Essential Steps for Creating an Effective Online User Guide

In the past, user manuals were the only thing helping people better understand a certain product. Nowadays, online user guides come with a set of instructions to ensure the content is readable and easily understandable. Still, many people refuse to read a manual, but the question is why?

Although there are numerous software systems for creating structured online user guides, failing to make the content user-friendly is what repels the majority of consumers. Long pages of text can lose consumers at first sight, especially if the manual doesn’t answer their real questions promptly. Nevertheless, not only do users lose interest in reading, but the organizations lose potential clients.

Why many ignore to read user manuals? Check out this guest post by Robin Singh @ pvariel.com Click To Tweet

The audience wants immediate resolutions and therefore, practical use in real-time situations is just one of the essential points to be considered during the manual creation process. However, there are a few basic guidelines to follow when considering to take on such a project, so let’s take a look at the list of quality online manual user guide features.

Content Design

The way a content is designed makes a huge difference between it boring or helpful. For that reason, don’t create a pdf file. Instead, think about the audience and how to blend their needs with the industry requirements.

Regarding technical writers, it is expected of them to implement and fulfill the following style and formatting expectations:

  • Headings– Always announce, or better, introduce the topic;
  • Bulletins & Numbers– Content that is divided helps the audience find the solution quickly;
  • Warnings– The consumers must be aware of potential issues and be cautious about them;
  • Interactive Design– Readers have to be engaged via step-by-step actions for them to perform well;
  • Visual Aids– Images, illustrations, and graphics are an important part of manuals because they precisely show how to productively apply instructions;
  • Fonts – Highlighting the key components by the use of fonts is an additional requirement for applicable online help.
  • Table of Content – Statistical and comparative information to make it easy to apprehend.

User Experience

One to know exactly what they need, they have to simplify the content for broader masses. Assumptions of the common problems with user experience is that manual content writers forget to take into account the user’s knowledge and skills. Though it is hard writing technical definitions and practices are wrong because not all people will understand what it all means. Hence, they get too discouraged early on to even continue reading online guidelines.

Too many details frustrate the audience, so to avoid this problem, one must use instructions, as mentioned above. Meaning, divide the content and adjust the headings to target different types of users. The amount of information presented should start from an overview of the topic followed by a group of tasks, according to each skillset.

How to make an easy and readable user manuals? Check out these simple tips @ pvariel.com by Robin Singh Click To Tweet

First of all, regardless of the user, the task objectives have to be clear. Once the goal is determined, ask yourself:

  • Which task goes before another? Hence, make an order to follow.
  • What level of knowledge and skills are necessary to complete the tasks and what level of understanding do users need?
  • What are all the steps and how to adjust them for a larger audience?
  • What resources do the users require?

Content Searchability

Apart from caring about the users, the help creator has to pay close attention to content optimization. Search optimization is crucial, as it makes the online manual easier to find on popular search engines. Otherwise, no matter how good the manual is, no one will be able to reach it.

This is where documentation software comes in handy, since it provides resources for better optimization. Then again, the writers should know how to apply these features. So, begin with:

  • Ranking each page of the manual for multiple search terms;
  • Semantics are vital, therefore, make sure to have keywords in the content;
  • Use links to enhance the optimization process;
  • Analyze the top-ranked website pages and notice your target keywords;
  • Check out the competitors and their optimization processes;
  • Once uploaded, re-optimize the content;
  • Strategically place keywords and related terms within descriptions, headings, subheadings, titles, and the content body;

Context-Sensitive Help

What does context-sensitive help mean? Well, it is basically a time-saving feature for friendlier user-manual navigation. For example, the system directs the audience to the topics most likely needed based on their search. This is, yet again, important for websites offering online user guides.

Context-sensitive help software allows adding popups, overlays, and online tooltips (hints) for improving the customer’s website experience. If the user clicks on the help menu, the system will display topics according to their location for better navigation from there on. Of course, if the topic is not suitable, they can search the directory until they find what they need.

