A User Manual or User Guide – How to Name a Document with Instructions?

Nobody likes reading looong instructions. User documentation, be it called a user manual, user guide, or other, is usually provided to customers once they buy a product or services. Still, the users frequently keep asking the same questions again and again. Do you remember that funny yet true Facebook post about inattentive customers? After reading an ad like “Apple and cherry pies will be sold at Green’s Store (5 Johnson Str.) on Sunday, Nov 24, at 10 AM – 6 PM,” people keep asking questions like where to find a store, when they are open, whether it’s possible to buy a pie on Sunday, which tastes of pies are available, and so on.

Similarly, the users keep asking you simple questions provided in the user documentation, familiar situation? With a properly created and named user’s manual or guide, a user will find necessary info in minutes without your assistance. Also, only a document presenting a lot of visual data can be easily comprehended.

In turn, we can teach you how to create a user guide in minutes – we have the fullest guide on creating user manuals.

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Undoubtedly, the naming of a user document is an important decision since it can either attract or distract the user. Thus, it’s essential to choose meaningful headings, captions, and titles and to define the meaning of unknown specific words and phrases to be able to use them effectively. There is a variety of terms that are widely used for naming user documents, such as “user manual”, “user guide”, “reference guide”, “instructions,” etc. In this article, we’ll explain which “general” titles can be given to user documentation, what is the difference between a user guide and user manual, and how to make the name explanatory and engaging. Overall, you’ll learn how the name of a user document can influence the intentions of a potential reader, and we’ll unveil some more tips on creating efficient and effective manual user guides.

User manual or user guide?

Many of us use the terms “guide” and “manual” as synonyms almost interchangeably. Others, in turn, are sure that there is a significant difference between these words. Indeed, the explanations of both terms denote the materials providing instructions to people. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, these words are defined as:

  • guide – something that provides a person with guiding information (a device, a sheet or card, a person)
  • manual – a book capable of being conveniently carried as a ready reference

As you can see, there is a difference – while a guide can be presented by a sheet of paper, a device, a file, or a person, a manual is usually only a book or document. In the case of user documentation, both variants are appropriate with a slight difference in usage. I believe, that the former can be used in the names of various documents, instructions, schemes, pieces of text, videos, and other formats  – call it user guide or video guide. On the other hand, the word “manual” is more applicable to more extensive written instructions or a collection of documents. But let’s dig dipper.

A user guide is a short reference to some particular aspects of a software product. The examples can be all kinds of “How-to,” “Installation,” and “Getting Started” guides. Correspondingly, user guides can be created both in a form of written documents (e.g. troubleshooting guides with step-by-step explanations) and in the form of different media such as help video.

A user manual is traditionally a large book containing detailed information on many different aspects of a program, including processes and major features. This kind of document is expected to consist of more than one chapter built in a fully structured sheet with a table of contents, numerous sections, and an index at the end. The example is a training manual – learn how to create it here.

However, in a modern IT world, technical writers don’t always take those things into account and call the instruction documents according to some other criteria. Funny to mention is that today the word “manual” is associated with something old-fashioned and boring, so, end-users are less likely to read such documents. On the other hand, the term “guide” is known to be  “in fashion” nowadays. Considering a guide as something short and up to a point, there is the opinion that the creation of user guides is faster and end-users perceive them more positively. With this in mind, technical writers prefer guides to manuals. Indeed, such big companies as Microsoft, Apple, IBM tend to name their pieces of documentation “user guides”, or sometimes “user’s guides” regardless of the fact that these documents have all the characteristics of manuals. Frankly, I use both terms, however, I name a file “user manual” only if it’s a several page document describing how to accomplish particular procedure or a set of procedures – so-called IT process documentation.


Nowadays, engaging guides are easily created with the help of specific software documentation tools. The example of one is Stepsy – a user-friendly software for an automatic step-by-step guides creation. It can be used to create any user documentation or any other documents based on screenshots and/or images. This tool makes this process easy like never before – it automatically captures and records the procedure and you need just to edit the file and/or template and export it to a Google Doc. This way you can create user guides, manuals, knowledge bases, help centers, video tutorials, SOPs, runbooks, and other similar process documentation.

How to name your end-user documents: titles & headings

Choosing between various general names like a manual, guide, tutorial, and so on is just a small part of “naming” within user documentation. You need to provide a more specific title to the doc to make its name explanatory and engaging. First, the title should tell a user what information is included in the file they’re going to read, view, or listen. Mainly, it can explain to the user if the user guide can solve their problem.

Identically, all other headings play a significant role as they can influence the intentions of a potential reader. They usually scam the doc looking through the titles to see what info is included or just view the table of contents. In this case, your headings and subheadings should comprise a thorough and comprehensive plan demonstrating the whole manual guide in several phrases or sentences. Thus, I’d like to share some tips on creating efficient and effective manual user guides.

  • Think of what? when? where? why?

Use a similar structure to name your user’s manual to make it obvious for the user what it’s about

  • Keep it clear, short & simple

Do not use too many words, too general words, or complex constructions. Do not restate the same points to avoid redundancy.

  • Make step-by-step instructions

If each subheading is a separate step, which can comprise a set of steps, the user’s manual is simpler to follow

  • Keep them similar

Make your headings look the same – use similar grammatical structure, for example, imperative mood (as here), gerund constructions, etc.

Name smartly

To conclude, the process of naming is not as easy as it may seem since it can have a strong impact on the readers’ first impression and following intentions. Thus, it depends on the clarity of a title if the user will actually read the document. Even though a manual user guide can include all necessary information, if its title and headings do not say that – the user won’t even open it. To make a user manual easy to follow and understand, use Stepsy software to create a user guide in minutes.