How to Write a Good Instruction Manual
Knowing how to use a product is the key to a successful customer experience. By providing your end-users with clear and to-the-point instructions, you can expect both happier customers and decreased service costs.
SwipeGuide is an instruction software that enables companies to create visual and step-by-step digital instruction manuals – hassle-free. Our goal is to save both you and your end-users valuable time.
So, let’s talk about how to write and structure a good instruction manual.
Structure and clarity are key in instructions
Structure is key to time-saving in basically everything – and the domain of instructions is no exception. In order to write an instruction manual, from the company’s perspective, and understand instructions, from the end-user’s perspective, there has to be a clear and to-the-point structure. Based on academic research on instructional design and learnability, we have structured our platform into the following parts:
The SwipeGuide hierarchy on how to write and structure a manual
Every SwipeGuide manual follows this same, basic format. Having a consistent approach to structure allows our customers to reproduce quality instructions with minimal effort. This model is a handy visual representation of the key components of our instructional approach:
Let’s have a look at each of these components in greater detail:
The basic element of every instruction manual is the “guide.” You can see the guide as the entire paper booklet of a product, from first to the last page. It contains every topic, instruction, and step of how to use a specific product. Here’s an embedded instruction manual example of the Segway Ninebot Kickscooter made in the SwipeGuide instruction software. The embedded SwipeGuide below is clickable.
The next level within a user guide is the “topic.” This is a theme within an instruction manual. “How to get started,” “how to replace a part,” and “how to clean your device” are all examples of topics in the above user guide. A topic makes the structure of a user guide clearer by logically grouping the tasks and helps you navigate to find the right instruction exactly when you need it, without having to frantically search through the entire manual.
A topic can consist of several different instructions. The topic “Using your kickscooter” in the Segway user guide consists of three separate instructions:
- Prepare your first ride
- Learn to ride your kickscooter
- Fold & carry your kickscooter
These instructions each contain a certain number of steps.
“Steps” are the detailed descriptions of instructions. They show the user the step-by-step process of performing a given task. There is a clear goal in every instruction, and the description of the goal should therefore always be task-oriented and to the point. Let’s take the instruction “Prepare your first ride” in the Segway manual as an example.
The instruction manual example below consists of five detailed steps, as you can see in the lower left corner of the embedded SwipeGuide. The embedded SwipeGuide below is clickable.
The user follows these steps by swiping through the instructions on a mobile device or desktop. A step should consist of a clear visual (static image or short gif) supported by a clear task-centered sentence. For the highest level of learnability and clarity, the tasks should be described in active present tense (install, press, click, follow). You should also avoid long wordy sentences and we recommend to break down tasks into two or more sub-tasks when the user needs to perform several actions. A maximum of 10-12 steps is recommended for your instructions to be effective. When you want users to memorize a task, you should limit yourself to a maximum of 5-7 steps.
Additional information about the steps can be split up into four icons, that are based on the theory of information mapping:
Regarding safety and things to know before usage, etc.
More detailed description with extra information on how to perform the step, eg.
3. Alternative route:
A possible different way to perform the same task, eg.
Things that often go wrong and how to fix them, eg.
When you’re done with your instruction manual, you can share it with your end-users via a QR code embedded on a website with an iframe code, or a direct link.
So, how can you write a great instruction manual?
- Structure your manual in a clear, step-by-step instruction hierarchy
(guide – topic – instruction – step)
- Use an active tone of voice when writing instructions.
- Keep it short and to the point.
- Use a clear visual to illustrate the step.
- Split up a task in several different sub-tasks.
- Separate all additional information in icons.
(warnings – tips – alternative routes – error fixes)
- Share it with your end-users digitally.
Want to learn more?
The Instructional Design Canvas helps you to not only create a clear structure for your instruction manual, but it also helps you to cover all the aspects that are needed to set up the best user manual for your product!
Download the Instruction Design Canvas PDF here: