Tips for Writing an Effective User Manual

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User manuals are documents which are designed and made in order to deliver important information to a certain group of people who want to learn to use something. Most of the time, these user manuals help around products, however, there are also some user manuals that explain how they can do something.

There is actually no big difference between these two; the only thing that is really different is the subject they focus on. There are a lot of benefits a business organization can have from using these kinds of manuals. The most obvious, and biggest benefit for a company that sells products is that fewer people will return their products.

Good and effective user manuals can lead people to learn how to use, put together, or repair their products and this reduces the chance of them being dissatisfied and wanting to return their products. Additionally, your customers will have a better experience when they get nice manuals that explain what they need to do thoroughly.

Still, not all user manuals are good and they need to be created while taking care of other things. Here is what you need to do.

Understand the target audience you are talking to

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Before you even start writing your user manual, you will have to determine a couple of things. All of those things revolve around your target audience - your customers. By knowing more about their interests, feelings, needs, and problems, you will get a clearer picture of how your user manual should be written.

Additionally, when you know so much about your customers, you will also find it easier to decide which information should be included in your user manuals and you’ll create the whole thing more quickly. Based on your target audience, you can also create an adequate tone and language that will suit them the most.

For example, if you are running a business that sells computer equipment, you should look to use technical language that every customer will be able to understand and consume easily.

Determine the goal of your user manual

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If you immediately start thinking about the purpose of your manual and keep that in mind when creating it, you will have a much easier job creating an effective user manual that truly helps people.

You should first make an outline and think about your goal, where to start, how the information should progress, and how it should be delivered to readers. Consider which important information needs to be mentioned and where so that it all has the sense to a reader.

When you build up the right information flow until the big “eye opener”, the reader will find it easy to understand and they will have no chance of feeling overwhelmed. Think of your goal and determine what information is necessary to be mentioned in order to lead your readers to the goal. Anything more than that is obsolete.

Put yourself in the position of the reader

When you start writing your own user manual, make sure that you think like your average reader. When you know a lot about them and have information about what is bothering them, the knowledge they have about your product and their background, it will be easier for you to put yourself “in their shoes.”

When you are able to do this, you will also be able to write content that users will find helpful. If you can organize this, it would be very helpful to you if you watched someone try to use your product for the first time. When looking how a person interacts with your product, you will get a better picture of what potential problems might be, what they’ll have to do, and what different ways there are to handle the task.


Related Read: How to Create the Best Online Manuals


Include clear and concise instructions

Like I mentioned before, the main goal for a user manual is to effectively deliver information to consumers and help them do a certain task. This means that your writing also needs to be suitable for everyone and that everyone who reads it gets a clear message of what he or she needs to do.

In order to deliver information efficiently, it’s good to:

  • Include numbered lists that will give step by step instructions, unless there is just one step.
  • Apply “parallel construction” for each of the steps. Start the step with an imperative like “select”, “click”, or “enter, and this is how you will be able to give readers clear cues for the action they need to do for each of the steps.
  • Give just enough information so that the person reading the steps can learn how to do a certain task or completely understand the concept behind it. Exclude all the information that is not relevant to the reader. Concise content allows readers to grasp important things more easily.

How to make something easier to find

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For people that read manuals, one of the biggest issues is when they are not able to find what they want within the manual and this can be quite frustrating. In most cases, the biggest problem here is that the writer didn’t use the same keywords the users used to search for the issue they are having trouble with. To avoid this, you will have to take certain steps.

Make sure that you organize all of the information into a logical hierarchy. Add tabs and colors into the hierarchy. Create sections so that people can choose the best way to find something. Add a chronological use section, a frequently used section, some functional categories and differentiate them based on the level of difficulty.

You can also see contrasts, shadings, colors or some other visual enhancement to show importance. Make sure that you pay a lot of attention to keywords and create good ones so that people can search accurately. When you’ve done that, you should also make the keyword index available to users. Additionally, make sure that the index includes probable synonyms.

Not including manuals in a business that sells products is a very bad business move. An even greater mistake is to create bad manuals that will even give you negative results. This is why you should either hire professionals to do this for you or put in a lot of effort into creating a professional manual that will benefit your business organization.

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