You’ve finally launched your product in the market. Packed with innovative features, you can tell it’ll be a game-changer in your industry. You’re proud of how far it’s come. But as weeks go by, sign-ups start dwindling. Things aren’t going as expected, and there isn’t enough traction. So, what went wrong?
Chances are, your audience doesn’t understand your product yet. They might struggle to execute even the most basic tasks. And it all boils down to one issue — a poorly-written instruction manual.
Let’s be real: lengthy user guides are often glanced through and then tossed aside. You need to create an instruction manual that presents need-to-know information in an interactive and engaging way.
By following this format, you can create a guide that becomes the only reference point your customers need for in-depth insights on how to best use your product.
In this blog, we’ll explore the challenges you may face while writing an instruction manual and discuss some best practices to help you get it right (with real examples).
Let’s get the ball rolling!
What are the challenges of creating an instruction manual?
An instruction manual (also known as user manual, user documentation, user guide, etc.) is a comprehensive document that educates your customers on the nitty-gritty of your product. It can also help you elevate marketing efforts by providing an awesome post-purchase experience showing customers you care about them, not just their wallets.
While crafting user documentation, you need to analyze customer pain points and write content from the customer’s perspective. This will help design a manual that lets readers find what they’re looking for — fast and with no fuss.
But before you jump the gun and start writing, account for these three common challenges:
1. Hard to update
You can’t just create a product and then forget about it. To stand out in an ever-increasingly competitive market, you need to consistently upgrade your product to match user needs. And that means you’ll have to update accompanying documentation so that your users can keep up with the newly-added features. Annoying, isn’t it?
But it doesn’t have to be! Simplify this process by providing online documentation along with (or even replacing) printed manuals. Most online tools give you more flexibility in terms of editing and refreshing content.
Scribe is a case in point. It allows you to document and update user instructions easily, adding Scribes (auto-generated step-by-step guides with text, screenshots and GIFs) and content to your user manual when your product comes out with new features.
2. Lengthy and difficult to read
User manuals often get a bad rap because they tend to be long with huge blocks of text. It’s off-putting to some readers.
We get it — your product has a ton of great features, and you need enough real estate to explain them in detail. But there are ways to do this without turning your user guide into an intimidating manuscript. You can:
- Limit background information: This refers to your company’s description, vision, legal disclaimers and manufacturing details. Include them, but don’t go overboard.
- Break it down: Collect all the necessary information and divide it into logical sections. Each section should explain a different aspect of your product’s functionality.
- Follow pain-point categorization: List out common questions and navigate to each one with internal links. Enabling search is another way to help readers find what they need in the blink of an eye. (Scribe goes one step further with this by allowing users to filter their search results by author, applications, Scribe or Page, and keywords in the title and description.)
- Strike the right balance between text and visuals: Though visuals are significantly easier to process by the human brain, text gives users a better understanding and context. Ensure your instruction manual has a little bit of both.
3. Filled with technical jargon
You might know how great your product is from the get-go, but don’t expect the same from your users. You’ll need to convince them of its worth. Many technical writers do this by throwing in a bunch of jargon in an effort to sound knowledgeable. But trust us, this doesn’t work. Not even a bit.
Don’t assume your readers are tech aficionados like the members of your internal team. You’ll need to make your content easy-to-understand for them. Here’s how:
- Stay away from industry-specific jargon and simplify each sentence.
- Cut out superfluous extra words and get to the point.
- Use simple language, in an active voice.
- Write short sentences.
- Follow a logical hierarchy (You can start with requirements/prerequisites, and then follow it up with sections for setup instructions, features and maintenance).
- Be consistent with style and formatting by using a style guide.
Although we recommend adding text to your user documentation, some brands — like IKEA — have taken simplicity to a whole new level by providing users with effective, pictorial step-by-step instruction.
Here’s a page from the furniture retailer’s instruction manual for LED lights, showing users how to cut each strip before installation.
See how the illustrated walkthroughs and 3D product figures make the installation process look like child’s play? That’s what you should aim for.
5 best practices for developing an instruction manual
Now that we’ve discussed the challenges involved in creating an instruction manual, let’s take a look at five must-follow best practices, along with a few examples to give you a clear picture of how to implement them.
1. Make it searchable and accessible
Though most instruction manuals come in printed formats, an online version might nurture a better customer experience. Online guides allow users to search for and easily navigate the content they need.
Another perk associated with online instruction manuals is their ease of access. In case your user misplaces the print version, all they need to do is conduct a quick Google search to find the same guide online.
