Manuals are written to teach a reader how to use a product or perform an activity. It is a formal, technical type of writing – often written by a professional technical writer. Manuals need to be straightforward in presentation. They are often step by step and have lots of illustrations and photographs. Follow the following steps to write your manual.

Before you start to write your manual, you must truly know your product or activity. You cannot teach someone something you do not yourself know how to do – at least you will not be able to teach them as well as someone who does know their product or activity.

Before you start to write your manual, you need to know why you are writing it. Is it to teach a reader how to use your product or do an activity? Is it to keep your support costs down by helping readers before they contact you for help? Is it to market your product or activity? Or is it to improve the image of your company? The reason you are writing the manual will affect how you write your manual.

Before you start to write your manual, you need to know who your readers will be. You should conduct an audience analysis. A good article by Deedra Wollert Hickman on how to conduct an audience analysis: Write your manual to reach the largest or target audience you can.

by Philippe Boukobza

Think about the most logical way to teach someone how to use your product or do your activity – usually a step-by-step approach is called for. Split up your steps into chapters. It helps if the knowledge in the second chapter builds on what was taught in the first chapter, the third chapter builds on the second and so on.

One of the hardest parts of writing about something you know well is to include all the necessary information your reader, who does not know the product or activity, needs to know. Try to include everything you needed to know to learn how to use your product or do your activity. Try to include a lot of tables, figures, illustrations, graphs or visuals to help your reader understand the text.

Make sure you include a table of contents, a glossary or index, to help your reader find information, a list of tables or figures and an appendix if you need to explain something that does not fit in the text well.

When you are writing, try not to use jargon or technical terms if possible. Use common language that your readers will know. If you need to introduce a technical term or some jargon, make sure you put those words in the glossary and explain what they mean the first time you introduce them in the text.

Finally, have someone proofread your manual. It would be awful to spend all that time writing a manual to teach others and to have them not read it because of poor grammar, spelling or usage errors. Proofreading is worth the time and effort.