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I'm a software developer, and I have a friend who isn't (maybe call him an aspiring product manager)

He has an idea for a web application, and wants to write a design or specification for it:

  • So that I can estimate (from the spec) how long it might take to develop
  • So that he can show the design/spec to other people (e.g. investors+users)

I'd like him to have some good advice:

  • How to write a design/specification
  • What information should be included
  • What tools to use (if any)
  • Perhaps some example[s] to emulate

Let's say this is for a simple web application of moderate complexity:

  • Several users
  • Users enter data and share it with other users
  • Several web pages

Let's say too that it ought to be written/recorded, not just in his head and told to people in live meetings.

And finally let's say that I'm not too fussed about the styling (the CSS) -- yes the layout on each page, but not the specific colors and fonts, shiny buttons and icons.


Anyway, my question here is, can I ask about that on this site?

How can I ask without its being considered a "shopping question"?

It seems like a shopping question because the answer is maybe too long for a single new answer posted on this site, so I'm probably looking for a whole article or tutorial, or product web site (or book).

And yet I'd guess this ought to be on-topic here. Or has it already been asked and answered?

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From the description that you've provided, it doesn't seem like what you've described would be a good fit here.

Information about how to write specifications and designs and what information to include is the subject of entire books. You can find books on various topics in software requirements engineering, ranging from broad surveys of the field to specific methodologies and approaches. You'll also find entire books on user experience design and user interface design, with similar scopes ranging from overviews to specific approaches. Books on the topics of product management may also cover some aspects of both requirements design and user experience design.

Tool recommendations are specifically off-topic here. We've found that they tend to be highly opinionated and can go out of date very quickly as some tools lose support and others gain new features. However, there is a Software Recommendations Stack Exchange that has rules that make software recommendation questions effective. If you have a good idea about what you're looking for and can define it, that community may be able to help.

My recommendation is to start with research and then come back with specific questions. Some of what you find in research may be confusing or conflicting - there may be some good opportunities for questions there. As you begin working, you may run into some problems - those may also be good opportunities for questions here. However, questions about finding resources or just 'getting started' type questions aren't a good fit here.

  • Information about how to write specifications and designs and what information to include is the subject of entire books. So, "Read some books on requirements engineering, why don't you, and then come back to me with a proper specification" is the best possible or most helpful advice? I thought of trying to answer that question myself (e.g. in an essay) to give him, but (before reinventing that wheel) I expected there's something suitable already written, which people might recommend. – ChrisW Apr 19 at 12:07
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    @ChrisW Generally, yes. But not necessarily 'come back with a proper specification', but 'come back with questions about what you've read'. Your favorite library or bookstore may have books on software requirements engineering, user experience design, user interface design, and product management - starting with some basic web searches and then digging into books is the best advice at this point, until there's a basic understanding of the underlying concepts. – Thomas Owens Apr 19 at 12:09

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