Great User Manuals: Six Helpful Hints

The last time you struggled through a user manual or set of instructions that left you frustrated, you were probably hoping for:

1. More art. Photos, line drawings, charts and tables are the quickest, clearest and most accurate way to convey a set of instructions–as long as the art is readable. Frustration mounts when reading the art and its labels requires a magnifying glass.

2. More warning. The place to mention what could possibly go wrong is before it happens and, if possible, before the instructions start.

3. More logic. Whatever comes first should be mentioned first. A request to “put out the fire after you fill the buckets with water” is in the wrong order.

4. More checking. Every step of a procedure should be checked by someone performing the actions exactly as written. If hands, feet, or eyes perform an action that is not mentioned in the procedure, then the procedure needs re-writing.

5. More dividers in long procedures. Step numbers, subheads, chapter headings, and notes are all ways of keeping readers on track and moving forward. Frustration mounts again with the use of multiple sub-steps (step 1.17.12.6.3 or numbers followed by bullets followed by dashes followed by letters); at some point, no one can possibly remember how step 1 relates to step 2.

6. Clear responsibility. Suppose an instruction says, “Hold down the lever with both hands and phone for help if the gage rises above the red line.” Who is phoning for help? The person with both hands on the lever? The person watching the gage? If they are one and same person, is it okay to let go of the lever to phone?

User manuals and instructions are important. When well written, they give customers confidence in the company and cut down on the number of calls to help desks and complaint departments. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have the experience to design user manuals and instructions that are clear, concise, accurate and easy to follow. Contact us today.