For example, Apple has built a comprehensive user guide available to all its users — Apple Support — to help them learn how to use their devices.
Be it iPhones, Macs, AirPods or Apple TV, the company’s online knowledge base categorically provides answers to common user problems — just type in your query in the home page’s search box.
2. Conduct beta testing and ask for user feedback
Don’t forget to test out different versions of your instruction manual with actual users as soon as it’s finalized.
Identify areas of improvement and update the document before going live. For the best results, ensure you include users from various walks of life, like colleagues, developers on your team, external users unfamiliar with your product and individuals with impairments. Get their input, then revise your user manual as needed.
Before publishing your instruction manual, leave a space to ask for user feedback. The response you get can help you understand whether your user manual is valuable or not. Then you can make small tweaks to the content for higher satisfaction.
Slack does a great job of this. Browsing the company’s user guide is super easy, and users even get feature suggestions to try out based on their search intent, resulting in a personalized customer experience.
It also comes with language preferences to help users learn more about the product in their native language. The smooth experience demonstrates that the company went live with its guide only after rigorous testing.
When you scroll down to the bottom of each user guide in their Help Center, you’ll see a small section asking readers whether or not their guide was useful. This helps the team at Slack understand user sentiment and improve communication gaps.
3. Go deeper than step-by-step instructions
Telling customers how to set up your product with a user guide can help improve their user journey. But showing them how to use the product to its full potential will keep them coming back for more and retain them as loyal customers.
Although you should make it a point to guide users through basic tasks and the generic how-to-install instructions, don’t forget to show them everything your product can help them achieve. Take Sharkninja’s user manual as inspiration.
The company is in the business of selling kitchen appliances and homeware. For one of its products, Ninja Foodi (a two-basket air-fryer), users were given an in-depth instruction manual that showed them how to set up the appliance with actionable steps to use it.
The guide includes timed cooking charts, popular recipes and in-depth information on how to cook different ingredients, how much oil to use and which temperature to set on the appliance.
4. Use humor to make it interactive
People often underestimate the power of humor as a communication tool. By sprinkling some fun into your long list of step-by-step instructions, you’ll keep them hooked and ready to read more.
According to Stanford GSB Professor Jennifer Aaker and Lecturer Naomi Bagdonas, using humor in communications can grab your audience’s attention and create a real impact. And who doesn’t want that?!
A brand that nailed this kind of storytelling is Zappos, an online retailer for fashion and lifestyle products. They created a quick cheat sheet for parents about to buy shoes for their kids.
The user guide anticipates common frustrations parents have while shopping with their children and adds humor to it while providing tips on navigating the process
5. Enable navigation
A user pressed for time will undoubtedly feel frustrated skimming through several pages of text to find what they’re looking for. Don’t let this happen! Design your product manual so that anyone can quickly find the information they’re looking for.
To enable easy navigation, include elements like a(n):
- Table of contents.
- Intuitive grouping.
- Search panel.
- Cross-links between similar topics.
- Clear headings.
Make sure your user documentation allows users to go back and forth between sections and hierarchy levels, especially in online documents.
The PromoBullit e-Stores Dashboard User Manual lists all it covers in a tabulated form, helping customers locate specific user instructions in no time.
Another excellent example of an instruction manual with seamless navigation is Microsoft Support.
Besides the big white search bar smack in the middle of the home page, you can see the office suite applications categorically divided and even a list of trending topics that users may have queries about.
Create comprehensive instruction manuals that are easy to navigate — with Scribe!
If you’ve been relying on customer support executives to handle complaints and guide users through product set-up, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
Nowadays, consumers prefer troubleshooting problems on their own — 60 percent of customers choose self-service options instead of contacting a live agent — so you want to give them a user manual that can help them along the way.
From improving customer retention to fewer support tickets and boosting business growth, you can gain quite a lot from a well-designed instruction manual. But if you want to do it right, always remember to think from a user’s point of view.
Once you’re done writing, test it out and use the feedback you get to make improvements. This will help you create an indispensable instruction manual — one that garners user delight and (dare we say it) love.
If you want to save time and energy, let Scribe do the grunt work for you by automating the whole process.
Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that documents any process. Turn your top features and processes into instant instructions with text and screenshots.
Use Scribe’s newest feature, Pages, to combine your guides with text, videos and more. Check out this Page that introduces users to the popular (and complex!) product, Zendesk.
Start building instruction manuals that users love, with Scribe. Click her to sign up.