Writing good README files

The README file (often README.md or README.rst) is usually the first thing users/collaborators see when visiting your GitHub repository.

Use it to communicate important information about your project! For many smaller or mid-size projects, this is enough documentation. It’s not that hard to make a basic one, and it’s easy to expand as needed.

Exercise: Have fun testing some README features

Exercise README-1: Have fun testing some README features you may not have heard about

  • Test the effect of adding the following to your GitHub README (read more):

    > [!NOTE]
    > Highlights information that users should take into account, even when skimming.
    > [!IMPORTANT]
    > Crucial information necessary for users to succeed.
    > [!WARNING]
    > Critical content demanding immediate user attention due to potential risks.
  • For more detailed descriptions which you don’t want to show by default you might find this useful (please try it out):

    Short summary
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod
    tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam,
    quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo
    consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse
    cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non
    proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.
  • Would you like to add a badge like this one: please replace with alt text?

    Badge that links to a website (see also https://shields.io/):

    [![please replace with alt text](https://img.shields.io/badge/anytext-youlike-blue)](https://example.org)

    Badge without link:

    ![please replace with alt text](https://img.shields.io/badge/anytext-youlike-blue)
  • Know about other tips and tricks? Please share them (send a pull request to this lesson).

Exercise: Improve the README for your own project

Exercise README-2: Draft or improve a README for one of your recent projects

Try to draft a brief README or review a README which you have written for one of your projects.

  • You can do that either by screensharing and discussing or working individually.

  • Use the checklist which we have discussed earlier.

  • Think about the user (which can be a future you) of your project, what does this user need to know to use or contribute to the project? And how do you make your project attractive to use or contribute to?

  • (Optional): Try the https://hemingwayapp.com/ to analyse your README file and make your writing bold and clear.

  • Please note observations and recommendations in the collaborative notes.

Exercise: Discuss the README of a project that you use

Exercise README-3: Review and discuss a README of a project that you have used

In this exercise we will review and discuss a README of a project which you have used. You can also review a library which is popular in your domain of research and discuss their README.

  • You can do that either by screensharing and discussing or working individually.

  • When discussing other people’s projects please remember to be respectful and constructive. The goal of this exercise is not to criticize other projects but to learn from other projects and to collect the aspects that you enjoyed finding in a README and to also collect aspects which you have searched for but which are sometimes missing.

  • Please note observations and recommendations in the collaborative notes.

Table of contents in README files

  • GitHub automatically generates a table of contents for README.md files.

  • On GitLab you can generate a TOC in Markdown with:

  • With RST you can generate a table of contents (TOC) automatically by adding:

    .. contents:: Table of Contents