Timeless documentation is documentation that avoids words and phrases that anchor the documentation to a point in time or assume knowledge of prior or future products and features. In general, document the current version of a product or feature.
Timeless documentation is especially important for technical documents that might be read a long time after they are written. Words like now, new, and currently can render such documentation inaccurate, outdated, or unmeaningful. For example, Connected sheets is a new feature in Sheets is a statement that assumes prior knowledge of the product to be meaningful and becomes outdated soon after publication. In contrast, timeless documentation focuses on how the product works right now—not on how it has changed from previous versions, and not how it might change in the future.
If you're writing procedural or time-stamped content such as press releases, blog posts, or release notes, such time-based words and phrases are okay. For example, new is okay in a blog post that announces updates to a product: Dataflow includes several new features. Or, soon is okay in procedural content to emphasize a change in state after a user performs a step: The VM goes offline soon after you send the shutdown command. However, some of these words can become outdated or incorrect when used in product documentation to refer to a product's features and capabilities, so we recommend against using such words in that context.
Writing timeless product documentation has the following value:
- It reduces the maintenance required to keep documentation up to date.
- It avoids assuming the reader is familiar with earlier versions of the product.
Words and phrases to avoid
The following words and phrases can undermine timelessness in documentation:
Words and phrases that make promises or project plans and strategies. In the context of describing product or feature capabilities, words and phrases such as at present, as of this writing, or eventually can prematurely disclose plans for a product or feature, or they can inappropriately imply that a product or feature might change. In those cases, don't use such words and phrases.
For more information, see Documenting future features.
- Words and phrases that are implied. At Google, we assume our documentation is current unless a specific release version is specified. Thus, words and phrases such as currently and as of this writing are implied by the existence of the documentation itself.
- Words and phrases that become outdated soon after publication. Words such as soon and latest quickly become irrelevant.
- Words and phrases that assume prior knowledge of a product or feature. If you must use words like new, give a reference point such as a date or version release number—for example, The January 14, 2021 release of BigQuery includes a new resource panel.
When describing product or feature capabilities in product and reference documentation, avoid the following words and phrases:
- as of this writing
- does not yet
- future, in the future
- new, newer
- old, older
- presently, at present