If you’re wondering how to create a user instruction manual, you’re lucky you ended up here – this is the FULLEST guide! I believe you know that user guides are essential for any product since they ensure better customer experience, save the time and efforts of customer support agents, and simply “sell” the product. Want to know how? Read on to view a step-by-step guide, learn about useful tools, download an instruction manual template, and find out best tips & tricks on how to create a how-to guide and similar user documentation.
How to Create a User Instruction Manual: STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
1. Define your user & aim
The first thing you need to consider before starting work on your user instruction manual is your audience. This includes users who either use the tool you’re writing a guide for or who encounter particular problems with your tool. On the one hand, you can aim to create a user guide for an average user, as a rule, for the one using your program for the first time. In this case, you need to use specific terms or explain them in detail for the user who doesn’t know a thing about your software yet. On the contrary, your user instruction manual can be designed especially for those who have already had experience using your software but still may encounter unexpected issues. For example, for those who have been using your program for a year but now do not know how to export a file in the updated version, you can use already established terms of your interface to create a user guide.
2. Choose appropriate style & format
The second step is to decide on the most suitable style and format for your user guide. Overall, you need to know how to create a how-to guide which will not only share knowledge but will also be presented in a smooth and coherent style and format. As usual, you can use a formal or semi-formal style of writing. Make an instruction manual template also easy to follow: make sure to structure and align the formatting of all elements, create sections and subsections, highlight essential issues, and use text formatting to emphasize the important parts. In this case, the user instruction manual will be easy to look through and find the needed information. In addition, do not forget to align your instruction manual template with the corporate branding approved in your organization.
3. Delineate the problem you need to solve for your users
Although you may think this step is not obligatory since you probably already have a general notion of your future user guide scope, you still need to plan thoroughly on how to write an instruction manual which will solve a particular problem. In other words, you should figure out how to make an instruction manual to achieve the aim of your user guide built for your target audience (see step 1). You need to define where the procedure or a set of procedures starts and finishes and what issues a user may encounter during its accomplishment. Undoubtedly, it will be great to discuss these questions with your actual users or consult use cases for this purpose. This way, you’re less likely to miss out an important part of the procedure you are writing about.
4. Design an appropriate title page
Also, the title page is the “face” of your user instruction manual – it’s not so important in electronic user guides as in physical ones. It’s better to create a title page in a minimalistic style and not to spend too much time on creative design. Far more important is to provide all the necessary info on the title page so that everyone can tell this is an instruction manual, its scope, audience, mission, version, publication date, reference, author, and so on. Actually, the title should say everything about your user guide while all other text labels should just contain additional info pointing at its applicability and relevance to an issue a user is trying to tackle. If you hesitate how to name your document – user guide or user manual – read more about it here.
5. Reference your user instructions manual to other user documentation
This action is presented as a separate step since it’s very important yet quite simple. You need to reference your user instruction manual to other user documentation so that your colleagues and customers know where to search for related information. Do not forget about the correct release date and/or version number to make sure your user guide aligns with the latest user documentation.
6. Insert the Table of Contents
You can skip this step if your user instruction manual is only 5-8 pages long. In other cases, you should include a table of contents to make your user guide easier to research and follow. It’s better when a table of contents incorporates not only a list of the major parts titles but also other headings allowing the users understand what they can find in each part – even if you describe only one complex procedure. A thorough scan of a good table of contents shows readers where they can find answers to their questions and if the current user guide suits their needs at all.
7. Go through the procedure and present all the actions as steps
This step is probably the most critical – it will comprise the body of your user guide. Apart from the accurate and thorough description of each step, you need to think of various visuals – mainly screenshots – to illustrate all your actions in a step-by-step user guide to make it easier to understand and reproduce the steps. Frankly, this procedure is quite dull, and time and effort consuming. Fortunately, the latest special-purpose tools let you save your work time significantly. StepShot Guides, for example, saves you up to 90% of the time spent on documenting a procedure, isn’t it impressive? Instead of using several tools like screenshotting software, image editor, and word processor, you can use StepShot Guides combining the functions of all these tools. Otherwise, you should manually copy, paste, and edit each screenshot and text field into different apps. Luckily, the introduced all-in-one solution allows the creation of a 20 step guide in about 15 minutes instead of 150 minutes, that is 10x times faster.
