Tips to design a User Manual (Part II)

The objective of a User Manual is to extend immediate help (with respect to using a product) to the target audience. You can call a User Manual highly effective when it helps you:

  • Gather information in one reading
  • Use the product successfully

There are so many factors that contribute to an effective User Manual. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Neatness
  2. Clarity and Precision
  3. Consistency
  4. Zero Defects

#1 Neatness

No one likes to read a badly formatted document. I am sure you will agree with me. No matter how useful the content is, people naturally get attracted to a good looking document. The following make up a good looking document:

  • Good Font-Type and Size
  • Pleasant Colors
  • Alignment
  • Error free language (No typos)

Here are some tips to keep your User Manual neat:

  • Maintain one Font Type across the manual. Choose either Arial or Verdana.
  • Set the Font Size to 14 pts for headings and 12 pts for the body text.
  • Use fewer colors. You can use different colors for headings and sub headings. Choose dark colors like Blue.
  • Never centre align text/images. Keep it justified.
  • Always make sure that your manual is error free in the sense it is free from any grammatical issues.

Here is an interesting article which talks about the importance of keeping your document neat: http://business-writing.proof-reading.com/?p=20

#2 Clarity and Precision

Writing clear and precise instructions is one big challenge you are likely to face while writing a User Manual. You challenge is to translate every action on screen as instruction in text. Remember your audience will not like to spend too much time scrutinizing the User Manual. They will speedily browse through your help files while using the product. Therefore your User Manual must be clear enough to give the audience all the required information in one reading. How do you achieve this high level of clarity and precision?

To write good instructions

  • Keep your instructions short.
  • Use the right word/ terminology. For example:
    • Do not call a Wizard a Dialog Box and vice versa.
    • Do not call a Form a Window and vice versa.
    • Do not call a button a tab.
  • Bold the names of buttons/tabs/windows.
  • Number all the actions but NOT expected results.
  • Specify both the action and the expected result.
  • Do not miss out on steps.

Here are some sample instructions for your understanding:

To create a file

  • Select File > Rename File from the Main Menu – (Action)
  • A dialog box opens – (Expected Result)
  • Enter the name of the file in the field – (Action)
  • Click OK – (Action)
  • The file is renamed. You should see the file with the new name in the Projects Window. (Expected Result)

Check out Part III to learn how to maintain consistency and zero defects in your User Manual.

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One Response

  1. how to design user friendly manual?

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