- Tells your customers how to achieve their goals with your product/service
- Uses language and layout that is appropriate to your customer base
- Reassures customers that they made the right choice when they bought your product/service
- Enhances your brand and customer loyalty.
Your Customers Want Task-Orientated Information, not a List of Features
One of the biggest mistakes I see with user guides and manuals, especially when they are written by product experts, is that they are little more than product descriptions. “But what’s wrong with that?” I hear you say. Let me tell you.
A product manual or user guide should not be a description of all your product’s features and specifications. Yes, there is a place for that information in a manual, but a manual should explain how to use a product, not just describe it. For example, I once worked in a software department where the existing manuals were little more than screen shots and brief descriptions of each field on the screen shot. That’s all there was! There was no explanation of how to achieve goals or descriptions of how different parts of the interface related to each other. There wasn’t even much in the way of conceptual information, so to make any use of the documentation, you pretty much had to know how the software worked already. That’s not how it should be.
The best manuals are those that are written with the end-user in mind. They don’t just contain descriptions of the product features; they explain how to use the product to achieve real-world goals. They answer your customers’ questions, help them to work with your product, and teach them not only about the features, but also when, where and why to use them. This task-orientated approach provides your customers with the information they want, not the technical specifications your engineers want to present. And with a bit of skilful writing, your documentation can also promote your brand and products too.
Making your User Guides and Manuals Work for your Business
Every piece of documentation you provide to your customers has marketing value. So don’t make the mistake of ignoring the potential of your manuals to improve your business. With a little marketing know-how, your user guides and manuals can promote the benefits of your products and services while also giving customers information on how to achieve their goals.
To help your business get the most benefit from your user guides and manuals, I will create:
- A logical hierarchy (table of contents)
- Clear, concise conceptual information
- Easy to follow, task-orientated instructions
- Strong examples and illustrations (where appropriate)
- Subtle marketing-style copy to explain why each feature is so useful to your customers. This helps to create a sense of confidence in your products and creates a good impression. Your manuals can say This is what Feature X does’ or ‘This is why you are going to love using Feature X’.
- Documentation that uses appropriate language for your target audience
User Guides and Manuals – The Importance of the User Journey
When your customers turn to your manuals, they have a specific problem that needs to be addressed. This problem marks the start of the ‘user journey’. The information I write for you, and the way I structure it, will guide your customers along their journey from that initial ‘problem’ stage through to the ‘goal achieved’ stage. Does that sound like common sense? Good, I’m glad you think that, because there are many badly structured manuals out there that just do not work like this. I’ve seen software manuals that were just lists of fields and descriptions – if a user doesn’t know the name of the field that deals with their problem, how are they supposed to use the manual? Similarly, I’ve worked on medical device user guides that listed all of the programmes available (by number), which meant that the user had to read each programme description until they found the appropriate programme for their needs. In both cases, I fixed the problem by going back to the ‘user journey’ – by starting with the user’s problem, it is easy to discover what their goal is, and achieving that goal is where the documentation should begin (and end).
Discovering the ‘user journey’ and writing from a task-orientated perspective is how I will make sure your user guides and manuals really hit the mark. Depending on your requirements, I can create them in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, or even a single-sourcing solution like MadCap Flare.
Ready to Take Your User Guides and Manuals to the Next Level?
For user guides and manuals that meet your customers’ needs, use language they understand, and enhance your brand and products, get in touch now. I can also create online help, wikis and other documentation.