Learn how to create great user manuals for your product, software, app and web applications.
The user manual, also known as user guide or instruction manual, is a document that supports the customers of a product, device, software or application in using it.
It can be printed as a manual that is in the same box as the physical product, or can be digital (e.g. as pdf, doc, docx, text, Microsoft Word) or online (on a website, build-into the software, inside an iOS or Android app).
It should be written in the language of the user and contains images, photos or other graphical elements to better describe the product.
It can be split into a quick user guide that describes how to setup the software or product, and a detailed instructions manual or owner’s manual that covers all details.
It can also be split into multiple guides for different user groups or audiences, as for example a specific Administrator guide, User guide and Developer guide for a software product.
Great user manual examples are e.g. the iPhone User Guide by Apple that contains of a very short quick start guide, and a comprehensive online user manual.
The following elements can be part of a written user manual, a user guide pdf or website user manual:
The product manual is created during the development phase or latest at the end of the development phase. Typically an experienced technical writer creates this document.
The target audience, user groups or persona are identified.
Typical terms and phrases are collected and written in the glossary.
The legal department or external layer is contacted to cover the legal section of the document.
The support team is contacted to get the typical asked questions and problems.
The product management team provides typical use cases and input for the user guide.
Marketing and sales department also supports with information, research and graphical data.
The template of the user manual is adapted to the corporate design. The relevant sections are defined and filled with content from step 2. This is continued until the defined scope and content is covered. Graphics and illustration are created and added – by an internal designer, or external agency.
The final draft is sent to the product manager, support, marketing, sales, legal (or external layer) and other departments. Review and rewriting of the draft follows until the desired level is reached.
If the product is sold in different markets or languages, the manual must be adapted. If it is sold international or in other, regulated markets there must be specific manuals for each country or state.
When the manual is finished, it will be printed or put online on the knowledge base portal, or a specific documentation software. Publication of the instructions can be immediately or after the launch of the product.
Keep the document short and precise. Use the terms in the language of the user. Add graphics, photos and specific instructions where appropriate.
Split the document into separate manuals for different audiences, or by language.
Check with your legal department or external layer to cover all required legal sections and elements.
Add relevant elements of good user documentation as e.g. how-to guides or a glossary. It helps your new users and customers a lot to understand and use your product as intended.
For software product with a short update and release cycle, keep the documentation and screenshots updated with every release and all languages. Release notes should be added for each new version or update of the application, software, iOS / Android app or web app.
If the software product is targeted for business and enterprise customers, also an operating manual should be created.
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