One of the first things customers of your business do before reaching out to you with questions about your product review your instruction manual. In order to make a customer journey as smooth as possible, the user manual should be an integral part of any product experience. Companies often postpone the creation of these manuals until after the product is ready, which usually doesn’t turn out so well. Instruction manuals are not novels. Customers don’t read them for pleasure or to pass time. They read them to get actionable advice on how to navigate your product or to overcome an issue when they encounter one. Customers typically look at the table of content, find the topic or page they are looking for, and then quickly read the part which they want to know more about. Nobody is reading manuals from start to finish, but everyone is reading parts of it. This is why you need to be extremely detailed while writing this technical document. A successful user manual provides users with quick and detailed answers to the questions that they might have about your product.
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What is an Instruction Manual
An instruction manual, also known as a user instruction guide, is a document that communicates scientific, engineering, or other technical information to assist people using any goods, computer hardware, or software. Most manuals contain different images. Nowadays, a company may have instruction manuals in printed and electronic form.
How to Make an Instruction Manual
1. Objective Of Your Instruction Manual
The first step in creating an effective manual is to have a clear objective in mind. Make sure you know exactly what your instruction manual needs to cover in order to avoid information overload or confusion.
2. Think About What You Want to Include
In order to create an effective user manual, you need to have a good idea of what type of content you want to include in it. Compile all the information, knowledge, process, checklists, etc. that need to be included. Make sure you are thorough with every point and have everything you need to write the instructions. Never, ever, rely on your memory!
Even skipping a small step may lead to confusion amongst the readers. For example, forgetting to tell the reader about an important switch in a new piece of equipment can not only be misleading but can also be dangerous.
3. Keep Your Readers in Mind
When writing a manual, you need to think like a user. We know that you know everything about your product, but guess what, your customers don’t.
When you begin to prepare instructions, you need to get out of your own head and start thinking from your customer’s point of view who are engaging with your product for the first time in their lives.
Assume that your readers have absolutely zero knowledge of the subject matter and write away! You are more likely to write an effective manual if you have a good understanding of who your customers are and what their major use cases are.
If you have the opportunity to watch a user test your product, it can help you in determining how customers are interacting with the product and where they get stuck and have problems.
4. Collaboration is Key
Writing these documents is not an easy task. You can’t be casual about it. Your customers are counting on you for help as they rely on the information present in the instruction manual.
A good way of making sure you don’t miss out or miswrite some critical information is to get some help. Gather your peers around and start working on the document collaboratively.
One person could be in charge of writing it while others review it, help organize the information, and create visual assets for the user manual.
5. Get Organized
Once you have an idea of all the information you want to include in the instruction manual, it’s time to organize that information. Outline the flow of the manual into different sections, or parts.
Think about breaking it up into categories based on what users may search for. Make sure that the instruction manual is in a smooth flow and covers all and in-depth processes from start to finish.
Organizing the information is important to avoid confusion amongst the readers and make it an easy read for them.
6. Write Clear Instructions
Now that you have everything outlined and organized with a clear structure in mind, the next step would be to start writing! Always keep in mind that the primary purpose of user manuals is to help users complete tasks and solve problems.
Thus, giving clear, to-the-point instructions help your customers get up to speed with your product or solve their issues with it quickly. Always using numbered lists for instructions and keeping the content concise are some great practices for writing a good manual.
7. Add Structure with Table of Contents
Adding a table of contents to your instruction manual is a must. If your instruction manual is heavy on pages, the importance of having a table of contents increases exponentially. The table of content provides navigation to the reader and helps them go to a particular topic quickly.
Since customers are not looking to read your manual from start to finish and are just looking to solve a particular problem or learn about a topic, adding a table of contents helps them save time and effort.
Using a document editor that automatically creates a table of contents around headings and subheadings is a great way to go about it.
8. Add Visual Aid to Your Instruction Manual
Let’s face it. Instruction manuals are well, boring. They are filled with text and are not very engaging. It’s clear, images and videos convey a richer communication experience than text-heavy content alone. Making your online manual interactive with how-to videos and audio instructions can be a great way to enhance engagement and help customers or clients effectively.
How does one know if an instruction manual is written badly?
Bad examples of instruction manuals are pretty basic with little information or way too much unnecessary details. Text and visuals are not clear in their meaning. Table of contents covers only main topics, and it’s hard to find some small pieces of information. Visuals are not clear and not localized or even absent at all.
Since an instruction manual will play a crucial role in helping your users understand your product, it’s important to always keep on improving the user manual and try to make it even more perfect. Therefore, always ask employees, especially those who are unfamiliar with the product or have not worked with you in creating the instruction manual, to give their honest feedback and suggestions on how to make it more effective.
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