How to Create a User Instruction Manual: The FULLEST Guide

If you’re wondering how to create a user instruction manual, you’re lucky you ended up here – this is the FULLEST guide! I believe you know that user guides are essential for any product since they ensure better customer experience, save the time and efforts of customer support agents, and simply “sell” the product. Want to know how? Read on to view a step-by-step guide, learn about useful tools, download an instruction manual template, and find out best tips & tricks on how to create a how-to guide and similar user documentation.

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How to Create a User Instruction Manual: STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

1. Define your user & aim

The first thing you need to consider before starting work on your user instruction manual is your audience. This includes users who either use the tool you’re writing a guide for or who encounter particular problems with your tool. On the one hand, you can aim to create a user guide for an average user, as a rule, for the one using your program for the first time. In this case, you need to use specific terms or explain them in detail for the user who doesn’t know a thing about your software yet. On the contrary, your user instruction manual can be designed especially for those who have already had experience using your software but still may encounter unexpected issues. For example, for those who have been using your program for a year but now do not know how to export a file in the updated version, you can use already established terms of your interface to create a user guide.

2. Choose appropriate style & format

The second step is to decide on the most suitable style and format for your user guide. Overall, you need to know how to create a how-to guide which will not only share knowledge but will also be presented in a smooth and coherent style and format. As usual, you can use a formal or semi-formal style of writing. Make an instruction manual template also easy to follow: make sure to structure and align the formatting of all elements, create sections and subsections, highlight essential issues, and use text formatting to emphasize the important parts. In this case, the user instruction manual will be easy to look through and find the needed information. In addition, do not forget to align your instruction manual template with the corporate branding approved in your organization.

3. Delineate the problem you need to solve for your users

Although you may think this step is not obligatory since you probably already have a general notion of your future user guide scope, you still need to plan thoroughly on how to write an instruction manual which will solve a particular problem. In other words, you should figure out how to make an instruction manual to achieve the aim of your user guide built for your target audience (see step 1). You need to define where the procedure or a set of procedures starts and finishes and what issues a user may encounter during its accomplishment. Undoubtedly, it will be great to discuss these questions with your actual users or consult use cases for this purpose. This way, you’re less likely to miss out an important part of the procedure you are writing about.

4. Design an appropriate title page

Also, the title page is the “face” of your user instruction manual – it’s not so important in electronic user guides as in physical ones. It’s better to create a title page in a minimalistic style and not to spend too much time on creative design. Far more important is to provide all the necessary info on the title page so that everyone can tell this is an instruction manual, its scope, audience, mission, version, publication date, reference, author, and so on. Actually, the title should say everything about your user guide while all other text labels should just contain additional info pointing at its applicability and relevance to an issue a user is trying to tackle. If you hesitate how to name your document – user guide or user manual – read more about it here.

5. Reference your user instructions manual to other user documentation

This action is presented as a separate step since it’s very important yet quite simple. You need to reference your user instruction manual to other user documentation so that your colleagues and customers know where to search for related information. Do not forget about the correct release date and/or version number to make sure your user guide aligns with the latest user documentation.

6. Insert the Table of Contents

You can skip this step if your user instruction manual is only 5-8 pages long. In other cases, you should include a table of contents to make your user guide easier to research and follow. It’s better when a table of contents incorporates not only a list of the major parts titles but also other headings allowing the users understand what they can find in each part – even if you describe only one complex procedure. A thorough scan of a good table of contents shows readers where they can find answers to their questions and if the current user guide suits their needs at all.

7. Go through the procedure and present all the actions as steps

This step is probably the most critical – it will comprise the body of your user guide. Apart from the accurate and thorough description of each step, you need to think of various visuals – mainly screenshots – to illustrate all your actions in a step-by-step user guide to make it easier to understand and reproduce the steps. Frankly, this procedure is quite dull, and time and effort consuming. Fortunately, the latest special-purpose tools let you save work time significantly. Stepsy, for example, saves you up to 90% of the time spent on documenting a procedure, isn’t it impressive? Instead of using several tools like screenshotting software, image editor, and word processor, you can use StepShot Guides combining the functions of all these tools. Otherwise, you should manually copy, paste, and edit each screenshot and text field into different apps. Luckily, the introduced all-in-one solution allows the creation of a 20 step guide in about 15 minutes instead of 150 minutes, that is 10x times faster.

8. Edit and improve

Whichever tool(s) you decide to use to create a user instruction manual, you need to edit, improve, and proofread it after capturing the procedure. At this step, you’ll have a document with text including the description of each step and screenshots. If you’ve chosen an o̶u̶t̶d̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ traditional way and use several apps, you need first to edit each screenshot in an image editor and then insert it into the doc. Then you need to type manually or copypaste the text. Afterward, you have to format your doc to make it look nice and easy to follow.

