Technical manuals are essential documents that come along with the majority of physical and digital products. They guide users to use the product correctly and properly, offering an array of benefits to both the user and the manufacturer. This is why many businesses call on the services of expert technical manual writers to make them.
But you might not necessarily need a technical manual writer to make a technical manual for you. Instead, you might prefer to learn how to write a technical manual yourself. And that’s what this guide is here to help with. Below, we’ll look at the importance of technical instructions and manuals. We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide on how to write a manual.
An Introduction to Technical Manuals
In simple terms, a technical manual is essentially a guide on how to use a product. And that includes both physical products, like electronic devices, gadgets, and tools, as well as digital products, like software packages or programming suites.
Another way to think of a technical manual is an incredibly detailed how-to and troubleshooting guide. It may include step-by-step instructions, tips, diagrams of the various components and features, and so on. Its main objective is to help users understand the technical aspects of a product and use it correctly.
Steps to Write a Professional Technical Manual
A technical manual is a crucial accompaniment to any new product. And by investing in technical manuals, companies are essentially investing in stronger relationships with their customers. When it comes to how to write an instruction manual, there are several ways to go about it, and we can break the whole process down into the following series of steps.
1. Identifying Your Audience
The first step of how to write a user manual is to consider who you’re actually writing it for. Think about your target audience – the kinds of people who will be using your product. Consider their ages, backgrounds, and levels of technical experience in order to discern how detailed your manual should be and what kind of ground it needs to cover.
2. Creating a Template
Before you actually start filling in your manual or seeking out the services of a manual writer, it’s helpful to create a manual template. This is basically an outline or skeleton of the manual, with lists of all the various sections and topics to cover. It gives you or your writing team a guide to follow when it comes to actually writing the technical manual content later on.
3. Introducing the Product
The early sections of any technical manual should primarily be focused on introducing the product itself. Not always, but most of the time, a manual will begin with a diagram or breakdown of the product, explaining the various key features and components. This is a great way to give readers a basic overview of what the product is before getting into anything more detailed, like troubleshooting.
4. Instructing the User
From there, the main body of the manual should focus on instructing the user on how to use the product safely, correctly, and efficiently. This may include step-by-step instructions, lists of functions and features, recommendations on how not to use the product, and so on. You can look at a technical manual example of a similar product to yours to use as a guide.
5. Improving the Aesthetics
The most important part of how to make a manual is making sure you include relevant, accurate information that will truly help your users. However, it’s also recommended to make sure your manual looks good – an attractive layout and engaging design will help to make the manual less of a boring document to grind through and more of an interesting and worthwhile read for the user.
6. Proofing, Publishing, and Improving
With the design finalized and content filled out, it’s also important to have your manual draft proofread and edited to remove any errors or oversights. After that, it’s time to publish. But that’s not necessarily the end of the process. You may also want to listen to user feedback and continue to look for ways to fine-tune or improve your manual for future product releases.
The Different Types of Technical Manuals
There are multiple types of technical manuals to choose from, varying in length, specificity, and content. For a better match to their needs, businesses need to determine what type of technical manual is most appropriate for their product and audience. Here are some technical manual examples:
The product manual is one of the most common and efficient types of technical manuals, typically released alongside new consumer products. It essentially provides an overview and introduction to the product, letting customers know how it works and what it can do, without usually going too deep into the specifics.
A repair guide tells its users how to fix a product if it develops some sort of issue or fault. Rather than focusing on the everyday use of a product, these manuals are primarily concerned with fixing it if anything goes wrong. They’re handy for companies that don’t want their user support services overwhelmed with common issue tickets.
A troubleshooting guide is a lot like a repair guide. It lists common things that might go wrong with a product, or may alternatively have a list of error codes, along with explanations of how to identify the issues and how to deal with them. This is a handy guide to help customers attempt to fix issues on their own rather than having to contact customer support or pay for professional repairs.
Software Development Kit
A software development kit, or SDK, is a series of documents, guides, and other resources to help users understand a software development platform. It may include detailed tutorials about how to use the platform and code samples for developers to use in their projects. This type of technical manual is exclusively reserved for the field of software development.
Release notes are a simple and often quite brief form of a technical manual released alongside a new update to a piece of software or product. They basically list all the new changes, bug fixes, or improvements the product has received. If an image editing app gets an update, for example, the release notes might detail any new features or bug fixes included in that update.
Benefits of Having Technical Manuals For Products & Services
There are many benefits associated with making a technical manual, including the most obvious advantages and a few more surprising and often overlooked ones.
Helping Users Understand a Product
Obviously, the main reason to create a manual is to help users learn how to use a particular product. Simply placing a product in a user’s hands and expecting them to figure it all out might work for the simplest tools but rarely works in practice.
Instead, companies often need to guide their customers on what the product can do, how it all works, and the best ways to make the most of its features or functions.
Reducing the Strain on User Support Staff
Since manuals allow users to figure out products and even troubleshoot them on their own, there’s usually less pressure on support services to answer questions and solve problems. This means that companies that create thorough, useful manuals may not need to invest as much resources into their user support, and there’s less risk of support staff being overwhelmed.
Improving User and Product Safety
Safety is another hugely important advantage of how-to manuals. Many products, even those that appear completely safe and innocuous on the outside, can cause harm if used incorrectly. If a product intended for adults is given to children, for example, injuries and accidents may occur. Companies can create a user manual to minimize the risk of accidents and hazards.
It’s not just for safety reasons that companies are encouraged to make manuals, but also for liability reasons. If a product is used incorrectly and causes some sort of injury, the victim could potentially take legal action against the manufacturer. But, if the manufacturer took the time to make a manual showing how the product should be used, they could avoid legal trouble.
Improving Customer Loyalty and Brand Value
A well-written technical manual can be the difference-maker in terms of improving customer satisfaction. And happier customers have a much better chance of leaving good reviews and buying from the brand again. Therefore, investing in good manuals can improve a company’s profits, awareness levels, and general value.
In summary, technical manual creation is a critical investment in user success and product proficiency. Done properly, it ensures that every user can fully utilize and appreciate the nuances of a product, reinforcing the importance of clear, user-friendly documentation in today’s technological landscape.