8. Edit and improve
Whichever tool(s) you decide to use to create a user instruction manual, you need to edit, improve, and proofread it after capturing the procedure. At this step, you’ll have a document with text including the description of each step and screenshots. If you’ve chosen an o̶u̶t̶d̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ traditional way and use several apps, you need first to edit each screenshot in an image editor and then insert it into the doc. Then you need to type manually or copypaste the text. Afterward, you have to format your doc to make it look nice and easy to follow.
However, you may choose an easier approach and use StepShot Guides. In this case, you just need to go through the guide and improve already automatically annotated screenshots and recorded step descriptions/titles. The former can be initially configured – use highlighting of the cursor location or outlining of the element under the cursor with a circle or rectangle. So, now you can either leave screenshots as they are or use additional arrows, lines, shapes, text blocks, sequence numbering, blurring, or image cropping directly within the StepShot Guides. As for the recorded step descriptions/titles (you can choose which ones beforehand), you can also edit them to correct any mistakes or add other text. Make use of OCR technology to recognize the text on an image and paste it wherever you need. And don’t worry about formatting – it will be automatically applied to all your documents with a ready-made instruction manual template of your choice. Owing to AI-powered features, the process of editing and improvement here requires much less time than a traditional approach.
9. Design an instruction manual template
Consider the layout of your user instruction manual – it’s more important than you may think as a layout is like an interface: if it’s not user-friendly, a user will find it hard to perceive, navigate, and follow. Think of the table of contents, heading formatting, font, colors, margins, graphic elements, line spacing, and so on. Even if you’re working in an ordinary word processor, better to save an instruction manual template rather than simply formatting your doc – you may need the same instruction manual template later. If you’re working in StepShot Guides – as usually, the procedure is much simpler. If you need a PDF user instruction manual, import your own instruction manual template or edit one of those available – in fact, edit just a title page, table of contents, and a page with a step – the rest of your document will be formatted automatically. Also, you can take advantage of predefined repetitive text labels – a set of variables such as company name, address, or contacts, date, document version, or whatever you need. If you prefer a Word format, just download an existing instruction manual template, format the same three pages the way you like, and import it to StepShot Guides. Still, you can always use one of the available templates and simply omit the step of instruction manual template designing.
10. Export & share
The last step is exporting and sharing your user instruction manual. If it has been created with a word processor, as a rule, you can export it to some text formats or PDF. Moreover, an average word processor doesn’t offer a wide choice of sharing options – even in advanced tools, it’s usually just e-mail (of course) and sometimes a web page. The good news is StepShot Guides has A LOT of exporting and sharing options. Thus, you can export your user instructions manual to:
HTML (you can insert it directly to your site, help center, or knowledge base)
Video (yeah, you can create even a video tutorial and it’s not harder than a regular doc!)
Images (save all your annotated screenshots as a folder with images)
PowerPoint (create a presentation)
As for sharing, you have several options here as well:
StepShot Cloud (save and share your guides with users or teammates, create a help center at your subdomain name, or embed it to your website)
If you’re not sure which format to choose, for now, save your file in a StepShot Guide format to have an opportunity to edit and export it later to whichever format you need.
In the step-by-step guide on how to write an instruction manual above, I’ve already mentioned some useful tools, but now I’d like to provide you with a detailed list of software that is helpful in creating user guides.
StepShot Guides is a special-purpose all-in-one tool for those who learn how to create a how-to guide or other user documentation. I’ve already told you some features of this software that are useful in writing a user instruction manual and now I’d like to elaborate more on the process of user guide creation in StepShot Guides. First, you launch this tool and click “Capture Process,” then just go through the procedure you want to write a manual about – the app will capture all your steps. After finishing the procedure, your guide opens in the app window and looks like a set of screenshots (taken on each mouse click or other clicks chosen beforehand) and step titles and descriptions, many of which are already recorded automatically by a Keylogger. Now, you need to add new and edit existing text if needed – make use of the “Grab text” function which will recognize any text on your image and copy it to your clipboard. Next, choose a format for export and make further editions to an instruction manual template you choose if you want. Define variables which will display repetitive data on your guides. If you choose to export to StepShot Cloud, you can further work on the guide in a private or public mode. Take advantage of numerous sharing options and send or embed your user manuals whenever needed.
Advantages: saves up to 90% of your time, AI-automated processes, a built-in image editor and customizable templates, various exporting and sharing choices.
Drawbacks: StepShot Cloud is only a beta version for now – still under development.
See a short Video Demo about StepShot Guides – created with StepShot Guides itself!
