Having access to a user manual when you are not an expert, is always going to be helpful. Think about receiving a new appliance and having to set it up. Without the user manual, a lot of us will be lost. You can find user manuals for just about anything and technical writers work hard to have it make sense to the user. There are times the user manuals can be a bit complicated to understand, but that comes down to the writer.
Behind every user manual is someone who wrote it. Although there are standards to adhere to, writers do have their own personal style. Writing a user manual for software is not as easy as it sounds. A lot of knowledge on the product, combined with research is required. If you are in the process of writing your first user manual, but you’re not sure how to consider these tips.
Be the user
When you are writing a user manual, you have to become the user for a while. Put all your knowledge aside for a minute and see if the manual makes sense to you. This is an important step because it allows you to step into the moment the user will need the information.
What challenges would they be experiencing that this manual can solve? Before you can do this, you need to figure out who the user is. Research the type of people who would buy the software and what challenges can you solve with your knowledge.
Clear step by step instructions
Most users will rely on the manual to give them some guidance. If the manual is complicated to understand, they are more likely to seek help somewhere else. This would then make the user manual of no value to the client.
People also enjoy lists that give them the information and steps easily. Huge blocks of text can often confuse the consumer and put them off from even attempting to use the manual. Keep it short and in point form. You want to avoid sounding like a robot in your manual. Instead, understand that this is a professional booklet, but write in an easy to read way.
Go beyond research
As the writer of a user manual, it would be impossible if you do not know the product better than the client. You can easily find manual writing software and a lot of these work well. Just make sure that you are able to share your information in a way that is usable.
Research the software, but also use the product yourself. This is going to help you understand the glitches it might have, by which you can include a solution to. A user manual is there to guide in the setup process, but it is also the first tool to use when a problem occurs. At this moment, your writing should provide a solution and it can only be achieved if you understand the issues.
Find a template
Instead of starting from scratch on your first user manual, you can find good templates online. These templates will make your life so much easier and provides a good guide for structure. You do have the option of creating your own manual and template, but it takes a lot more time than is necessary.
If you were to do an online search right now, you would be surprised by the options available. Not every template is great, so you just have to search until you find a good one. This is going to serve you well going forward in your career as a technical writer. The process can be intimidating at first, but it is usually doable with some hard work and practice.
There are a lot of good technical writers out there, but you should not sell yourself short. Finding your place in the market as a writer can be tough at first. It is expected for technical writers to produce high-quality work. There needs to be a lot of proofreading and editing happening before you submit your work.
You can easily find a grammar checker to ensure that you don’t have any language mistakes in your manual. Seeing as this is not a creative writing piece or a blog post, you don’t really have any gaps for errors. When you are writing for entertainment, people are accepting of a few clichés and minimal mistakes. This does not apply to technical writing, so you have to be absolutely sure that your writing is of the highest quality.
Emerging Trends in Technical Writing
As mentioned, writing in your own tone is always going to engage any user. This has never been the case for technical writing, especially not for software. Of course, you have to do your writing in a way that helps the user, but it no longer needs to be so formal. People engage when they know a human being is behind the text.
Living in a digital-based time, we are no longer interested in that professional tone that no one can decipher. Technical writers can now catch a bit of a break by simply writing the way they speak. It is probably a better idea for the users of manuals as well. The average person is interested in solving a problem when consulting a manual. If you can communicate solutions effectively without confusion the user more, you are doing it right.
Software User Assistance
This trend has been finding a flow for a while now and it is definitely going to hit a peak before 2019. When you are writing software user manual a lot of clients just don’t understand how the program works. This is very common and user assistance takes the frustration out of the equation. Being guided by a program to install your software of helping you troubleshoot an issue is beneficial to the end user.
If you could just hit one button and your problem is automatically repaired, it would be welcomed by any user. This is where we are heading and it’s exciting. It’s like having your own expert on the screen to help with issues you are experiencing. It’s effective and saves a lot of time and money. The software company would receive a lot fewer calls, which means decreased staff number and the ripple effect continues.
We use our mobile phones more than desktops to browse the internet. It only seems fit that mobile use of user manuals be made available. Technical writers have seen a lot of change in the way they are approaching their writing. Using your mobile phone to solve a problem has never been easier. You could be guided through a process on your mobile while applying it to your desktop.
Mobile versions are usually easier to use and the navigation process is streamlined. This can be in the form of tutorials. It is based on actionable steps to the problems the user are experiencing. The tutorials can also be adapted to the needs of the user and no longer just bulks everything into one booklet. Depending on the need at the time, the user is able to quickly navigate to the section based on their issue.
Specialists’ vs Tech Writers
There are some areas of expertise that only the experts can write about. We are seeing this trend continue to emerge and it is hitting the pockets of many technical writers. It seems as if the future of writing user manuals belongs to the specialists. This does not necessarily mean that technical writers will fall away. There might just be some changes in what they do. Editing and proofreading seem to be where this is going.
This is not the case with every user manual, but more for those software products that only the creators can truly know. Instead of frowning upon the idea, technical writers should see this as an opportunity to collaborate with these experts and specialists. You can still write the user manual if you have all of the information. It’s just a trend and who knows what positive vibes it can bring to the future of technical writing.
Trends are never forever and it changes constantly. Some trends take years to reach its full potential and others just fall away or are replaced. As a writer, you always have to stay up to date with these trends. This allows you to be relevant to the needs of the clients you work with and gain success with the readers.
Becoming an expert in your field of writing means knowing what is happening in the industry. Always research these trends annually to know what to do and what not to do. It’s like being a doctor. If there are new solutions to old problems, you need to know what is going on. Technical writing is not for the faint-hearted or the creatives. It’s for those with excellent writing skills who are not scared of a little extra work.