What is a User Manual? Guide + Real-Life Examples

Rana Bano
January 10, 2023
min read
October 24, 2023
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User manuals are your first line of defense in customer support and satisfaction. Learn how to create a user manual that your customers will love.
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A user manual is your first line of support when customers run into a challenge or question about your product. 

When done right, user manuals have the power to:

  • Strengthen customer relationships and increase satisfaction.
  • Boost team productivity and performance.
  • Improve your bottom line by helping you work faster toward goals.

But more often than not, they can be overly complex, text-heavy and challenging to navigate — making customers even more frustrated with product complications before they finally reach out to your support team. 

User manuals need the right time and attention to really deliver worthwhile results. Keep reading to learn how to create a user manual that is engaging, educational and easy to use. 

What is a user manual TL;DR:

  • A user manual is a resource that provides instructions and support for using a product.
  • User manuals improve user experience, strengthen brand image, and reduce costs.
  • Challenges of creating a user manual include identifying user needs, making instructions clear, and keeping content engaging.
  • To write a user manual, know your audience, choose the right form, create an outline, build content, test it, and make regular updates.
  • Best practices for user manuals include using simple language, adding visuals, keeping steps simple, including a table of contents, and making it searchable.

What is a user manual?

what is a user manual
Example of a user manual

A user manual (also known as an "instruction manual") offers instructions on how to set up and use a product, feature or service.

User manuals are often broken up into several smaller user guides that provide product information, answer common questions and troubleshoot common issues.

User manuals usually include a:

User manual benefits

A well-written user manual makes sure that your customers get the most out of your product, escalating the chance of usage and reducing the chance of churn.

Here are the biggest benefits of user manuals. 

1. User manuals improve user experience, satisfaction and safety

No matter how intuitive your product is, users likely won't immediately know how everything works.

Statistics show that more than 69 percent of customers prefer to handle problems independently. Too much friction can make the client less likely to activate and continuing using your product.

While some trial and error or exploration can close the gap between what they know and what they don’t, lack of direction or available resources can prevent users from learning the most efficient way of doing things. Users become frustrated — and in the worst-case scenarios, it can result in injury. 

A user manual is a self-service option that eliminates the need to guess or cut corners.

2. User manuals strengthen your brand image 

User manuals tell your audience you care about their experience. A user manual that is informative, easy to understand, and (most of all) useful can help you build a stronger relationship with your customers and strengthen your brand image. 

User manuals can improve customer satisfaction and happiness, increasing the likelihood that your users will recommend your product to their friends and colleagues.

They are also more likely to leave positive reviews or share their experience with your brand online. 

3. User manuals reduce costs and improve your bottom line

User manuals provide self-service instructions that enable your customers to solve problems or troubleshoot issues without the help of your support team. With fewer support requests, you can have a smaller, more specialized team of agents and cut costs. 

Improving user experience with a user manual can also reduce customer churn and improve customer lifetime value. When customers stick around longer, you can scale your business more efficiently and see greater returns. 

How to write a user manual in 6 steps

Here are six easy steps to

1. Know your audience & their objectives

First, get to know your audience and what they are using your user manual for.

Get clear about who your user is, what problems they face, and how they’d most like to engage with your support content. 

This is a great time to review your support data and analytics. Identify the times in your users' lifecycle when they’re most likely to reach out for help, what questions they ask and what solutions they need.

Note their comfort level with digital products and self-service help options, or if they’re more old school and prefer handling situations over the phone. 

The choices you ultimately make when creating your user guide should align with your audience's expectations. Prioritize their needs — not just what is trending or popular. 

2. Choose your type of user manual

Your user manual should be presented in a way that aligns with your users’ needs and preferences. Based on what you learned about them in the first step, decide what form you want your user manual to take. 

A digital user manual is the easiest to update and distribute, but physical copies can also be beneficial for equipment or physical products. In some cases, a hybrid approach with both physical and digital manuals can ensure all your bases are covered. 

Think about the tools or software you’re going to use to create, house and distribute your user guide. A tool that handles all three can make managing your user guide content easier. 

3. Create an outline

Once you have your tools set up and a vision for your user guide, start creating your user manual outline. Identify the questions you’re going to answer and the solutions you’re going to provide. At this stage, don’t worry too much about the details. 

Make a list of the most important information you need to share in your user guide and create an organizational structure for your content. For example, you may want to batch content based on phases of the user lifecycle or by product features. Regardless of the structure you choose, make sure it is easy to follow for your audience. 

4. Write your user manual

With the right planning and user manual software, building your content is easy. To get instructions as accurate as possible the first time around, bring subject matter experts into the creation process. 

Making creation a team effort brings all your team’s knowledge together to develop the best possible content.

Go straight to the team members who know your platform best to get accurate instructions and information to build out your user guide. 

Use a process documentation tool to speed up the drafting process. For example, Scribe is an AI powered Chrome extension that turns any workflow into a visual user manual, complete with text and screenshots.

what is a user manual
A user manual generated with Scribe

5. Test your user manual

When your user manual is complete, test your instructions for accuracy and clarity.

Work with someone unfamiliar with your product (such as a focus group or an intern) and ask them to follow your instructions to see if they can follow the process and achieve the expected outcome. 