Microsoft Office Word
Microsoft Office Word is probably the most widely used word processor. Correspondingly, people use MO Word as a traditional tool for creating any texts and documents. No wonder, many of us make use of this software once we think of how to write an instruction manual. Basically, the procedure of user guide creation looks like the following: create a title page, write a preface, describe each step, insert already edited screenshots, add other necessary text, and format the user instruction manual. This software manages templates and can save a doc as a PDF file, Open XML, XPS, RTF, OpenDocument, or a web page. It also shares Word files via email, publishes at a blog, or presents online.
Advantages: numerous formatting options, users are already aware of its interface and features.
Drawbacks: requires additional tools to create a how-to guide, few exporting formats and sharing channels.
Windows Snipping Tool
Windows Snipping Tool (or a tool with the same functionality for Mac OS) is frequently used for taking screenshots. You can customize the capturing area so that it grabs either a whole screen or a certain region on it. There are a few editing instruments built-in, namely capturing timer, freestyle pen, highlighter, and eraser. It’s obvious why this software is used for screenshot capturing: it’s a default Windows 7 + tool which is intuitively easy to use. But just imagine that you have to take 100 screenshots for a 100 step user instruction manual, what then? Does this Snipping Tool have sufficient functionality for screenshot enhancement? Even if yes, you have to take each screenshot manually, edit, save it, and insert into a doc. What’s more, an inbuilt image editor lacks functions, that’s why users have to use another software program to edit and improve screenshots.
Advantages: simple and easy to use screen capturing, a default tool on Windows.
Drawbacks: requires additional tools and manual copypasting to create a user instruction manual, few editing tools.
Adobe Photoshop is an advanced image editor used by professionals to create and edit images including photos. Obviously, no image editor can compete with this software in a number of features – it can really do anything. As for screenshots, which are usually used in user instruction manuals, you can crop them, add highlighting, add various arrows, shapes, numbers, text, and so on. If you’re confident in your strong skills in Adobe Photoshop, you can create a whole manual directly within the tool – create several sheets of A4 format, type manually or copypaste text, make screenshots with another tool and insert them here, annotate them, and edit the whole guide. This does require professional skills and a lot of time, effort, and patience. Such a guide can be converted to PDF or just saved for further editing.
Advantages: the most advanced image editing toolset, numerous formatting options.
Drawbacks: requires professional user skills, can’t capture screen, a lack of exporting and sharing options.
SnagIt is a screenshotting tool StepShot Guides is sometimes compared with, but, in fact, they’re completely different. The former has been designed to take screenshots and has evolved to have bit wider functionality. It can capture screen or record video, create and edit images, and makes it possible to embed images and videos to your email, documents, blog, or social media. Similarly, you can get a link to share your materials created with Snagit with other people. Still, you can not create a document in this app, thus, if you want to know how to make an instruction manual with SnagIt, be sure to prepare other tool(s) like a word processor at least and copypaste a lot.
Advantages: wide ranges of screen capturing options, image editor.
Drawbacks: needs to be used along with other tool(s) to manually write, export, and share a user manual.
Google Drive & Google Docs
Google Drive & Google Docs represent the other side – they can’t be used for capturing or editing screenshots and images but are helpful in writing, storing, and sharing your user instruction manuals. If we talk about Google Docs, they have almost the same functionality as Microsoft Office Word but online. It’s a convenient web-based platform for creating and sharing documents, smart editing, and team collaboration. It allows inserting images and using templates to format a set of documents faster. In turn, Google Drive offers to store and share the files of any formats. The combo of these tools provides many opportunities for a user, however, they cannot capture screen or automatically record step descriptions.
Advantages: practically unlimited sharing, ease of use.
Drawbacks: can’t capture screen, requires manual typing and image insertion.
DropBox & DropBox Paper
DropBox is quite a popular space for storing and sharing files. After a recent rebranding, the platform introduces itself as a workspace for team collaboration on any file format. In our case, it can be used for uploading and sharing images/screenshots, documents, videos, and other relevant files. Additionally, Dropbox has presented a tool called Dropbox Paper – a platform for team collaboration enabling writing, editing, discussing, design reviewing, task managing, and meeting running. Although it can become a great workspace for team members, I suppose it’s not suitable for those who search for how to write an instruction manual for users.
Advantages: practically unlimited files storing and sharing, the tool for writing and reviewing.
Drawbacks: not applicable to screen capturing and creating user instruction manual in various formats.
Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets – wondering why they appear in an article on how to write a how to guide? I’ll tell you why – they are needed for those who use o̶u̶t̶d̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ traditional methods of user manual creation – a screenshotting tool, image editor, and word processor. As you can see in the full guide on how to make an instruction manual above, an important step in this process is referencing the user manual with other user documentation. But, how will you do that if you just have a folder with docs, at best, on the Cloud? You need to have a table with categorized lists of user guides and other relevant docs with appropriate referencing to make it simple to find all the information you need simply looking through the table. Alternatively, you can use specific tags and labels available within special purpose tools and platforms like StepShot Cloud.
Advantages: demonstrative tools for user documentation management.
Drawbacks: they’re appropriate only for a user documentation registry – they have nothing to do with the actual creation of a user instruction manual.
To make it easier for you to make a choice on the best option in your case, we have created a table comparing the functions of all these tools. Take a look to see which tools have the features you need. For example, if you’re not interested in exporting and sharing options – choose a word processor like Microsoft Office Word & Windows Snipping Tool or Snagit. Still, as you can see, the leader here is StepShot Guides since it has all the necessary features needed to make an instruction manual.
I’d like to provide you with an instruction manual template I’ve designed for you in accordance with all the recommendations given here. This instruction manual template provided below has been created with StepShot Guides.DOWNLOAD User Instruction Manual Template
How to use this instruction manual template in StepShot Guides
1. Sign up and download StepShot Guides.
2. Launch StepShot Guides and look through the general settings to configure the tool or leave them default.
3. Click “Capture Process.”
4. Press “Start.”
5. Go through your procedure and press “Stop.”
6. Edit and improve an automatically captured guide in StepShot Guides window.
7. Click “Export & Publish.”
8. Click “Word Document” or “PDF Document,” etc.
9. Set variables if needed and click “Next.”
10. Press “+” in the “Import template” field.
11. Choose the file with the user instruction manual template on your device and click “Open.”
12. Make sure your imported template is chosen (highlighted) and press “Export.”
13. Select a location and click “Save.”
All of this procedure for user instruction manual creation is quite simple and does not take long to complete.
Keep it visual
Probably you know that information presented visually is much easier to understand and follow – make use of data visualization tools.
Present step-by-step instructions
Undoubtedly, this is the most effective approach to create a how-to guide or other similar documentation.
Structure a doc hierarchically
A demonstrative and simple guide structure will allow a user to find necessary info much faster and will improve readability.
Make sure to include references
A properly referenced guide to other user documentation makes it easier to find relevant information in other files.
Be specific and clear
Use clear wording and specific instructions. Avoid too general utterances, repetitive statements, and redundant details.
Use active voice
Active voice is preferable for guides and manuals as it’s simpler for users to follow your instructions in this case.
Keep layout, formatting, and colors clean and engaging
Make use of formatting and color palette to make a guide easy to perceive and attract user’s attention where needed.
Think like a user
Think about how to create a how-to guide as if you were an inexperienced user. What would you need help with? What would you like to find in such a manual?
Get feedback from beta-tester
If your product has undergone beta-testing or you have use stories or use cases – benefit from them through revealing the things that may be obvious to you but difficult for average users.
Make complex simple
Wondering how to write an instruction manual for a complex procedure in an easy-to-follow way? Breaking down the process into smaller parts with headings and subheadings will make a manual much easier to comprehend. Also, keep wording and phrasing simply.
Provide a glossary
Explain all technical terms in a glossary to make a user feel comfortable with the instruction manual. Avoid jargon in your text.
Ask someone to use your manual in practice
Ask for fair feedback for your user manual from someone who hasn’t tried to complete the procedure before. If they encounter some issues or gaps in a manual – edit them.
Make sure you don’t only share your user instruction manual with all relevant users and team members but also provide all of them with access to these files.
Remember: it’s still marketing
One may think that a user instruction manual is all about the useful text. Of course, usefulness is its major aim, but do not forget it also “sells” your product. Consider cross-linking with other content like blog articles, avoid plagiarism, optimize SEO.
Oh, wow! It IS the FULLEST guide!
Congrats! You’ve just finished reading the fullest guide on how to make an instruction manual! Hope you liked it and found it useful!
Just to wrap up, a short brief on the main points in case you’ve missed something:
The creation of a user instruction manuals takes 10 main steps
There are many tools which can help you to create a how-to guide
For those, who are not afraid of modern technologies and need to know how to write an instruction manual in a time-efficient manner – try StepShot Guides
If you need a user instruction manual template – download an example or find PDF & Word templates for StepShot Guides above
Make sure you keep user guides easy to follow & understand and include all necessary info
Thanks for being here! May your experience in creating a user instruction manual be pleasant and productive!