End-User Documentation Guide: What it is & How to Make it Effective

Adelina Karpenkova
June 13, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
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To help customers make the most out of your product, you need to build comprehensive, user-friendly end-user documentation. Here’s how you achieve it.
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Your customers don’t buy product features – they buy the value they get from it. Now it’s up to you to prove they weren’t wrong. 

Comprehensive end-user documentation is your helping tool for winning customers’ love and making them stick. By building it, you’ll enable your customer success team to reach their goals, strengthen your customer relationships and boost company revenue. 

The problem is there’s a risk of spending hundreds of people hours to create a resource your customers will hardly ever touch. 

We’re here to help you build end-user documentation that won’t be covered with dust. Read on to learn how it’s done.

What is end-user documentation?

End-user documentation is a set of resources guiding users through how to install, use and troubleshoot a product on their own.

It may come in many forms: step-by-step guides, video tutorials, interactive in-app walkthroughs, pre-built chatbot flows, etc. Regardless of the format, end-user documentation always has one objective – improving customer satisfaction with a product.

End-user documentation types

Distinguishing between the types of user documentation allows you to address the very specific needs of your customers in different stages of their lifecycle. User guides can be split into three major categories based on the problems they solve:

  • Onboarding guides.
  • Product manuals.
  • Troubleshooting guides.

Onboarding guides

A positive customer onboarding experience has the highest impact on customer retention. Therefore, onboarding guides should be the first to make it into your end-user documentation.

An onboarding guide covers account setup instructions, product interface overview, product terms and other information enabling new users to get up to speed. It might also be needed to link to a glossary and other forms of educational content to familiarize users with relevant terms and topics.

(Trello’s onboarding guide)

User manuals

A user manual, or a user guide, is a resource helping customers make the most out of the product. It serves as a self-service knowledge base where users can find answers to their most common questions, explore product use cases, find tips and best practices, and many more.

(Sendinblue’s user manuals)

Troubleshooting guides

A troubleshooting guide assists users in resolving issues they might face when using a product. It points out the causes for occurring issues and includes detailed instructions on addressing them. 

Typically, this type of user documentation requires knowing the product inside-out and going deep into technical details. To build one, your customer success team should work closely with the product team.

(Salesforce’s troubleshooting guide)

What makes great user documentation

To create effective end-user documentation – be it an onboarding guide, user manual or troubleshooting documentation – you should mind six critical components.

Documentation hierarchy

A proper documentation structure makes it easy for users to find relevant topics and resolve problems fast. 

You might have the best resources ever, but they’re useless if it’s impossible to find the right content. User-friendly documentation libraries are typically sorted based on the following criteria:

  • User experience.
  • Feature.
  • Use case.
  • Department.
  • Paint point.
  • Customer persona, etc.

Companies often use several criteria at once to develop multi-level structures. For instance, monday.com splits its user documentation not only by problem (e.g. billing, account setup, troubleshooting, etc.) but also by customer persona (e.g. HR, operations, IT, support, etc.) and use case (e.g. monday.com for knowledge management, monday.com for recruitment and onboarding, etc.).

Use cases

Say, you’re a small business owner who has recently set up a chat widget on their website and now wants to customize the default welcome message. You don’t want to wade through all the customization options of the app – you just want to find the answer to your question. 

Instead of illustrating how different features work, user documentation should elaborate on real product use cases

Step-by-step instructions 

A good user guide splits the processes (even the simplest ones!) into easy-to-follow steps. Whether you work on the written content or record video tutorials, you should explain each mouse click along the way. Each step should be supported with a one or two-sentence caption briefly explaining what you do and why (even if it seems too obvious to you).


Each action should be backed by a relevant screenshot, gif or video. It should be easy for users to recognize the interface in your visuals to be able to reproduce the process effortlessly. 

Whenever the screen changes,capture it with a screenshot and feature that change in the guide. Yes, the process can be incredibly annoying and time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to. Scribe can automatically generate step-by-step guides, taking screenshots and writing captions for you. 


It sometimes happens that a company updates its product design, but leaves its user manuals as they are because feature-wise nothing has changed. And although features and use cases remain the same, something still feels wrong.

Users will easily spot if the information provided in manuals is irrelevant or outdated. And if it’s no more relevant, then it’s useless.

