Documentation is underused and for most part, ignored in the world of CSS. Since it is invisible to end user, the value it carries is unheeded by clients. Additionally, if you are documenting code for the first time, it may be difficult to determine what precisely to document and the way to do it most efficiently.
However, documenting CSS will offer a lot of benefits to your project. It can inspire better code practices and simplifies the onboarding process of new team members.
Listed below are some of the advantages of documenting CSS and best practices to make it work for you:
Establish Some Ground Rules
It is not easy to get on the documentation trend, especially if you’re not clear about what to document or how exactly you wish it to work. Hence, the most crucial step is to decide on the conventions you wish to use and various ways you must implement them. This can be done in a live document so that each member of a team can contribute. So, with each change, you can keep the entire thing up-to-date. Some of the best places to do this include Wiki page, shared Google doc, page on “living style guide” etc.
Elucidate Your Code Base Structure
You must gain a detailed understanding on the way your code is organized. This helps everyone in the team to kick-start the action from day one. No wastage of time absolutely! You can create a map of your file structure. Here, you can explain what’s included and what should go where. While undertaking this task, you must pay special attention to places where you may find ambiguity. For example, it may not really help to indicate that the file “buttons.css” comprises of button styles. On the other hand, specifying that the “custom” directory is precisely the place where custom styles for the theme are located will save you a lot of time.
Create Your Coding Standards
Your CSS style or coding standards guide denotes the technique your team has decided on writing CSS. This guide will include best practices on scripting code, such as naming, formatting, and syntax conventions. Most organizations have shared the technique they use for the same. You can start off with don’ts vs. do’s list and best practices list.
No Long Stylesheets
It is easier to document styles when you focus on breaking your styles into smaller and more focused stylesheets. This saves a lot of your time as there’s no need to document what develops as self-explanatory.
Index Stylesheet Contents
It helps you to supply a snapshot of whatever is contained within the stylesheet. This is also a must have in projects where, long stylesheets must stay. As an alternative, you can also make use of indexes by allowing a style guide generator do the work for you. It will have a look at your stylesheets, find the sections you have defined and even develop an index for you.
Discover the Sweet Spot of Documenting
This is where the secret of documenting actually lies. It is easier to get carried away and slip into a documentation frenzy, once, forget about it, and then finish up with just a part of codebase (over-documented) and the remaining part – undocumented. The key is to find the balance. You need to document areas where focus is actually required as there are many unanticipated dependences, extra resources, or essential notes to remember. This also means that there’s no need to document each bit of code. However, breaking it down into portions and describing what those portions are (when required), is helpful. In this manner, documentation turns out to be a useful tool and an integral part of your workflow.
Move a Step Further
It really helps to incorporate a living style guide as an integral part of your documentation. This is a living document that displays comments you included in your code to be able to navigate the documentation individually from the source code.
The living style guides are dynamic because the actual documentation lives with the code. Hence, it can be easily updated as the code witness changes which further facilitate it to stay in sync and hold relevance. Additionally, it is possible to make this documentation available to others within the team who may not have direct interaction with the code such as freelance web developer & designer, QA engineers, product managers etc. Interactive demonstrations of code can also be included into the living style guide.