5 Best Practices for Writing Fantastic Software User Guides

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Software is useless without the customers that must use it. And if a customer can’t figure out how to interact with their new business application, say goodbye to repeat business.  That’s the step by step softwareimportance of a well-crafted software user guide in a nutshell. An instruction manual can be a valuable key to helping end users make sense of the software you’ve built for them.

But it’s not enough to merely provide a manual, as what seems obvious to a developer is less so to a worker who’s just trying to do their job. That’s why we’ve collected these 5 best practices to crafting the perfect software user guide that will help your customers seamlessly incorporate their new software into their workflows.

1. Lay out usage examples step-by-step

Interestingly enough, providing clear and concise instructions to people can be remarkably similar to providing the same to a computer. When someone must learn a new task, laying out each step
in order is often the best way for them to quickly get up to speed.

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As a bonus, thinking about application procedures in this manner also ensures that the author of the software user guide doesn’t forget to mention anything crucial.

2. Include plenty of diagrams and illustrations

Many people find visual examples to be more helpful than those written down. This is especially true for the vast majority of programs which make use of a graphical user interface.

software directionsConsider using screenshots as an aid for step-by-step task instructions. If a version of your manual will appear online, videos are a great inclusion that many will find informative. And don’t forget to make a glossary of any icons appearing in your application.

3. Use hierarchies to help the user find what they’re looking for

It doesn’t matter how much information your software manual contains if your users can’t find what they’re looking for. A hierarchy is a natural way to organize content that your users will find very helpful when searching for specific tips. Group content together in logical groups; start with a broad overview of the software’s functions, then proceed through each main function in order of which is expected to be most commonly used. Repeat this pattern for each section and subsection, making sure the most important information appears first in the text.

4. Invest in great graphic design

You can list as many helpful tips as you like, but without good graphic design the user will find it interminably difficult to process the information. A busy page full of words set in a tiny font discourages the reader and might even trigger a headache. By contrast, pages with lots of whitespace on the margins and between paragraphs, with a font that is large enough to be easily read but not so large that one gets lost in the letters, can allow the user to forget about the process of reading and instead focus on studying the task at hand. Graphic design is a field as complicated as software designerprogramming, requiring at least as many years of study, if not more, to perform effectively. An experienced designer will know how to balance the visual elements of your software user guide to reflect favorably on the content within.

5. Accessibility

Accessibility is a sometimes overlooked aspect of manual design. But within the past five years the world of technology has paid more attention to the fact that communication should be made available to everyone regardless of physical ability. The employees of the company that will use your software may be visually, physically or aurally impaired. They may be able to use the software, but will they be able to read the user guide that comes with it? For this reason, consider creating Braille (if you’re making a printed version) and audio versions of the manual, and use color combinations that are confirmed to be visible to those with color blindness. For the end-user, a well-written manual is a vital element of any application. The easier it is for them to use, the better it reflects on your software. For more information on what it takes to create the best software user guide ever, keep in touch with us here at Unstoppable Software for more tips, tricks and advice.

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Sam Schutte
Sam Schutte
Sam is the founder of Unstoppable Software, and has his hands in all aspects of its operations and growth. He loves architecting software solutions to fit a specific business need and helping CIOs and other technology managers figure out their software development strategies.
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