Always keep your end-user documentation up-to-date by promptly updating text and changing screenshots whenever something changes.  

Communication channel

Your customer service can’t be limited to the documented cases. If questions come up that haven’t been answered, customers should be able to inform you. To make that possible, brands usually embed popup chat widgets across their user manuals.

How to create actionable end-user documentation 

Now, it’s time to mobilize your team to build end-user documentation that your customers will love. Here are nine steps to take.

1. Define the scope of work

Creating user documentation is its own project. So you should try on the project manager role and define the scope of work.

  • What’s needed to deliver comprehensive end-user documentation?
  • Who should be involved in the project?
  • What’s the timeline?
  • What are your objectives?

When you answer these questions, you can split the project into digestible chunks and see that it’s easier than it seemed to be.

2. Assign project stakeholders

The next step toward creating scalable and accurate documentation is bringing in people who’ll be responsible for the project. 

It’s usually a customer success team responsible for developing and maintaining end-user documentation, but they won’t go far without  help from the development team, sales reps, customer support and marketers. When getting started with the project, assign stakeholders from different teams so that everyone can share input.

3. Choose the right technology

Are you creating a text-based knowledge base, video library or in-app walkthroughs? Different formats require different technology. 

Here are three tools good for building different types of user documentation:

  • Whatfix. The app allows you to create interactive in-app guides and self-help widgets. 
  • Scribe. With Scribe’s automated process documentation, you can quickly fill your knowledge base with auto-generated step-by-step guides.
  • Hippo Video. The tool lets software companies record, edit and distribute video tutorials through a centralized hub.

4. Walk in your customer’s shoes

Who are those end-users? It’s time for proper audience research. 

Clearly identifying the target audience of your documentation will help you to:

  • Set the right tone for your content.
  • Answer users’ common questions.
  • Address their pain points.
  • Determine how deep you should go into detail based on their experience level.

To collect this information, you should turn to your customer personas, review past customer  conversations and take a look at your product analytics. Also, don’t hesitate to talk to your marketing, sales and support teams to collect more information.

5. Outline the structure

Based on the results of the end-user analysis, you can map out your future documentation plan. In this stage, you should choose the criteria you’ll use to segment your content. You can choose to organize your guides based on the user lifecycle stage, experience level, job title, etc. – pick any option you want.

Next, you need to come up with the titles for your guides and see how they fit into the categories you’ve built. When you’ve managed to build a logical structure, you can proceed with content creation.

6. Write up the guides

It’s time to fill your end-user documentation with content. When writing the guides, follow these best practices:

  • Include a table of contents for better navigation.
  • Avoid long chunks of text – stick to two-sentence paragraphs.
  • Keep it simple – explain all the terms and abbreviations.
  • One step = one visual element.
  • Back all visuals up with captions.

7. Distribute the resulting documentation across teams

When the documentation is ready, it’s good to collect feedback on it before it goes live. Chances are you’ll need to add more sections, elaborate on some topics or rework the structure. 

Send the resulting documentation to stakeholders from different teams and ask for their opinion. Pull insights on the content tone, clarity, accuracy and other aspects. Make the final round of edits based on those comments, and you’re (almost) good to go.

8. Set up user behavior tracking

Don’t wait for the next feature release to update your end-user documentation. Monitor the usage of your manuals with analytics tools and use the data to refine the documentation. 

Depending on where you choose to host your guides, you can choose to set up page tracking with Google Analytics or use built-in analytics features of your knowledge base software.

Along with setting up tracking, embed a satisfaction survey below each guide to learn whether users have managed to find the answers to their questions or not.

9. Adopt end-user documentation

Finally, you can introduce your documentation to the audience. Once it’s published, you should spread the word about it by:

  • Featuring it in your email newsletter.
  • Linking to it in the most prominent positions, especially in the tool’s interface.
  • Setting up a chatbot pulling the data from the documentation to resolve common requests.

Your prospects and customers should know there’s comprehensive end-user documentation they can turn to whenever they need assistance.

It’s your move 

End-user documentation is your best marketing asset, sales tool and customer service hub – all in one place. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to build a good resource. You need clear goals, perfect knowledge of your product and its audience, the right tools and a proper adoption plan.

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