Ian S. McBride

Software Engineer

Sprawling Hugo Docs Impede First Time Users

Although the Hugo docs include many valuable topics guides, they don’t offer a readable, beginner’s track. In this post, I describe why this track is needed, what it ought to contain, and how much of it can be sourced from existing doc pages.

Let me start off by acknowledging what the Hugo documentation writers did right. Templates were thoroughly introduced without assuming prior Go experience, each builtin function was clearly explained, and variables were appropriately grouped by their context. Unfortunately, those good parts of the docs are only suitable for intermediate users (ones who already have a fair command of the Hugo basics), whereas beginners have to scrap by with the inadequate Getting Started section.

The missing bridge to advance topic guides

It’s the “Getting Started” section that contains the closest attempt at a beginner’s track, namely the seven-step Quick Start page, but it’s too brief to give the foundation beginners need. The seven steps consist of the terminal commands that perform essential tasks, such as creating a site, adding a theme, adding content, and generating a site for either development or production. They work well as a brief tour of Hugo that can be completed in five minutes or less, but what doc page are beginners supposed read next? Of the six pages in the “Getting Started” section, only one of them, the Directory Structure page, presents any new and immediately helpful information.

In the absence of any other beginner friendly material, readers must dive into the various topic guides (such as Content Management and Templates), which contain an exhausting amount of detail and lack the goal-oriented flow of a beginner’s track.

Just take a look at the enormous Intro to Templating page. It contains 2,600 words and it’s only one of the 24 pages in the “Templates” section. Other sections like Content Management are not quite as overwhelming (it has 22 pages of up to 1,060 words per page), but they are still problematic when considering that beginners, people trying use core Hugo functionality, are not looking to read every detail under the sun about Hugo.

Outline for beginner’s track

Below is rough idea of what the beginner’s track would include.

  1. 7-step Quick Start page
  2. Directory Structure
  3. Content Format + Front Matter
  4. Definition + Example of a Shortcode
  5. Intro to Templates (either a shorter or subdivided version)
  6. Template Types (only the most essential ones)
    1. Base
    2. List
    3. Taxonomy
    4. Partial
  7. Site variables

All items in the above outline correspond to one or more existing doc page. Turning the outline into pages wouldn’t be heavy undertaking, but attention to clarity and simplicity is needed.


The Hugo docs need a beginner’s track with substantial material to soften the transition readers make from the “Quick Start” page to the detailed topic guides. This will be a valuable addition because the “Quick Start” page is overly brief and topic guides are a challenging read given how lengthy and zoomed in they are.