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Best Practices for Writing and Editing User/Instruction Manuals

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This presentation outlines industry best practices in writing/editing “user friendly” instruction/user manuals. Instruction/user manuals are written for the purpose of helping the end-user complete a task. These documents must be clear about its purpose. The technical writer must take into consideration the user’s attitude, education, and experience when composing such documents. Methods of organization include a table of contents, pagination, previews and reviews, cross references, glossary, and Index - alphabetical list and page numbers - for longer docs for ease of use. Warnings, cautions, and dangers should also be used throughout the text where appropriate. Appropriate visuals should be used only as needed to aid the user in understanding of the task at hand.

Published in: Technology, Business
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Best Practices for Writing and Editing User/Instruction Manuals

  1. 1. INSTRUCTION MANUALS Best practices for documenting user instructions and creating user manuals
  2. 2. INSTRUCTIONS Documents to help a reader complete a task • Actions - personnel (behavior) • Assembly - objects/mechanism • Operation - equipment • Implementation of a process
  3. 3. TASK & AUDIENCE ANALYSES Be clear about purpose • Regardless of user, task is same • What exactly will user be able to do? • Caution users by incorporating guidelines/materials needed • What knowledge/experience do users need?
  4. 4. DO A FULL AUDIENCE ANALYSIS Complete this form and translate to prose Know how this analysis affects the instructions, i.e. User attitude - justify steps or entire doc? User education - tech level, defs, visuals? User experience - prior knowledge, details? TRANSLATE TO PROSE
  5. 5. DESIGN Consider: • Quality of paper • Frequency of use • Ease of usability • Chunking • Labeling • Parallel structure
  6. 6. ORGANIZING A MANUAL What sections are needed? • Introduction • Background (identify intended users) “These instructions are for technical writing students who will produce analytical reports…” • Info about how to use manual • Overview, general defs, description, and functions of the equipment process • Theory of operations for those who need to know why, not just what • Project history
  7. 7. SECTIONS (cont’d) Instructions • Actual steps to perform task - be sure they are logical, sequential and clear • Choose a consistent structure • Consider time element
  8. 8. SUPPORT Frequent Users’ Guide • List summarizing steps • Placement (follows full instructions) • Consider use - plastic cover? Trouble-shooting & Maintenance • Anticipate (use testing to discover) • Matrix
  9. 9. DEVICES FOR LOCATING INFORMATION Table of Contents Pagination - consider dual #s Previews and Reviews Cross References Glossary Index - alphabetical list and page numbers - for longer docs
  10. 10. CONTENT ELEMENTS Precise Title - includes purpose: “Operation Manual for Regal Slow Cooker” - may use visuals Necessary components: parts, equipment, materials, steps, accurate chronology Clear, direct working definitions -parenthetical in steps, glossary or appendix, and consistent terminology
  11. 11. Content Elements (cont’d) Accurate relevant details only Appropriate justifications - Is rationale needed for step? Necessary Warnings and Cautions Style and Grammar conventions
  12. 12. DICTION Use verb instead of noun for actual steps, “Turn lever…,” not “Lever should be turned…” Be consistent Include appropriate details Include rationale for steps only if task/audience analysis indicates (consider personal injury)
  13. 13. Diction (cont’d) Warnings - death or danger Cautions - hazards Dangers - immediate Label & separate visually Identify the risk Describe the risk Provide instructions to avoid
  14. 14. VISUAL AND DESIGN ELEMENTS Illustrate parts, sequence of steps, positioning of operator/equipment, development of change of object Appropriate visuals used only as needed (flowchart, diagrams, infographics) Include textual ref, I.d., title Balanced visual and verbal content accurate visuals, easily understood Labeled visuals with relevant text Appealing, usable format

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