Tips to design a User Manual (Part III)

Continuing from my previous post, here I shall discuss about the importance of creating a consistent and error free User Manual.

#3 Consistency

Consistency is one thing which most people ignore while writing. Most often User Manuals are voluminous. If you are not consistent in the way you write, there is 100% chance that the audience gets confused. Let’s take the example from my previous post:

Select File > Rename File from the Main Menu – (This is a sentence structure for an instruction)

I am sure you will be able to visualize this action.

This instruction indicates a Main Menu, which has a text called File, on clicking which you get a drop-down menu and you select Rename File.

You audience will identify this sentence structure with such similar actions. If you maintain the same structure throughout the User Manual, they will not read twice before performing such similar actions. For instance you write a similar action in some other file in the User Manual as follows:

Click Delete File from File in the Main Menu

I bet, the audience will read this instruction twice before actually performing it.

To maintain consistency

  • Make sure you write the names of buttons/tabs exactly the way it appears in the product
  • Watch out for casing issues
  • Maintain one instruction structure for similar actions.

Here is a useful link for you to write good instruction: http://www.ebstc.org/TechLit/plainall.html

#4 Zero Defects

The key to an error free User Manual is continuous review. If you do not have a reviewer, do a self-review.

While reviewing look for the following:

  • Grammatical errors
  • Casing issues
  • Wrongly written instructions
  • Bad formatting
  • Wrong alignment

The best way to check if your instructions are right is to read them yourself and perform the actions on the product. Remember to get into the shoes of the audience while reading the instructions. Review your documents in regular intervals. You will be able to track many bugs this way.

It’s always good to have a model while writing your User Manual. This will help you stylize your manual in the right way. Dig up any help manual from any of the Microsoft products. I am sure you will find the style impressing and worth emulating.

One another useful site is: http://www.netbeans.org/kb/55/loanprocessing.htmlMake sure you visit this!

This is one site which has impressed me a lot. Being a non – techie I was able to create a workflow using NetBeans following the help manual given in this site. So you can imagine how much user friendly the documentation might have been.

One last word: Writing an effective User Manual is of course challenging but not impossible.

 

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