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 when writing a manual. 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.

Links about this topic:

  • Aurora Bedford, 2015, Personas Make Users Memorable for Product Team Members
  • Battson, Colin, Determining your Audience, astauthors.co.uk
  • Goltz, Shlomo, August 2014, A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are And How They Work (Part 1), smashingmagazine
  • Lehrner-Mayer, Karina, July 2016, Five tips for creating documentation that focuses on the user, tcworld e-magazine
  • McMurrey, David, Audience Analysis-Just who are these guys?, prismnet.com
  • Marx, Sophia, April 2016, Creating successful information experience for users
  • Nielsen, Jakob, 1994, Goal Composition: Extending Task Analysis to Predict Things People May Want to Do
  • Nielsen. Jakob, 2015, Use Specialized Language for Specialized Audiences
  • Redish, J. C., 1993, Understanding readers, In C. Barnum and S. Carliner (Eds.), Techniques for Technical Communicators, Macmillan, 14-41.
  • Task analysis, Usability.net

Books about this topic:

  • User and Task Analysis for Interface Design - JoAnn T. Hackos and Janice (Ginny) Redish (1998)

2. How to write a manual that really solves problems

Because users want to get things done and because they do make mistakes while performing tasks, a predominance of trouble- shooting 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 trouble shooting information.

Links about this topic:

  • Meij, Hans van der, Minimalist principle 1: Choose an action-oriented approach
  • Meij, Hans van der, Minimalist principle 2: Anchor the tool in the task domain
  • Meij, Hans van der, Minimalist principle 3: Support error recognition and recovery 
  • Problemsolving review
  • Redish, J. C., 2013, Letting Go of the Words -- Writing Great Copy, Confab London

Books about this topic:

  • Johnson-Eilola, J. and Selber, S.A., 2013, Solving Problems in Technical Communication
  • Letting Go of the Words - Janice (Ginny) Redish (2012)
  • Redish, J. C., 2012, Writing Web Content that Works, UxLx 2012, Lisbon

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 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 documentation for your audience.

Links about this topic:

  • Hollis Weber, Jean, May 2011, Developing a Departmental Style Guide
  • IEEE Professional Communication Society, Plain language
  • Meij, Hans van der, Minimalism
  • Meyer, Kate, August 2016, The Impact of Tone of Voice on Users
  • Meyer, Katem July 2016, The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice
  • Plainlanguagenetwork.com, What is plain language?
  • Samuels, Jacquie, May 2013, Getting Started with Topic-Based Writing
  • Stephanie Saylor, Why words matter
  • Unwalla, Mike, Plain Language in Plain English: a review
  • Vermeulen, Ferry, 2016, Simplified Technical English (STE): How to write clearer texts with STE
  • Vizard, Linn, May 2016, Tell It To Me Straight – Plain Language in UX

Books about this topic:

  • Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel, Taschenbuch, January 2003

4. How to use illustrations in your manual

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 for your user manual.

Links about this topic:

  • Haramundanis, Katherine, 1991, The Art of Technical Documentation, chapter 5: Graphics in technical documentation
  • Hulitschke, Stefan, November 2013, The technical illustrator: A new picture, tcworld e-magazine
  • Professional and Technical Writing/Design/Illustrations, Photo’s and illustrations, Wikibooks
  • Solidworks Composer
  • Vashishtha, Samartha, Fabruary 2013, Picture Perfect: Using illustrations in technical communications, IEEE Professional Communication Society

5. How to use multimedia in your manual

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.

Links about this topic:

  • Bryan Mawr College, 2015, Working with multi-media files
  • Camtasia
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011, E-learning methodologies - A guide for designing and developing e-learning courses
  • Meij, H. van der and Meij, J. van der, March 2016, The effects of reviews in video tutorials (paper)

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, you can ensure the quality of the technical
translations, improve the UX and cut translation costs. The following links will provide you more insights in user-centred translations.

Links about this topic:

  • Byrne, J., 2006, Technical Translation, chapter 5: Usability-strategy for translations
  • Suojanen, T., Koskinen, K. and Tuominen, T., 2015, User-centred translations
  • Wright, Sue Allen and Budin, Gerhard, Handbook of Terminology Management

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 device. The following links will provide you more insights in giving the user access to information.

Links about this topic:

  • Albers, Michael J, 2012, Human-Information Interaction and Technical Communication
  • Bailie, Rahel, September 2010, How to create useful FAQ pages. Content Marketing
  • Cross-platform delivery/ Multi-channerl publication
  • Hollis Weber, Jean, 1992, Hints for developing a table of contents
  • Jose, Maria, January 2016, Designing the perfect table of contents
  • Meij, H. van der, Minimalism principle 4: support successful information access
  • Techscribe, 2004, Indexing technical documents
  • Ganguly, A. and Chaudhuri, S. 2016, Accessible Documenation, UXmatters

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

Getting feedback and staying in contact with you 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 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 in how to stay in contact with your users.

Links about this topic:

  • Lehrner-Mayer, Karina, July 2016, Five tips for creating documentation that focuses on the user, tcworld e-magazine
  • Madcap Pulse
  • Nielsen, Jakob, March 2016, Getting Users to a Specific Feature in a Usability Test
  • Veal, Raven, August 2016, How To Conduct User Experience Research Like A Professional
  • Wadswort, Martha, 7 tools to stay in close contact with your user

Books about this topic:

  • A Practical Guide to Usability Testing - Joseph S. Dumas and Janice (Ginny) Redish (1999)

Other useful resources:

  • Ganier, Franck, Comparative user-focused evaluation of user guides: a case study
  • Johnson, Tom, 10 strategies for user-centred documentation
  • Nielsen, Jakob, June 2016, Using the Title Attribute to Help Users Predict Where They Are Going
  • Nielsen, Jakob, 2014, User Experience Career Advice: How to Learn UX and Get a Job
  • Redish, J. C., 2010, Technical Communication and Usability: Intertwined Strands and Mutual Influences, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 53 (3), September, 191-201. (PDF, 332 Kb)
  • Redish, J. C., 2010, Writing Vibrant, Compelling Content, User Interface Engineering - Virtual Seminar, September (webinar)
  • Redish, J. C., 2009, Shifting Your Focus: Content as Conversation, Rosenfeld - Media Future Practice Webinar, May (webinar)
  • Steehouder, M., Jansen, C., Poort, P. van der and Verheijen, R., 1994, Quality of technical documentation
  • Theofanos, M. F. and Redish, J. C., 2005, Helping Low-vision and Other Users with Web Sites That Meet Their Needs: Is One Site for All Feasible? Technical Communication, 52 (1), February, 9-20.
  • Vermeulen, Ferry, 2016, Technical Writing Tools: The Ultimate Expert Choice


  • plainlanguage.gov
  • usability.gov
  • usabilitynet.org
  • awwwards.com
  • 52weeksofux.com
  • smashingmagazine.com
  • usabilitypost.com
  • blog.uxpin.com
  • idratherbewriting.com
  • urbinaconsulting.com
  • http://fivesketches.com

With help from and many thanks to:

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

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