If You Want Your Product to be Used, Make Sure the Manual is Useful
How many times have you opened up a product and subsequently thrown away the user manual? Probably a bunch. So, how do you create a user manual that people will actually read, hold onto, and get value of out of?
Here are a couple of tips to help guide the forlorn and under-appreciated manual writer:
Define the User
You’ll need to consider who is going to be reading and using the manual you are creating. Is the manual’s purpose to help someone put together a complicated piece of machinery? Or is its purpose merely a reference document for an easy-to-setup product? For the first example, a “getting started” section would be appropriate, whereas for the second, an FAQ section would be more useful.
Not all user manuals are created equally. Each must be tailored towards a potential user.
You’ll need to write in a way that anybody could understand. Even if you work in a highly technical field, you should be able to clearly explain in simple terms what a solid state hard drive is or how to operate an intricate piece of equipment. Graphics can be a big help here. Using charts, graphs, and pictures can greatly help a user understand complex material.
If there is no way to avoid technical jargon, add a glossary to the back of the manual to improve the reader’s experience; it’s a way out if they get lost. Remember: anybody who picks up the manual should be able to read and understand it.
Be sure to include all the appropriate pages a user manual needs. That would include a title page, a table of contents, a cover page (yes, sometimes this is forgotten), and a copyright page. You want to give your user manual a feeling of organization. If it does not feel organized, a user will throw it away immediately and not look back.
A disorganized manual seems like too much work to try and read or work through.
Print or Online?
The short answer for this consideration is both. It’s best to include a physical manual with the product for those who aren’t tech savvy, but also have a link on it to a virtual manual. The best practice is to have these online documents in .PDF format. It’s also just polite to have a copy both physically and online: if the manual is ever lost, a replacement can easily be found.
You can find great online printing sites to get the best deals on binding and paper. Since booklets tend to be a lot of pages, it’s best to go with online printing; it can save you a boatload of money over traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
You’ll want to find a vendor that doesn’t require minimum orders. Especially since user manuals have a lot of pages, you’ll be able to order one copy just to see what it looks like before you decide whether you want to buy 250.
Remember, a good manual, most of all, should educate and inform the buyer of your product. The most important thing in a user manual is the usefulness of the information.