The Complete Guide to Writing a Manual For Your Product

David - About Business - September 28, 2020

So you thought it'd be great to write a manual for your product, but have no idea where to start? This article is for you.

Here I'll tell you exactly what your manual should include, how it should be structured, which parts are essential, and how to take it even further thanks to experience-based tips and recommendations.

Without further ado, let's dive in.

Table of Contents
The Complete Guide to Writing a Manual For Your Product - Illustration - Picture

What Your Manual Must Include

A manual has to be easy to read, easy to understand, but most importantly, easy to skim through. To achieve this result, let's see which parts every single manual should include:

  1. Description: Here you describe the product that is associated with your manual. You give the reference, the technical specifications, the name, the year when the manual was written, and any other detail that helps your customer recognize what they've bought from you.

  2. Expectations and Goals: Here you tell your customer what your manual will help them achieve. What exactly will I get after I read this manual? What can I expect after doing all the steps? What's the purpose of this manual? These are all the questions that this part should answer.

  3. Clear and distinct sections: You must divide your big main goal into smaller numbered sections that follow each other the same way you would divide a huge piece of text into smaller paragraphs. Once you're done, add a table of contents within your manual, where you list every section and their associated page number. In terms of reading experience, that's a game changer.

  4. Per-section Introduction: In every section, write an introduction that says what this section will help with. For instance, "In this part, we will explain how to remotely turn the lights on and off using your smartphone". That just gives a little reminder to your customer, and confirms their thoughts if they're wondering "What is this part for?".

  5. Per-section Requirements: It's quite simple. Before diving deep into anything, tell your customer what exactly they should have done before they start messing around with your product. For instance, "Before you start, make sure: The lights are off, The lights are powered, Your smartphone has at least 50% battery". Your customer must have everything they need before they start. Otherwise they might think your product's broken. Beyond that, it will help them keep focused on the manual instead of prepareading (preparing + reading at the same time).

  6. Per-section Numbered Steps: Use numbers to tell your customer in which order they should follow your instructions. Beyond that, use action verbs and imperative tense to remain clear and concise. Also, don't hesitate to use compound numbers. For instance: "1.1: Downloading the App, 1.1.1: IOS, 1.1.2: Android".

  7. Per-section Achievements: At the end of this list of steps, what did we achieve? What are the signs that we should observe? What indicates that we properly followed the instructions? These are the questions that this part should answer. Repeat as much as you can, and let your customer know what they should see after completing your prior instructions. This part should repeat and confirm what's stated within the section's introduction.

  8. Per-section Recommendations and Linking: These are not necessary, but I think they make your sections more digest and more customer-oriented. First, you can give some pieces of advice or recommendations to help your customer beyond the scope of the manual. For instance, "We recommend using a wooden screwdriver to prevent scratches while screwing the plastic parts". And finally, you can add a tiny part that links this section to the next one. For instance, "Now that our lights are correctly installed and working, we'll proceed to install the mobile app to control them". Once again, it reassures the customer and makes them feel confident.

  9. Conclusion: In the last part, summarize what's been achieved throughout the whole manual. Add contact information in case your customer has troubles, and also add anything that could help. For instance, you could add a tiny "Troubleshooting" section where you list the most common hurdles. Anything that helps and reassures the customer is welcome here.

If you follow this exact structure, your customers will bless you for every manual that you release. Now, how can you make it even better? How can you make your manuals even more useful, practical, and likable?

Let's see!

The Complete Guide to Writing a Manual For Your Product - Illustration - Picture

Tips to Make Your Manual Even Better

I've been designing and writing manuals for mobile apps, air conditioners, outdoor lighting systems, and many other devices. So far, this is what I've learned:

  • Make it easy and attractive: Use colors, images, arrows, schemes, and anything else that makes your manual easier to understand and process for the human brain.

  • Use one page per section: Don't mix sections on the same page. Even if your section ends on half a page, leave the other half empty and move on to the next page. You'll certainly kill me if you're into ecology, but your customers will certainly be faster at killing you if you mix sections on the same page.

  • Add a QR code: And make it take your customers to a web page where the most recent version of your manual is. That's really helpful and it will bring traffic to your website. Beyond that, it ensures that your customers won't be lost if the paper manual is outdated or simply wrong.

  • Be verbose, and repeat: Just don't hesitate. This is what a manual is meant to be. Repeat as much as you can so your customer understands what they have to do, what's left, what's done, and what they should avoid. The more information your customer has, the happier.

  • Make case-specific sections: For instance, if you're talking about a mobile app, make a section for each operating system (IOS, Android, FireOS, etc). This will provide help to every customer in a very targeted way. It's easier to follow specific steps as opposed to general vague ones.

And this is how you take your manual to the next level.

Do you have any pieces of advice? Something that your own customers fell in love with? Let us know in the comments below!

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