Tips to design a User Manual (Part 1)

You need to get started with the User Manual only when:

  • You know enough about the product/application you are going to write upon
  • You know your target audience and their requirements
  • Have a workaround knowledge of a few authoring tools

Writing a User Manual is like writing a book. Therefore most people get confused as to:

  • How to get started
  • How to design the Table of Contents (TOC)
  • What style and language to follow
  • How to format

Here are some tips to help you get going with your User Manual:

#1 Designing the TOC

Never ever start writing the User Manual without the TOC in place. The TOC gives structure to your User Manual. It helps you write in a focused manner.

When you are writing a User Manual for a software product, your TOC must follow a logical sequence.

Start with an Introduction which must include:

  • Introduction to the Product
  • Key Features in the Product and their advantages
  • System Requirements
  • Tutorials ( to help users get started with the product)

Next, list each key feature of the product followed by the main tasks. For example in MS Word, Tables is a main feature. Some of the tasks for this feature are:

  • Create a Table
  • Add rows and columns to the table
  • Format Tables
  • Delete rows and columns
  • Delete Table

You need to lay down the tasks in such logical order. Any other sequence other than this will not make sense.

Once you have done this your TOC will be almost complete.

Always get your TOC finalized before you get started. Check with your boss if you need to provide additional sections in the TOC.

#2 Designing the style guide

After the TOC is done, focus on the style guide.

Prepare a style guide which would standardize the following in your User Manual:

  • The structure and layout of each help file
  • Color and Format ( Font type, color, borders etc. )
  • Language Style ( Framing instructions, using terms etc.)
  • Image type
  • Some guidelines for the content

You need to prepare a style guide to maintain consistency and clarity in your User Manual. If two or more people are working on the same manual, chances are high that each one adapts his/her own style.

Watch out Part II for some tips on how to choose a good style for your User Manual.

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One Response

  1. good information are given but it is very gendal and basic…it can be more technical.

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