What Makes a Good Instructional User Manual?

We’ve all seen examples of bad instruction manual design – usually, it’s unreadable, and therefore useless (in some cases, even dangerous.) We at Enventure Technologies offer a number of high quality, value engineering services to our customers, including technical documentation services. These include everything from 3D installation and configuration manuals for new equipment, to work instructions for assembly line employees. So what elements go into good instruction manual design?

Firstly, the writer should know the product before they begin thinking about a user manual. They should know the abilities and requirements of their target reading audience, and be proficient in the appropriate publishing software or CAD design tools.

Good technical documentation design means approaching the project as if you were writing an illustrated book; user manuals that consist entirely of graphics (animated or not) can be hard to read. Many manuals are graphics only – but that’s because the user is expected to use the accompanying CD-Rom or downloadable software. Even so, they can be confusing.

Whether the manual is on screen or in printed form, a table of contents (TOC) is a must. This is the first thing the writer will compile – it helps them to focus and arrange their ideas. Depending on the product, the contents may include a brief introduction to the product and its features; a “how to get started” page; key features; system requirements; set-up instructions; safety do’s and don’ts and tutorial pages on how to use the various features. It will also have a troubleshooting guide and manufacturer’s specifications.

Finally, work instructions must be written in clear and concise English – the essence of every good manual.

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