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Online User Manual
So, you’ve built an incredible software program, right? You’re positive it’s going to change lives, or, at the very least, make lives easier. Surely your mind is moving toward marketing and getting this program into the hands of your targeted audience… but what happens after it actually reaches those hands? Are the customers going to be able to use your program effectively?

The answer to this problem, of course, is to create an online user’s manual. By providing a document that guides a purchaser in the use of your product, you’ll be able to reduce operating costs by reducing the time and manpower you spend responding to support requests.

If you’re going to put the time into creating an online manual, you might as well do it right. We’ve got a few tips to help you ensure that your manual is thorough, engaging, and useful.

Create a visually pleasing manual

A user guide may not be the world’s most riveting material, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. By using visual aides such as tables, illustrations, and graphs, you can break apart the technical text and make the content of your manual easier to follow.

In the world of software specifically, an annotated image that highlights a certain portion of the interface can be highly informative. By displaying examples of elements like buttons or drop-down menus, you will be able to directly assist your customers with potentially difficult steps of the process. In addition to immediate usefulness, an image will increase your customers’ chances of remembering certain steps in the future.

Be clear and concise in your explanations

When creating an online manual, it’s important to consider your audience. The fact that they are using your product suggests that they’re probably not as versed on the topic as you are. This can mean a few things for you as you build your guide.

First, leave no stone unturned. It’s imperative that you outline a step-by-step process for the use of your product. We can’t emphasize this enough: the more detail you provide, the less likely it is that you’ll be spending your time answering support tickets.

Secondly, be sure to explain how each component works together to create desirable features that your customer might use. As you do this, it’s important to avoid industry jargon that isn’t universally known. If you feel that certain industry-specific terms are necessary to include, it’s a good idea to provide definitions that are easy to access. If a reader has to open another browser tab every five minutes in order to look up definitions, there’s a good chance they’ll be contacting you through your support form. Keep your explanations detailed and thorough, but easy to understand.

Include Precautions

Software can be a fickle beast, both intricate and delicate. Your customers need to know if changing a certain setting will affect another feature of the software, or if activity in one sector is capable of overwriting or altering activity in another. Any aspects of your software that have the potential to cause confusion or mechanical conflict need to be addressed in advance so that you don’t find yourself helping customers with the same problem over and over again.

One way that wpDocs allows you to include these and other important details is through a special “Notes” feature. An exmaple can be found in step four of our very own documentation (table for contents) at http://demo.wpdocs.co/docs/create-a-table-of-contents/. This will allow you to highlight important information while keeping the user guide visually interesting and uncluttered.

Address Your Reader Directly

While flowery, passive phrases like “Any updates are the responsibility of the user,” might sound fancy and professional, the truth is that they can become tedious and confusing.

Skip the passive runaround and address your readers directly: “You are responsible for updates; be sure to check your dashboard.” Statements like this not only eliminate confusion and cluttered paragraphs, but also help to keep your readers interested and engaged.

Don’t treat an online manual like an afterthought; treat it like an essential tool. When created with strategy and thought, a high-quality user’s guide can save you time and money, and help mold your company into one that represents ease-of-use and trust.

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