However, you may choose an easier approach and use Stepsy. In this case, you just need to go through the guide and edit the screenshots before exporting. You can use tools like blur or highlight the cursor location or outline the element under the cursor with a circle or rectangle. Also yo can use additional arrows, lines, shapes, text blocks, sequence numbering, blurring, or image cropping directly within the Stepsy popup. As for the recorded step descriptions/titles, you can also edit them in Google Docs to correct any mistakes or add other text. Make use of OCR technology such as Google Lens to recognize the text on an image and paste it wherever you need.

9. Design an instruction manual template

Consider the layout of your user instruction manual – it’s more important than you may think as a layout is like an interface: if it’s not user-friendly, a user will find it hard to perceive, navigate, and follow. Think of the table of contents, heading formatting, font, colors, margins, graphic elements, line spacing, and so on. Even if you’re working in an ordinary word processor, better to save an instruction manual template rather than simply formatting your doc – you may need the same instruction manual template later. If you’re working in Stepsy – as usually, the procedure is much simpler. If you need a PDF user instruction manual, import your own instruction manual template or edit one of those available – in fact, edit just a title page, table of contents, and a page with a step – the rest of your document will be formatted automatically. Also, you can take advantage of predefined repetitive text labels – a set of variables such as company name, address, or contacts, date, document version, or whatever you need. If you prefer a Word format, just download an existing instruction manual template, format the same three pages the way you like, and import it to Stepsy. Still, you can always use one of the available templates and simply omit the step of instruction manual template designing.

10. Export & share

The last step is exporting and sharing your user instruction manual. If it has been created with a word processor, as a rule, you can export it to some text formats or PDF. With Stepsy and Google Docs there are more options:

  • Word
  • PDF
  • HTML (you can insert it directly to your site, help center, or knowledge base)

How to create a how-to guide that rocks: TIPS & TRICKS

  • Keep it visual

Probably you know that information presented visually is much easier to understand and follow – make use of data visualization tools.

  • Present step-by-step instructions

Undoubtedly, this is the most effective approach to create a how-to guide or other similar documentation.

  • Structure a doc hierarchically

A demonstrative and simple guide structure will allow a user to find necessary info much faster and will improve readability.

  • Make sure to include references

A properly referenced guide to other user documentation makes it easier to find relevant information in other files.

  • Be specific and clear

Use clear wording and specific instructions. Avoid too general utterances, repetitive statements, and redundant details.

  • Use active voice

Active voice is preferable for guides and manuals as it’s simpler for users to follow your instructions in this case.

  • Keep layout, formatting, and colors clean and engaging

Make use of formatting and color palette to make a guide easy to perceive and attract user’s attention where needed.

  • Think like a user

Think about how to create a how-to guide as if you were an inexperienced user. What would you need help with? What would you like to find in such a manual?

  • Get feedback from beta-tester

If your product has undergone beta-testing or you have use stories or use cases – benefit from them through revealing the things that may be obvious to you but difficult for average users.

  • Make complex simple

Wondering how to write an instruction manual for a complex procedure in an easy-to-follow way? Breaking down the process into smaller parts with headings and subheadings will make a manual much easier to comprehend. Also, keep wording and phrasing simply.

  • Provide a glossary

Explain all technical terms in a glossary to make a user feel comfortable with the instruction manual. Avoid jargon in your text.

  • Ask someone to use your manual in practice

Ask for fair feedback for your user manual from someone who hasn’t tried to complete the procedure before. If they encounter some issues or gaps in a manual – edit them.

  • Ensure accessibility

Make sure you don’t only share your user instruction manual with all relevant users and team members but also provide all of them with access to these files.

  • Remember: it’s still marketing

One may think that a user instruction manual is all about the useful text. Of course, usefulness is its major aim, but do not forget it also “sells” your product. Consider cross-linking with other content like blog articles, avoid plagiarism, optimize SEO.

Oh, wow! It IS the FULLEST guide!

Congrats! You’ve just finished reading the fullest guide on how to make an instruction manual! Hope you liked it and found it useful!

Just to wrap up, a short brief on the main points in case you’ve missed something:

  • The creation of a user instruction manuals takes 10 main steps
  • There are many tools which can help you to create a how-to guide
  • For those, who are not afraid of modern technologies and need to know how to write an instruction manual in a time-efficient manner – try Stepsy
  • Make sure you keep user guides easy to follow & understand and include all necessary info

Thanks for being here! May your experience in creating a user instruction manual be pleasant and productive!