Structure is one of the most important elements when you are writing a user manual. Without a clear structure, it is hard to see where something ends and where new parts begin. It is like reading a book that consists of several parts: the introduction, the main part, and the final chapter. If this kind of structure would not exist, would you still be excited to read a book, not knowing where you are? The answer will probably be: NO. We all need some guidance and structure, especially when it comes to the usage of new products.


For this specific reason, we at SwipeGuide have developed an instruction manual template that we call the ‘Instructional Design Canvas’. Our aim with this instruction manual template is to help companies structure their user manual samples. The Instructional Design Canvas gives companies the opportunity to create a clear structure within manuals and instructions that they want to provide their customers with.


You can download the Instructional Design Canvas in the form below.


Let’s discuss the template of the Instructional Design Canvas. In the process of developing a user manual sample a lot of aspects have to be taken into account. Think about setting the product up, starting certain programs, adding specific attachments or cleaning the product. These processes on their turn contain instructions that should be followed by consumers in order to make optimal use of the device. 


The first part of the Instructional Design Canvas contains the following aspects:

  1. Topic – Reflects the task structure of your guide by providing action-oriented headings, such as ‘Getting started’ or ‘Order replacement parts’.
  2. Instructions – Reflects the tasks within a certain topic. For example, under the topic ‘Getting started’ instructions such as ‘Unbox your device’, ‘Charge your device’ or ‘Clean your device’ are presented.
  3. Steps – Steps within a guide that provide a short, but immediate opportunity to act for users. For example ‘Remove [piece X] …’ or ‘Press the [Y button] to switch your device on’.


If you go in for a deep-dive on the steps you will see how SwipeGuide copes with information that is not a step on itself, but extremely important for users to be aware of.

  • Steps = short action-oriented steps that a user needs to perform to complete a task.
  1. Tips – Additional information that advises users about the most convenient way to perform the step and/or provide additional information regarding a certain step.
  2. Warnings – Inform users of issues that can occur and tell users what to do/what to avoid. Reminder/cue to prevent acting safely, for example, ‘Always clean your [device] to avoid damage’.
  3. Alternatives – Other possible ways to fulfill the given step than what is described in the original step. For example ‘You can also clean your [device] like this’.
  4. Error fix – Explains how to resolve issues within a certain step when additional action steps are required.



A user manual would not be the same without visuals. It is important to investigate and analyze what visuals are needed for a certain step to give customers visual support when performing a certain step. This mainly depends on your product, as some products or processes are better explained in illustrations, while others are better explained in pictures. Therefore, SwipeGuide mentions visuals within the Instructional Design Canvas as follows:


  • Visuals = images in the form of photos, illustrations, gifs, videos or animations.


How to use it? 

It is important to be aware of the aspects involved when writing a user manual sample. When you take a good look at your user manual sample, you might not be satisfied with the current structure. Maybe you are struggling with the sequence of certain instructions or steps. The Instructional Design Canvas helps to fully dismantle your user manual.

The first step is to take a look at all the processes that have to be performed by customers. Think about the ‘Getting Started’, ‘Charging your device’, ‘Using your device’ and ‘Cleaning your device’ parts. You start writing out all the instructions in a logical sequence (e.g. ‘Getting Started’ before ‘Cleaning your device’) in the column for Instructions. If you have your instructions ready, you take a look at instructions that can be combined. ‘Getting Started’ and ‘Charging your device’ could, for example, be combined under the Topic ‘Setting up your device’. 

After defining your Topics and Instructions you start writing out your Steps in an action-oriented way, as this has been proven to be more effective with instructional design. Important for steps is that they are supported by additional information in the form of warnings, tips, alternatives and fixes that complete all important aspects that belong to certain steps. This way, you will find all the information needed at a certain step, without having to worry where to find that (bleep!) warning when you need it. Last but not least, you can add a description of a visual that you want to have included in your user manual sample for a specific step.


The Instructional Design Canvas helps you to not only create a clear structure for your user manual sample, 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 Journey Canvas PDF here: