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Technical Writing: The Ultimate Guide To User-Friendly Manuals

Ferry Vermeulen Usability

Do you write user manuals or technical documentation? Do you often hear people emphasizing the importance of their user-friendliness? 

But you hear it so often, that you actually do not know where to start looking for information about how to do user-friendly technical writing yourself?

User-friendliness in technical documentation is getting more and more important. Also the user experience of products' instructions is considered as an important part of the customer journey. 

In this guide/post, I have created an overview of the main topics to think of, when writing user-friendly documentation.

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hen 8 Topics towards user-friendly technical writing

 

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1. How to write a manual for your audience

It is important that information on your product be communicated to the user accurately and effectively. Each group of users has its own characteristics, and it’s important to take account of these before starting the technical writing. A seasoned end user of an
emergency-call system has different requirements from someone who’s installing modular pontoon systems. The following links will provide you more insights into your audience.

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Technical writing books on this topic:

2. How to write a technical manual that really solves problems

Because users want to get things done and because they do make mistakes while performing tasks, a predominance of troubleshooting information in operating or maintenance manuals is recommended. The main rule here is first to help users avoid making mistakes by using short and simple sentences, signalling action information clearly and minimizing jargon. Furthermore, to master error-handling, it is recommended to help the user recognize there is an error (detection) understand what happened (diagnosis) and how to recover (recovery). The following links will provide you more insights in writing clear error recognition and troubleshooting information.

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Technical writing books about this topic:

3. How to write a structured manual with clear texts

Once you’ve gathered and selected all your task-oriented information, you can use it to start the technical writing and produce your texts. While you are doing this, it’s crucial that you keep your target audience in mind the whole time: they have to find what you’re communicating easy to understand. In general, even the product information that is already there has to be edited. Marketing materials mostly are not accurate enough and technical descriptions not readily enough understood by, the target audience. Quite often there is no written information at all. The following links will provide you more insights in writing technical documentation for your audience.

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4. How to use illustrations in technical writing

Illustrations help make the steps you’re showing a lot clearer than is possible with words alone. Instructions for assembly and installation can often be replaced in their entirety by images. What’s more, illustrations make for a visually appealing manual that is more pleasant to read. The following links will provide you more insights in creating clear illustrations in technical writing.

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5. How to use multimedia in your user support

Using multimedia is a great way to effectively convey information on your product or service to your target audience. Different mediums can help you hold their attention for longer, and that means they retain what you’re telling them for a longer time. In addition, research shows that users find it enjoyable to get their knowledge audiovisually. The following links will you provide you more insights in using multimedia for your user manual.

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6. How to translate for usability

Technical documents often have to be translated: products that are traded internationally have to come with manuals that are easily understandable. By setting the technical-translation process up well directly after the technical writing, you can ensure the quality of the technical
translations, improve the UX and cut translation costs. The following links will provide you more insights into user-centred translations.

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7. How to support successful access to information

It is generally acknowledged that end users don’t read the manual from cover to cover and that they more often prefer to consult the information they need online. To overcome these issue, information developers would first of all be well advised to stick to a defined terminology and to develop a meaningful Table of Contents and an index. Secondly, product information should be distributed using several platforms/mediums, like a print manual, online (for all devices) or on the device. The following links will provide you more insights into giving the user access to information.

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8. User Feedback: user research and staying in contact with your users

Getting feedback and staying in contact with your customers is one of the most valuable assets a company can develop. Improving on them is a great way to increase the customer lifetime value (CLV). By keeping in touch with your customers you can collect meaningful feedback for documentation, technical writing improvement and product development. Analytic data, such as topic views, search keywords, used search terms (also terms that yield no results), can provide very valuable insight into how your users use your documentation and product and how it can be improved. The following links will provide you more insights into how to stay in contact with your users.

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Other useful technical writing resources:

Technical writing links:

With help from and many thanks to:

  • Marie-Louise Flacke
  • Hans van der Meij
  • Rahel Anne Bailie
  • Janet M. Six

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