When you write a great help manual you do two things – help customers find and use appropriate solutions easily and slash your business customer support costs significantly.
Even more, customers will be glad to recommend your product, and leaders in your business niche will easily recommend your brand to other experts and their customers. This is why writing a great help manual is one of the best investment any business can make.
But how exactly can you write a great help manual?
How To Write A Great Help Manual In 8 Easy Steps
1. Define who you’re writing for
How well do you know your product users? Before you start writing, define your target audience, do some research about their choice of words and level of tech knowledge. If you’re targeting technical experts, your choice of words and tech terms should be different from the ones you’ll use when writing for new product users with little or no tech knowledge.
2. Include all relevant sections
Great help manuals have several different key sections. These key sections include front covers, table of content, list of figures and tables, introduction, chapters, appendix, glossary, index and back cover... All these sections may not be relevant in your help manual, so you’ll have to carefully pick the ones that make your help manuals most user-friendly.
These key sections should never complicate tasks in the manual, they should simplify tasks. To achieve this, use a consistent format for each section, and introduce every section with a very short summary of the task to be performed.
3. Make the body easy to read
First, you’ll have to separate the instructions or procedures from the reference materials. This will make it easier for users to navigate the manual quickly. Every instruction must be written to help users perform specific tasks.
Start by identifying major tasks, and then break each major task into sub-tasks. Using short sentences and words the users will understand, write a series of steps that instruct the users how to perform each sub-task easily.
Tell the users about the product features, and how to use them. Indicate importance or emphasis via contrasts, colors or shadings. Do not assume that users will understand all the simplified technical terms you’ve mentioned: you should create a glossary of technical terms explaining the meaning of each term based on how it was used in the manual.
4. Speak directly to the users
Your help manual doesn’t have to be boring, so always use the active voice when writing and use the second person pronoun – ‘You’, ‘Yours’ and ‘Your.’ When asking users to take an action, use the command form of the most relevant verb. For instance: “Choose the second option from the drop-down menu and press [Enter].”
5. Chunk your texts
Depending on the technical knowledge of your target audience, you may have to break large pieces of information into smaller ones through a process called chunking. This is quite different from creating sub-tasks. If a sub-task contains a large piece of information that may be a challenge to users, you can break it into a list of ‘chunks.’ This is one of the best practices in writing help documents and manuals.
6. Use images and illustrations appropriately
Sometimes all you need is just one or two illustrations to simplify how users can perform a task easily. One of the reasons why some product users never read help manuals is because of the boring long walls of texts they contain. You can make your user manual easy to read and understand by using images and illustrations appropriately to explain complicated tasks.
7. Proofread the manual
Just one spelling mistake or a grammatical error is enough to ruin an entire instruction in a help manual. Once you’re done with the writing, proofread the manual and have at least two people with an in-depth knowledge of the product proofread the manual too.
8. Pick the right publishing format carefully
How exactly do you intend to publish the help manual? PDF, Word, ePub eBook, HTML help file or a hard copy? The solution is simple. You’ll have to pick document formats that will make the manual easily accessible for users when they need it and exactly how they need it.
But what if your users have access to several different document formats. Do you really have to go through all the pains of creating several different manuals for different formats? The solution is quite simple. You can take advantage of HelpNDoc, a help authoring tool that generates different documentation formats from a single source. All you have to do is create only one help manual file, HelpNDoc will convert that file into any other format you want.
Writing a great help manual requires precision and being able to pay attention to every detail. While this may seems pretty slow at first, you can take advantage of help authoring tools to write better manuals in half the time.