If necessary, make updates and revisions. 

6. Make regular updates 

Your user manual is going to change frequently. Stay on top of changes by scheduling regular updates and modifications. 

Start by working updates into your product update rollout plan. Any time you have a major update to your product planned, include steps to updating and revising your user manual.

You should also regularly add new content based on questions your support team is getting. If you’re seeing a new increase in certain support tickets or questions, you might want to consider including new content in your user guide to address those issues. 

Keep an eye out for unused content as well. If specific pages in your user guide aren’t getting a lot of attention, you may want to remove them from your manual. Keeping your manual concise and relevant can make it easier for your users to navigate. 

Types of user manuals: Real-life user manual examples

There are several different types of user manuals for different goals. Here are some examples of user manuals from companies today

1. Slack user manual: Keep language simple

When a user reaches for your user manual, they’re likely already feeling confused and frustrated. There’s no need to add to that confusion by using technical jargon an average user won’t understand. 

Instead, keep language simple. Imagine you’re explaining how to complete the task to a friend or colleague. Keep sentences short and to the point, and avoid unnecessary commentary. 

Slack, for example, gets straight to the point in its user guide. It’s clear what next steps the user should take and how to get started. 

what is a user manual: Slack user manual

2. Scribe user manual: Use images & visuals wherever possible 

Why tell users how to complete a task when you can show them? Adding images and visuals to your user guide helps you break down complex instructions into easy-to-follow steps. 

Annotating screenshots or adding voiceovers to video walkthroughs can make your visuals even stronger. Rather than trying to explain where a user can find the button they need to click or the page they need to view, you can show them exactly what to look for. 

Scribe is an AI-powered tool that documents your processes, creating visual step-by-step guides that you can share or embed.

Scribe's instruction manual uses its own product to help users get started and showcase its best features.

What is a user manual? Scribe user manual

‎3. Canva user manual: Opt for simple steps

Your users don’t need detailed explanations. They need clear instructions that are easy to follow. 

Keep steps short and simple. Users shouldn’t be expected to complete multiple tasks within one step. If you want to add additional context or extra support, use call-out boxes, links, or add helpful tips after the instructions. 

Here's an example from Canva. Each step clearly explains what the user needs to do and any extra information is saved for the end.   

canva user manual
Canva user manual

4. Airtable user manual: Add a table of contents 

A table of contents helps your users quickly find what they need. Breaking down your user guide into topic sections makes it easy to navigate and can improve your user experience. 

Use the content structure you created when outlining your user guide to build your table of contents. Including a detailed table of contents is especially important if your users will be relying a physical copy of your guide. 

Here’s an example of a user guide with a table of contents from Airtable. Because this is a digital user guide, the table of contents presents as a clickable navigation list that is accessible and easy to navigate. 

airtable user manual
Airtable user manual

‎5. Notion user manual: Make it searchable 

A search option is a great way to further improve the user experience of your manual. A search function gives users an opportunity to quickly find exactly the page they need without having to dig. 

The strength of your search feature will likely depend on where you choose to house your user guide. Choosing a platform that lets you easily tag, categorize, or optimize your content for search can help ensure the right information gets to your users when they need it. 

Check out Notion’s search feature in their user guide. In addition to a table of contents and navigation, users can type in keywords or questions into the search bar to find articles specific to their issue. 

user manual
Notion user manual

Challenges of creating a user manual

Before you begin creating your user manual, here are some of the biggest challenges to be aware of. 

1. Identifying & meeting user needs and concerns 

The primary goal of your user manual is to address your users’ needs. Understanding what issues or challenges your users are facing is the first step in creating a user manual. 

You can use support analytics or feedback to identify common issues your users are experiencing. What questions are they frequently asking? What parts of your platform require the most support? Start by addressing those needs first.

2. Making instructions clear & concise 

User guides are often technical and require step-by-step instructions that are sometimes difficult to explain — especially when you’re not able to give hands-on support to your users. But complicated or unclear instructions can lead to new user frustrations. 

Instructions should be clear and concise. When a step is complex, look for alternatives to text-based instructions, such as videos or images. A tool like Scribe can help you build detailed user guides with images and video instructions.

3. Ensuring instructions are accurate & up-to-date

Instructions also need to be up to date and reflect any new platform changes or additions, meaning you need to update your user guide every time your product updates. This can quickly become a time-suck for your team if you’re frequently making changes. 

The best way to keep your user guide updated is to use a digital platform to manage your support content. A content management system will make it easier to make changes to your content and ensure your users are working from the most accurate information. 

4. Creating engaging user manual content

Let’s be honest – user manuals aren’t the most exciting pieces of content. Your users aren’t likely to sit down and read your user manual cover to cover. But you still want to ensure the content you’re creating is engaging enough to walk users through each process. 

Images, videos and other forms of media are great ways to make your user manual content more engaging and help you get the point across more efficiently. 

You're ready to create a user manual 

If your user manual isn’t accurate, informative and engaging, it’s likely to fall flat with your audience. User manuals have the power to create a loyal customer base with the right practices and tools.

Want to write visual user manuals in minutes? Generate your own user manuals for free with Scribe!

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