How to Create a User Manual: Best Practices Unveiled
Unclear user manuals are extremely frustrating for both companies and end-users. Way too often, traditional paper user manuals are:
👎🏻Difficult to understand
👎🏻Not at hand when needed
👎🏻Difficult to edit and impossible to track
👎🏻Not focusing on the problems you want to solve
We really don’t want that.
That’s why we’re unveiling our favorite best practices on how to create a user-friendly user manual.
1. Focus on visuals
The brain processes visuals 60.000 times faster than text. So our first best practice is to use visuals whenever possible in your user manual. This can either be static images, gifs, illustrations, animations or short videos. However, if you combine crystal-clear images with short to-the-point text in a smart way, the information in the user manual will be even quicker to process and easier to understand.
2. Be specific
Focusing on clarity and simplicity is key in knowing how to create a good user manual. Being as specific as possible and not making assumptions about what your end-users know and don’t know is crucial. Always use the same words when describing something and keep the number of the words and jargon to a minimum. Sentences should be easy to understand and to-the-point. Visuals should have the correct level of detail and include movement and a model if possible.
3. Step-by-step approach
A simplified step-by-step approach helps with clarity and allows the end-user to swipe through the user manual at their own phase. Step-by-step user manuals increase the likelihood of people actually reading (and understanding) what to do and how to do it. Nobody will read a confusing 784-page user manual with only text. A clear step-by-step user manual is way more effective and helps the user to actually achieve a task.
4. Focus on the task
A typical issue with traditional user manuals is that they’re focusing on the product and not the problem that needs solving. With the so-called Outside-In Instructional Design, we shift the focus from the product description to a more action-oriented process from the end user’s point-of-view on how to actually perform a task. How to create a good user manual actually starts from taking the seat of the end-user.
5. Accessibility is key
Consider publishing your user manual in a digital format instead of printing on paper. Sharing your user manual with your end users in a digital format through QR codes, direct links or embedding on your website or app allows them to access your instructions on any device whenever they actually need them. A PDF version of your paper user manual could be a solution, however, this is static and difficult to maintain and impossible track. Also, it often lacks a clear step-by-step approach.
Now you know how to create a user manual based on some of our best practices. You can always request a free trial of the SwipeGuide instruction software with a simple editor CMS and try these tips yourself!