the point, otherwise nobody will read them.

Lists of DO and DON’T are good for guideline-type documents.

Examples can be quite helpful

Design documentation and specifications

Again, something is better than nothing.

Just write it down and commit it to the code repository.

Make the document’s status clear. For example, if you are writing a design which isn’t implemented yet, then state this fact at the top of the document.

Where possible, link design documentation to other material such as:

  • Haddock documentation
  • Source code on GitHub
  • User manuals
  • User Stories on Jira

Code documentation

If it fits in Haddock, then put it in Haddock. Otherwise, link to an external document.

If you write documentation in plain non-Haddock comment blocks, it will be more difficult to find in future, so best to avoid this.

API documentation

Use automatic API documentation systems where appropriate:

The API documentation should be published to a website by CI process.

Developer tips and guides

Examples of these are instructions on how to build the code or run tests.

Put these in the Git repo with the code under an appropriate subdirectory. If the topic is common to all projects, use the input-output-hk/adrestia repo.

User Manuals

Apply the Documentation System model for user documentation.

Store user documentation in the Git repo with the code.

Use CI (e.g. GitHub actions) to publish user docs from the Git repo to a static web site.

User Stories and Requirements

Put these in Jira as User Story type tickets so that they can be linked to development tasks.

Documentation Formats

Prefer Markdown (e.g. CommonMark or GFM) whenever possible. This format is simple, ubiquitous, and very effective for most purposes.

Sometimes LaTeX may be necessary for your document, but start with Markdown, and convert to LaTeX only once you’re certain that you need it.

Documentation Tools

Avoid using proprietary software for writing and publishing documentation. Some of these systems may look all nice and flashy, but they will usually bite us in the future.

Collaborative Editing

Use for collaborative editing of Markdown documents and as a scratch pad. It is a private instance of Hedgedoc, which is the same software that runs HackMD.


Please do not use Effluence for Adrestia documentation. It’s horrible.

Google Docs

Some people find that Google Docs can be helpful for drafting documents. But once the document is in a reasonably complete state, export it to a Git Repo, and trash the original, so that people don’t accidentally consult the wrong document.

GitHub Wiki

The Wiki feature of GitHub would almost be good enough for some of our purposes, except that the provided formatting options are quite limited. And GitHub Wiki pages aren’t indexed by Google, which is bad for users.

Review Process

We wish to remove the barriers preventing developers from writing documentation. We especially want to make it easy for people to update and improve existing documentation.

Therefore, PR review is optional for documentation updates.

You can of course engage other team members to help with drafting and reviewing of docs, but often this isn’t necessary.

The idea is to have Wiki-like ease of publishing, but without the crap Wiki part.

Documentation mistakes can usually be reversed or corrected later, without adverse effects. Use your judgement to decide whether or not to request reviews of a documentation change.

How to write documentation

Follow the documentation on the Emanote Website for information on how to use the publishing system. Following by example is the easiest way to get something done.

Install emanote locally using those instructions, or just use the Nix shell contained in this repo.

[~/iohk/adrestia]$ nix develop

rodney@tethys:~/iohk/adrestia [adp] $ emanote -L docs
[Info] Launching Ema under: /home/rodney/iohk/adrestia
[Info] ============================================
[Info] Running live server at
[Info] ============================================
[Info#Ema.Helper.FileSystem] Monitoring /home/rodney/iohk/adrestia/docs for changes
[Info#Ema.Helper.FileSystem] Monitoring /nix/store/j455vnnvzkmidncllrvkv1hd1ya00dam-emanote- for changes

Adding cardano-wallet documentation layer

See the script.

TODO notes

If something is incomplete, add a markdown bulleted list containing an empty markdown checkbox ([ ]), so that we know to come back to it.

  • This thing was done.
  • Write more documentation.

These TODO items will appear in the Task Index.


  • Strive to make your document easy to read. Otherwise people won’t read it.

  • Write in short and clear sentences.

  • Use headings to divide your document into logical sections.

  • Apply the IOHK Style Guide where applicable.

Emanote Resources


  • YAML Multiline - Find the right syntax for your YAML multiline strings.



More things to write

  • Documentation versioning policy
Links to this page
#needs/review #process