How to Write a Great User Guide for Almost Anything

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Once upon a time, solid user manuals accompanied new products of all kinds, providing extensive instructions on how to learn all functions and maximize your usage. Nowadays, however, factory-supplied user guides are much more cursory and often in multiple languages, complicating your learning curve. To have a decent user guide is a precious commodity and if you know how to write one, this is a talent in great demand. It is simply a matter of mastering a few key principles.

Decide on the format, whether printed documents, web pages, emails or some combination. Once you write in one format, it is easy to transfer it to another. Some people are more comfortable reading a printed document they can hold and file away. Others may prefer an URL or link to a document on your website.

Be organized, clear and concise. Anticipate and explain not only what product users will do but also what not to do. You must write with an eye toward both.

Start at the beginning, unfolding only necessary information in logical fashion. Write in active voice, not passive. Keep your copy lean, eliminating extraneous words. Keep it simple and methodical.

Break up the text with photos, illustrations or diagrams as much as possible. Making readers wade through endless text with monstrous paragraphs is a sure way to lose them. Lengthy, complex paragraphs and pages are okay for technical manuals but inappropriate for simple user guides. Keep it short and sweet.

Alert the reader what not to do at various intervals. This helps minimize frustration when learning a new product or application.

Provide the readers with other resources they can use to supplement your guide.


  • Write in very simple terms. Do not assume any level of knowledge. What seems easy and knowledgeable to you may not be so for your readers. Use high-quality graphics, clip art and photos to enhance the look of your document and enhance readability. Keep paragraphs and descriptions short.


  • Never assume that the reader is familiar with the product. Write each guide as if they've never seen one before.


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