Documentation

What is an Instruction Manual and How to Create One

Ready to turn your instruction manual into your competitive advantage? Read on.

Introduction

Eighty-eight percent of users will be more loyal to your brand if you give them user manuals.

Who needs a great product if they can’t make use of it? Spoiler alert: no one does. Eight in 10 people say they’ve deleted an app because they lacked guidance. 

Customers don’t need a fancy user interface or multichannel customer service. They simply want clear instructions on how to use the product they’ve paid for. 

As a self-help document, an easy-to-follow instruction manual also reduces the number of customer requests and takes the burden off your customer support reps.

Ready to turn your instruction manual into your competitive advantage?

Read on.

What is an instruction manual?

An instruction manual is a guide informing customers how to use the product they’ve purchased. It contains step-by-step instructions, best practices and troubleshooting techniques in either a written form or video format.

Why you need an instruction manual

Instruction manuals are vital to your company’s success for multiple reasons:

  • Preventing product misuse. For manufacturers, product misuse might lead to serious injuries or even death. For SaaS companies, it’s legal outcomes. Regardless of the niche, user manuals are must-have documents that protect both vendors and customers from serious consequences.
  • Time savings. Customer support and service teams can spend their time more effectively once you implement instruction manuals.
  • Higher retention. The studies show that quality user manuals positively affect customer satisfaction. And satisfied customers = long-term customers, right?
  • Increased conversions. It’s very likely that you offer a free trial for new customers. If you do, you know that user experience inside the free trial affects your conversion rates a great deal. With quality user documentation, you’ll achieve a great onboarding experience and encourage free users to become paying customers.
  • Easier promotion. User guides can also work as marketing resources. If you enable public access to instruction manuals, your prospects will inevitably find these resources when doing topic research.

Examples of instruction manuals

A user manual doesn’t have to be outstanding. It just needs to fit your customers’ needs. The following examples of instruction manuals aren’t too fancy or exclusive – they simply do the job well.

Dooly

Dooly is a sales pipeline management tool. It’s used by sales reps, sales ops, customers success reps, account managers, and other specialists involved in customer relationships. The Dooly team knows that and addresses different customer personas with different manuals. 

The way the company has structured the help center content also allows them to make their guides easily discoverable and navigable.

Also, Dooly’s instruction manuals are never too exhaustive. It’s easy to get off the topic as you explain multistep processes. To avoid it, the company includes links to more detailed guides on specific topics. Thus, instead of providing overly detailed instructions on each step of setting up the Dooly account for CSMs, they briefly cover the steps involved in the process and link to more specific guides on each step. This approach allows the Dooly team to provide an overview of the entire process that people can follow.

Hypercontext

Hypercontext hasn’t done anything extraordinary. What we like the most about their instruction manuals is a tiny detail below each guide – a question asking whether the information provided was helpful or not.

When you’re done with your instruction manual, you don’t know whether it’s useful for your customers at all. Therefore, Hypercontext and other companies ask users for their feedback. Based on the answers, they can improve existing manuals or develop new ones.

Canva

As a visual communication tool, Canva couldn’t help but create a visually appealing instruction manual. Each guide is presented in a form of a short but well-structured video, which makes it easy to digest information and repeat the process.

What’s most important, Canva’s video guides include captions for each step, meaning that users can watch them without turning on the sound.

How to write a good user manual

Of course, you don’t have to create hundreds of videos, as Canva did, to build an instruction manual your customers will be grateful for. You can create a good instruction manual by following these simple steps.

1. Know your goal

Having an instruction manual in place isn’t your final objective, is it? 

When you get started with building one, think of what motivates you to spend time on it. There’s a range of different objectives behind creating an instruction manual, namely:

  • Reducing the number of support requests;
  • Reducing customer service wait time;
  • Improving user onboarding;
  • Enabling customers to use the product more effectively;
  • Providing personalized experiences for different personas;
  • Upskilling your customers;
  • Upselling free trial users, etc.

Choose one of these or come up with your own motivation and keep it in mind when working on the instruction manual. If you’ve been operating for some time, you must have already identified problems you want to solve with clear user guides. Put these pains at the core of your user documentation and let them guide the process.

Having a clear objective will help you to choose the right content format, define the topics you should address first thing, and keep your messaging consistent.

2. Work on the logical structure

You must be overwhelmed when you try to outline the instruction manuals. With so many processes that should be documented, how do you develop a clear structure and prioritize the topics? 

First, develop the logic. Based on your key objective, you can already say which major blocks you should cover. 

Do you want to split your instruction manual by customer personas or by pain points? Should you provide separate guides for people with different levels of expertise, or is it better to solely focus on product features? Answering these questions will let you outline the structure of your future instruction manual. 

Say, you want to personalize experiences for different personas. The best way to structure your guides is by building clusters grouped based on the tasks specific personas deal with. Similar to Dooly, you may create separate sections for people in different positions. 

When you have outlined the top-level structure for your instruction manual, you can proceed with a logical hierarchy and draft subsections. 

