How to Write a Perfect ReadMe

A readme file is a plain text file that contains information about the software program or project, typically in the .txt or .md format. Readme files typically contain some extra guidelines as well as information related to patches or updates. Unfortunately, developers often underestimate the importance of these files and thus do not follow any rules when writing a readme. Keep in mind that anyone including your potential employers or contributors can access this file if you keep the code of your online in places such as GitHub. If you don’t know how to write a readme, we recommend that you read this article and get familiar with some best practices.

What should be in a readme file? A perfect readme file should contain the following information:

Scope of your project

This should answer the following questions: What makes the project unique? What are the key features that you’re implementing? This helps the potential users to quickly compare other projects with yours and get an understanding of what the software does.

Installation/deployment instructions

Even those developers who know how to write readme may sometimes forget to include installation instructions. However, the installation guide is quite useful, as sometimes even you may forget how to install and deploy your own project. For example, you can switch to a new machine or make a clean installation of your operating system. Therefore, it would be great to write down the installation and/or deployment procedure while you go through each step yourself. Finally, if your project is cross-platform, make sure to include the instructions for all supported platforms.

Contribution guidelines

If someone wants to contribute to your open-source project on GitHub, we recommend including some sort of a style guide for the contributors to comply with. For instance, you can instruct them on committing/branching or the type of code to be used. You can also leave your contact information in case the contributors have any questions or suggestions.

Instructions on changes

If your contributors don’t know how to correctly commit changes, they can mess up the entire project. Thus clear instructions on how to contribute a change should be added to your readme file. These instructions may include a quick description of the overall development process or guidelines on how to build and release a new version. It is important information to consider when learning how to write a readme file for a program.

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Environment setup instructions

Your prospective contributors should be aware of how to set up your dev environment in order to correctly build the project. Therefore, you should consider this when writing a readme. At least you should provide information on how to install all development dependencies and run an automated test suite.

Change log

Users of your project want to know what changes were made compared to the last version. It is also a nice way to publicly give credit to other contributors.

Example usage

Include installation instructions and a couple of code samples if you have a nuget/npm package or quick start guide if you have a web/desktop/mobile application.

License and author info

This data is important to clarify the legal status of your project.

We hope that now you have a better understanding of how to write a readme. Remember that a curated readme file together with clean code can help you improve your reputation and make your project stand out among other similar projects on GitHub. For even better quality, you can search the web for readme file templates. Good luck!

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