Pay attention to these details, while making user manuals a usable guide. via pvariel.com Click To Tweet

The system operates by setting up the URL base for external help and it can be a gear icon like a question mark in the top right corner, available for clicking or as an appearing help window. Generally, the help explains the objects on the screen and sometimes provides hyperlinks to other related topics.

To sum it all up, content design, user experience, searchability of the content, and context-sensitive help are four essential points of a well-designed and truly helpful online user guide manual. Pay attention to these details, but don’t include numerous details in the manual as you may rapidly lose the target audience. Respect the technical writing instructions and think about how to make the content easily comprehensible for users. After all, not everyone has the same level of skill and knowledge which is precisely why help manuals and user guides matter.

This is guest post contribution by Robin Singh

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by Robin Singh

Robin is a Technical Support Executive. He is an expert in knowledge management and various Knowledge base tools. Currently, he is a resident knowledge management expert at ProProfs. In his free time, Robin enjoys reading and traveling.

19 comments

  1. Hi Robin,
    It is good to see you here on Philipscom. Thanks for sharing this amazing post on how to create an easy and usable user manual. Yes, as you mentioned many just neglects to go through the lengthy user manuals. If one follows the steps you pointed out in this post I a sure everyone will take time to read and follow accordingly. I really appreciate your effort in creating this amazing post on Philip’s page.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Robin,
      thanks for the insightful feedback
      I appreciate your time here. I fully agree with you that if one create a user manual by following the tips mentioned in the post, it will surely followed by the users.
      Keep sharing.
      Have a good day.
      ~ Philip

  2. Hello Robin sir

    Mind-blowing article…
    Thanks for keeping that comment in front of everyone.reading this article all people will have a lot of knowledge. Because of the article, we can do a lot of good in our lives and I have received so much knowledge from this article and it is very good indeed.

  3. Thanks for sharing, I like the light box idea. I like bullets, it makes it easy to skim the article and I like manuals with pictures, it makes it easier to understand. Great article.

  4. Hi Robin,

    As always an interesting read. I agree with your points as I have personally tried this & I appreciate your efforts that you have selected this topic to write an article.

    By the way, It’s always pleasure to read your posts and comment.

    ~ Donna

  5. Hey, Philip! What a nice surprise to meet Robin here today and what a great job he did with this post! He sure did give us some great tips on how to go about creating an effective guide! I do agree with the way your content is designed makes a huge difference between it boring or helpful!

    Great Share…
    Chery :))

  6. Hi, Robin, nice to learn to know you on Philips blog
    I have to admit that I do not like to read these user manuals as well.
    Some are very difficult to read. I like if they have images so I can
    find easier what I am looking for.
    I am sure that I never want to create something like this, but I think
    whoever needs to create a user manual will be happy to read your tips
    and maybe I will find in the future better manuals if some follow your
    suggestions. You did a great job writing this article.
    Thank you
    Erika

  7. Thank you for sharing. A user guide has to be such that a non technical person can also read it without much difficulty. Creating a boring user guide with lot of content tends to repel customers.

  8. Thank you for this excellent and thorough post. You really hit the nail by the head. When it comes to getting the most out of content directed at the user, there are many levels that needs to be filled. Things like writing an introductory paragraph that is interesting, having good images to reinforce points, and not not forgetting the type of font that is easy on the eyes. That is why companies that value their customers often hire copywriters to write their user guides instead of trying to do it in-house. Apple Inc. is a prime example of this.

  9. Some good principals in clear instruction and writing that can be used wider than creating a user guide. I tend to read user guides while for others they are the last resort when things go wrong 🙂
    Thanks for sharing and hopefully we will see some better user guides being written.

    Kathleen
    Blogger’s Pit Stop

  10. Hello,

    Big greetings!
    Outstanding post indeed.
    It is really thoughtful for bloggers.
    Thanks for sharing this great info.
    keep sharing.
    Rabin

  11. Very informative post It is very important to write. A good heading structure is one of the most important accessibility considerations in Word documents. Headings provide context and a way to navigate through documents.

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