3. Outline the key processes

Finally, focus on the problems you want to help your customers solve. 

Some companies split their instruction manuals into three major sections: simple account setup processes, the best practices (pain-focused), and troubleshooting guides. To fill each section with content, you need to know which problems your customers face at each step.

Talk to your sales team, customer support reps, and customers themselves. Discover the challenges people are facing when familiarizing themselves with the product and learn about their day-to-day responsibilities. 

For troubleshooting instructions, you’d better talk to your development team and involve them in the process. 

4. Create a content layout

You already know which topics you’ll be covering in the instruction manual. It’s time to build a layout for each guide and write up that manual.

Instruction manuals typically include the following elements:

  • Table of contents
  • Glossary or index
  • Links to related topics
  • Step-by-step instruction
  • Links to further instructions

When filling your guides with content, follow these best practices:

  • Break down instructions into step-by-step guides. 
  • Support each step with a screenshot, graphic image, or video, making it easy for users to process the information. 
  • Stick to short, 1 or 2-sentence paragraphs and avoid adding too much text. 
  • Whenever you need to provide context, highlight this content with a different color or create a separate block for it. 

5. Don’t waste your time and skip step 4

Creating user guides manually will take ages. With the right software, you’ll build up the entire user documentation in a day.

Tools like Scribe will generate step-by-step instructions for any process that you can perform on your device. The software facilitates the creation of numerous onboarding guides, workflow documentation, and troubleshooting instructions. What’s most important, Scribe’s guides are easy to collaborate on, distribute and adopt.

By using automation software for process documentation, you not only save your time but also end up with more detailed guides than the ones you’d build manually. Every action is captured with a screenshot and explained with a short text description – later on, you can remove redundant steps, add comments, or include extra sections.

6. Localize for different countries

Do you sell your product to audiences in different countries? It’s good to make an effort to localize your instruction manual.

We don’t necessarily speak about translating the content. If your user interface is in one language, translating the user manual into several languages makes little sense. 

However, it can be that your product functions differently in different countries or regions. For instance, many advertising platforms impose limitations on audience targeting based on the audience’s location. It’s usually difficult to find relevant information on the subject unless a company offers separate location-specific manuals.

7. Keep it simple (but include references)

Whether you write up the guides manually or use technology, you need to finetune them before publishing. 

Make sure you don’t include too long paragraphs or excessive details most of your customers already know. For less experienced users, include links to content elaborating on the topics that might need further explanation. 

If some topics appear to be too lengthy, think of how you could split them into two guides and then just interlink them.

8. Maintain visual design consistency

Build a template that stakeholders will follow when creating upcoming guides. It will help you maintain visual consistency, which is important for providing a predictable, seamless user experience.

Why bother?

You aren’t the only person working on the instruction manual. Ideally, it’s expected that subject matter experts from different teams and departments are involved in the process of creating and continuously updating the guide. All these people are sure to have different visions of how to transmit their messages. 

A reusable template will prevent your instruction manual from turning into a mess. It should include easy-to-follow style guidelines on the key design and content elements such as:

  • Fonts 
  • Colors
  • The length of paragraphs
  • The size of images
  • Sections and subsections
  • The voice of tone
  • Custom graphic elements, etc.

9. Enhance findability

Adopting an instruction manual is just as important as creating it. The only way to make customers use your manual is by helping them find it. 

Here are some simple steps toward improving the findability of your instruction manual:

  • Naming convention. Clusters, subsections, and guides should be named with descriptive titles highlighting differences and commonalities between files.
  • Search box. Let users find the right content through a search box. 
  • Labels. Assign several labels to each guide so that it’s easy to find interrelated content. 
  • Breadcrumbs. Don’t turn your instruction manual into Narnia. Use breadcrumbs allowing customers to quickly find their way back to more general topics.
  • Table of contents. Users don’t want to read your manual from start to finish. Don’t make them do it – include a table of content on top of each guide to enable readers to navigate to the steps they’re least confident with. 
  • Color-coding. Highlight different sections with a different color to break up dense content and emphasize the most important pieces of information.
  • Links. Distribute the links to your manuals across all the channels your customer might use to get support. 

10. Continue to collect customer feedback

You won’t build an exhaustive instruction manual in one sitting. As your customers explore your resources library, they’ll identify topics that aren’t covered yet – even though you might have thought you’ve created the most comprehensive guide ever. 

Therefore, it’s critical that you continue to listen to your customers and proactively collect their feedback. 

  • Include a one-question survey below each guide;
  • Ask your customer support about the most frequent requests;
  • Run interactive in-app user surveys;
  • Run customer exit surveys;
  • Measure user interactions with your instruction manual, etc.

When you receive feedback, try to identify topics that repeat – these are the topics that you should include in your instruction manual. Continue collecting feedback and updating the manual regularly to keep it relevant. 

Summing up 

A good instruction manual is a critical component of strong customer relationships. If you want to gain life-long customers (we bet you do), you definitely need one. With Scribe, you’ll build interactive user guides in minutes. When you’re done, you can focus on enhancing customer experience rather than solving users’ problems.