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Issues within Manual Writing

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  • 0:01 Problems with Manual Writing
  • 0:46 Usability
  • 1:27 Addressing Usability Concerns
  • 2:19 Updates
  • 2:52 Addressing Updates
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Manual writing is a crucial part of making any product really usable to the final customer. However, as this lesson will demonstrate, there are a number of issues that the technical writer needs to be aware of.

Problems with Manual Writing

Manuals can be tricky to write. Foremost, they are rather substantial documents. Second, they have to be useful to the user, whom will likely only refer to them in moments of frustration. After all, how many people really thoroughly understand the directions before using a product? Finally, most products are constantly being updated, so the manuals themselves have to leave room for updates. In this lesson, we'll look at these problems that face manual writers by looking at how to address them with the sort of product that has many of these problems: an office productivity suite. We'll first focus on usability before moving on to how to address updates.

Usability

At the end of the day, the ability of the client to be able to use a program is one of the most important parts of the client-company relationship. It could be the most useful software suite in existence, but if the client can't figure out how to enter data, then it is absolutely useless. Ideally, all products would be usable from out of the box; however, that simply isn't going to happen. Instead, manuals have to make sure that their procedures describe how to use all aspects of a product. Imagine having to write in a word processor without knowing how to use the cursor, much less a spell check function. A good manual will quickly address these issues, putting the user at ease.

Addressing Usability Concerns

One of the best ways to quickly address usability concerns is to make sure that the language throughout the manual is accessible. Again, this depends on your audience. If you are writing a general office program manual, then you will have to use less specialized language than someone writing a manual to a program marketed only to accountants or financial managers.

Additionally, it's not just that the language itself must be usable, but also the document should be organized in such a way to make it wholly useful. Imagine having to skip around the whole manual because someone didn't put the topics in a logical order. Users will not be happy about having to turn to page 500 to find out how to change the font size. In fact, this is why many successful manuals use a quick reference guide to allow users to quickly find the most basic procedures.

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