The Purpose, Content & Structure of Manuals

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  • 0:30 Definition of a Manual
  • 0:41 Content & Purpose
  • 2:37 Front Matter
  • 3:47 Body of a Manual
  • 5:10 Back Matter of Manual
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

As work tasks and tools become more complicated, well-developed manuals become ever more necessary and prevalent. In this lesson, you'll learn about manuals, including their purpose, content and structure.


Boris works in the IT department of a large company and is about to implement a new custom software program that will be used by most employees. Since the software is new and proprietary to the company, not only will employees have no experience using it, but also there will be no outside learning aids available.

Consequently, part of Boris's job will be to prepare a manual for employees. A manual is a document that provides instructions or guidelines on how to perform an activity and serves as a reference book on the activity.

Content & Purpose

Manuals are flexible documents that can be used for different purposes:

  • Policy manuals explain and outline the principles and rules of an organization. For example, a company's policy manual may address matters such as the company's vision and mission, the company code of ethics, and employee guidelines relating to work activities, compensation and benefits.

  • Procedures manuals explain how a work activity is to be performed. For example, a company may have a procedure for reporting an incident of sexual harassment or workplace discrimination. Keep in mind that a policy manual tells you what a policy is and perhaps why it's in place, while a procedures manual may tell you how to carry out a policy-related activity.

  • Operations manuals are similar to procedures manuals, but are focused on daily work activities. For example, a restaurant manager may have a set of activities he must perform before opening for business.

  • User's manuals and operator's manuals serve as a guide and reference for the use of a particular tool or piece of equipment. The document Boris is drafting to provide instruction and guidance for the use of the company's new software falls under this definition.

  • Service and maintenance manuals provide instructions on how to maintain and repair equipment. For example, a factory may have a service and maintenance manual for its conveyor belts.

  • Training manuals are written to provide guidance for people new to an organization or specific work activity.

  • Field manuals are used by workers at remote worksites. These manuals are designed to be self-contained, providing all the policies, procedures and instructions that a worker needs on the jobsite. At the same time, field manuals are designed to be as short and concise as possible because workers don't want to lug a library around with them.

Front Matter

The first part of a manual is known as its front matter. The first section is the title page, which should be written in such a way as to notify the reader what the manual is about. A visual of the subject matter of the manual is often included to get this point across. For example, if the manual is about operating a particular copy machine, a visual of the copy machine may be included on the title page. The title page should also be dated with a version number to keep track of revisions. The author of the manual should also be listed. Aside from the title page, a manual may include:

  • A section on scope, which tells the reader what the manual covers and, either directly or through inference, what it doesn't cover.

  • A table of contents, especially if the manual is more than a few pages long.

  • An equipment, tools and parts list if the manual provides guidance on installation, repair or maintenance.

  • And if the manual covers a dangerous subject matter, such as handling of dangerous equipment or chemicals, it will have a section of alerts, warnings and special considerations.


The core of the manual is its body. This is where Boris will provide step-by-step guidance to the users of the new software. Boris will follow the recommendations outlined by Dobrin et al. in their work 'Technical Communication in the Twenty First-Century.'

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