Documentation topic types

At GitLab, we have not traditionally used topic types. However, we are starting to move in this direction, and we now use four topic types:

Each page contains multiple topic types. For example, a page with the title Pipelines, which is generated from a file called index.md, can include a concept and multiple task and reference topics.

GitLab also uses high-level landing pages.

Landing pages

Landing pages are topics that group other topics and help a user to navigate a section.

Users who are using the in-product help do not have a left nav, and need these topics to navigate the documentation.

These topics can also help other users find the most important topics in a section.

Landing page topics should be in this format:

# Title (a noun, like "CI/CD or "Analytics")

Brief introduction to the concept or product area.
Include the reason why someone would use this thing.

- Bulleted list of important related topics.
- These links are needed because users of in-product help do not have left navigation.

Concept

A concept topic introduces a single feature or concept.

A concept should answer the questions:

  • What is this?
  • Why would I use it?

Think of everything someone might want to know if they’ve never heard of this topic before.

Don’t tell them how to do this thing. Tell them what it is.

If you start describing another topic, start a new concept and link to it.

Concept topics should be in this format:

# Title (a noun, like "Widgets")

A paragraph that explains what this thing is.

Another paragraph that explains what this thing is.

Remember, if you start to describe about another concept, stop yourself.
Each concept topic should be about one concept only.

Task

A task topic gives instructions for how to complete a procedure.

Task topics should be in this format:

# Title (starts with an active verb, like "Create a widget" or "Delete a widget")

Do this task when you want to...

Prerequisites (optional):

- Thing 1
- Thing 2
- Thing 3

To do this task:

1. Location then action. (Go to this menu, then select this item.)
1. Another step.
1. Another step.

Task result (optional). Next steps (optional).

Here is an example.

# Create an issue

Create an issue when you want to track bugs or future work.

Prerequisites:

- A minimum of Contributor access to a project in GitLab.

To create an issue:

1. Go to **Issues > List**.
1. In the top right, click **New issue**.
1. Complete the fields. (If you have a reference topic that lists each field, link to it here.)
1. Click **Submit issue**.

The issue is created. You can view it by going to **Issues > List**.

Reference

A reference topic provides information in an easily-scannable format, like a table or list. It’s similar to a dictionary or encyclopedia entry.

# Title (a noun, like "Pipeline settings" or "Administrator options")

Introductory sentence.

| Setting | Description |
|---------|-------------|
| **Name** | Descriptive sentence about the setting. |

Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting topics can be one of two categories:

  • Troubleshooting task. This topic is written the same as a standard task topic. For example, “Run debug tools” or “Verify syntax.”
  • Troubleshooting reference. This topic has a specific format.

Troubleshooting reference topics should be in this format:

# Title (the error message or a description of it)

You might get an error that states <error message>.

This issue occurs when...

The workaround is...

Other information on a topic

Topics include other information.

For example:

Help and feedback section

This section (introduced in GitLab 11.4) is displayed at the end of each document and can be omitted by adding a key into the front matter:

---
feedback: false
---

The default is to leave it there. If you want to omit it from a document, you must check with a technical writer before doing so.

Disqus

We also have integrated the docs site with Disqus (introduced by !151), allowing our users to post comments.

To omit only the comments from the feedback section, use the following key in the front matter:

---
comments: false
---

We’re hiding comments only in main index pages, such as the main documentation index, since its content is too broad to comment on. Before omitting Disqus, you must check with a technical writer.

Note that after adding feedback: false to the front matter, it will omit Disqus, therefore, don’t add both keys to the same document.

The click events in the feedback section are tracked with Google Tag Manager. The conversions can be viewed on Google Analytics by navigating to Behavior > Events > Top events > docs.

Guidelines for good practices

Introduced in GitLab 13.2 as GitLab Development documentation.

Good practice examples demonstrate encouraged ways of writing code while comparing with examples of practices to avoid. These examples are labeled as Bad or Good. In GitLab development guidelines, when presenting the cases, it’s recommended to follow a first-bad-then-good strategy. First demonstrate the Bad practice (how things could be done, which is often still working code), and then how things should be done better, using a Good example. This is typically an improved example of the same code.

Consider the following guidelines when offering examples:

  • First, offer the Bad example, and then the Good one.
  • When only one bad case and one good case is given, use the same code block.
  • When more than one bad case or one good case is offered, use separated code blocks for each. With many examples being presented, a clear separation helps the reader to go directly to the good part. Consider offering an explanation (for example, a comment, or a link to a resource) on why something is bad practice.
  • Better and best cases can be considered part of the good case(s) code block. In the same code block, precede each with comments: # Better and # Best.

Although the bad-then-good approach is acceptable for the GitLab development guidelines, do not use it for user documentation. For user documentation, use Do and Don’t. For examples, see the Pajamas Design System.