Online manuals can be a Godsend, for users and programmers alike. An online manual allows the user to familiarize themselves with the program, on their own time, at their own pace, without having to hassle tech support. This is good news for programmers, who spend less time (and money) fielding unnecessary questions.
We’re going to look at some of the best practices to create the best online manuals. They’re only useful and time-saving if the customers use them, and users will only use the documentation if its intuitive and user-friendly.
Best Practices For Writing Online Manuals
The first and most important thing about writing online manuals is to provide step-by-step instructions. Leave nothing out and don’t assume your user already knows anything. At the same time, you must make sure to not talk down to your users and make them feel condescended.
- Describe what a function actually does, not just how to use it. pro tip: remember, users should learn from using online manuals, not just refer to them.
- Make sure that the writers are a part of the design process. This will ensure that the writers properly understand what your software does so they can better explain it to the end user.
- Ensure the testers test the product in beta-testing using your online manual. This will help you test both your programs and user guides.
- View examples of other online manual templates to get a sense of what you need to include, and what can be left out.
Impress Your Readers
Not only must your online manual be clear, thorough, and well-structured, it needs to look great too. Especially now, more than ever. With millions of software, websites, and apps being published daily, competition is fierce. The visual aesthetic of your product is the first thing your user is going to notice. It’s every bit, if not more, important than the overall user experience.
Here’s some tips on how to create the most useful and visually striking online manuals.
Use Color Thoughtfully and Strategically.
- Large blocks of unbroken text can be intimidating to a user, particularly when reading on a screen. Consider highlighting important text using bold colored font or shaded boxes to help important information stand out. This helps to creates a hierarchy of information, focus, and flow.
- Ensure the contrast between the background color and the text is high enough, for the text to be legible, if you’re thinking of having colored background. Remember that deliberate and consistent use of color creates an immersive user experience.
The way you use color can also help shape the user’s experience, adding another element of personality to your user manual design. As a general rule, your color scheme needs to be in harmony with itself. Too much unity, however, can lead to a bland and underwhelming design.
Some examples of color harmony include:
Complementary colors: Colors opposite one another on the color wheel, such as blue and orange or red and yellow-green.
Analogous colors: Any three colors in a row on the color wheel.
Colors found in nature: Nature provides a perfect template for colors working in harmony with one another. Consider using an indigo with a yellow-green, to create the sensation of an orchid, for example. This method can lead to exciting designs, but may not be appropriate for more professional applications.
Make sure to leave plenty of space around the text. Use margins and white spaces to structure your online manual. White spaces guide the reader’s eyes to the important information.
Use bulleted and numbered lists to highlight important information and make the text scannable
Leave space at the margins for users to add their notes, as some may want to print out the pages and insert notes.
Typography is more than just selecting the right font. Typography is the entirety of how text is presented in your online manual. Topography greatly influences the way that users will experience your online manual.
- Designers should stick with a clean, simple sans serif font, such as Futura or Helvetica for basic text.
- All text in an online manual should be a minimum of 12 px.
- Typography can be an easy way to make your product seem more deluxe. Consider using an elegant font for important information. Make sure it’s still legible, however. Also remember that not all web browsers will be able to read every font, so consider embedding a fancy script as an image to make sure users can read it.
- An online manual’s function is to help users find information. You have to make sure they can do so easily and quickly.
- Compile a list of the topics included in your documentation in the user’s own words. Using these terms, create a glossary. This will be the table of contents, guiding your users into specific areas of the online manual.
Online manuals have to be completely thorough, never missing a beat. Too many bad manuals are either missing information or providing faulty instructions. Not only will this get your user dreadfully lost, it reflects very poorly on your company.
- To make sure you don’t miss anything, perform the actual process and write down each step.
- Deliver your instructions in short, clear text, and use pictures when appropriate.
- Assume no prior knowledge on your user’s part.
- Explain all codes and symbols clearly.
- Write in present, active tense.
- Give the complete instructions to an end user and have them perform the task.
If this is your first time creating an online manual, consult with an online manual template to pattern your work after, to make your life easier.
Following these steps and thinking about these topics will get you thinking both as a designer and as an end user, both of which are essential for creating truly exceptional online manuals.