How to Quickly Create a User Manual For Your Software Product
Picture this: You just downloaded a new piece of software and you're PUMPED. This is going to skyrocket your productivity.
However, 15 minutes after opening the application, your excitement begins to wane. You can't figure out how to make the software do XYZ.
Not to be deterred, you scour the internet for the tool's user manual, give it a quick read, and implement the step-by-step instructions. BOOM! Problem solved; you're back in business.
The truth is that every piece of software needs a user manual. In this article, we'll show you the fastest way to create a user manual for your web application.
What is a User Manual?
To make sure we're on the same page, we'll start with a definition:
User manuals teach customers how to use products, like pieces of software, more effectively. They're essential documents that help customers "get up to speed" quickly and troubleshoot problems they may be experiencing—all without having to contact a customer support team.
While every user manual is different, the best ones contain step-by-step instructions that walk customers through various processes and include imagery.
Why Should Your Company Create User Manuals?
Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "Yes, I get to make a user manual today!" In fact, technical teams often dread the manual creation process. But it can't be skipped!
Here are three reasons why your company should create a user manual for its software.
(Note: later in this guide, we'll show you how to make top-of-the-line user manuals that your customers will love in no time flat. Spoiler Alert: Use Tango. Stay tuned!)
Customers invest in software to solve problems.
Wondering how to make your company's solution do XYZ is just another problem they have to solve, which kind of defeats the purpose of your tool. That's why you need a user manual.
A user manual will teach your customers how to use your software effectively. Once they know how to do this, they'll enjoy their experience with your solution more and glean the full benefits of your app. They may even become loyal advocates for your brand.
Empowered Sales Reps
User manuals can be used as internal resources, too.
Sales reps, for example, can use them as quick reference guides before and during sales calls. What are your software's top features? And how do you use said features to accomplish essential tasks? Sales reps can answer those questions by reading your user manual.
After doing so, they'll be able to answer the same questions for customers quickly. Better yet, they'll be able to demo features more effectively for customers.
A More Productive Support Team
Finally, user manuals will make your support team much more productive.
How much time do your support reps spend solving problems for customers? Imagine how much faster this process will be if they could simply direct customers to a specific section of your user manual rather than typing step-by-step instructions a few dozen times a day.
Once you create and promote a user manual for your software, they wouldn’t even need to do that. 69% of customers want to solve problems on their own, which means a vast majority of your company's user base will happily read your user manual when they experience issues.
What Makes an Effective User Manual?
Now that we know what user manuals are and why they're beneficial, let's talk about the three things that make them effective: clarity, visuals, and searchability…
Your user manual needs to be easy to understand.
No industry jargon, flowery descriptions, or long sentences. Instead, use simple words that everyone can understand. When technical terms are required, make sure you define them in your manual or link to a glossary on your website.
You should also pay attention to the way your user manual is structured. Design your manual in a logical way that naturally flows from simple to complex topics.
At the end of the day, you should ask yourself, "Would this make sense to me if I've never used this piece of software before?"
One of the best (and easiest!) ways to make your user manuals more clear is to include visuals such as screenshots, diagrams, and videos (for digital manuals).
As a bonus, visuals are way more fun to look at than plain text. Because of this, a visual-heavy user manual will be more enjoyable to read for customers, boosting their satisfaction levels to new heights. Who knows? This simple thing could improve their loyalty.
Pro Tip: The easiest way to add screenshots to your user manuals is to use a tool like Tango. We'll give you all the juicy deets on Tango at the end of this guide.
We suggest hosting your user manual online. That way your customers can easily access it—no matter where they are or what device they’re using.
If you follow our advice, add a search function to your manual. It will enhance the user experience by allowing them to find answers to their questions quickly. As we've alluded, a better user experience often leads to greater customer loyalty.
Create a User Manual For Your Software in 5 Easy Steps
User manuals take time and effort, but if you follow this five-step process, you will end up with a solid piece of documentation at the end.
So, without further ado, let's learn how to create a user manual for your web application!
1. Know Your Users
First, take time to understand your users.
Who are they, what are the main reasons they'll need to read your user manual, and what level of technical knowledge do they possess? The answer to these questions will help you determine what to include in your manual and how much detail to provide.
For example, pretend your company sells advanced marketing software. As such, your target customers have a solid understanding of the field and terms like TOFU. Because of this, you might not need to define the term in your user manual, or even link to it on your website.
(If you're not a marketing pro, the term "TOFU" stands for Top of Funnel and refers to customers in the early stages of the buying process.)
But what if you sell software to startup companies whose primary users are founders who may or may not have previous marketing experience? You should probably define terms like TOFU in your user manual to ensure clarity.
Here's the point: you can't create a stellar user manual if you don't know who will need to read it in the future. Before you do anything else, get to know your users.
2. Structure Your User Manual
Next, create a structure for your user manual that will make sense to your target audience.
The structure you choose should include things like an introduction, the various sections you plan to cover, and a quick conclusion. If it applies, you can also consider adding a troubleshooting guide, FAQs, and an area for warnings and call-outs.
Pro Tip: Once you decide on a general structure for your user manual, templatize it. This will make it easier for you to create other user manuals in the future.
3. Create Logical Steps
At this point, your user manual is a blank piece of paper with a few headlines to represent various sections. Now it's time to start filling in those sections.
To begin, pick a section and then start listing steps in their logical order. For example:
- Log in to ABC software.
- Click on the XYZ button.
- Navigate to the top of the screen and find the search bar.
- Type [INSERT PHRASE] into the search bar and click "Go".
We suggest running through each process in your user manual yourself. This will keep you from missing important steps and creating a manual that's more confusing than helpful.
And don't forget about visuals! Take screenshots, add diagrams, shoot videos, etc., while you run through each step in a process so that you can add them to your user manual. Visuals are critical, as we discussed above. Without them, your user manual won't be nearly as straightforward as it could be or as enjoyable to read. Both of these things are critical.
Pro Tip: Only list one step at a time, as shown above, to make sure your user manual is easy to understand. Then, at the end of each section, explain to users what the completed tasks should look like to assess their efforts before moving on.
4. Seek Feedback From Others
Once you've listed out steps, included visuals, and otherwise created an awesome user manual, share it with others—first your colleagues, then your users—to collect feedback.
Is the manual easy to understand? Does it help your target audience accomplish essential tasks? Does your customer support team field fewer calls and support tickets than before you created the manual? Have customer complaints gone down?
We get it. Asking for feedback is challenging. Nobody wants to learn that the project they've worked so hard on isn't perfect. But it must be done to create a practical user manual.
So bite the bullet and investigate the matter. Are there specific sections of your manual that consistently confuse users? How can you explain these steps more logically? Can you add additional images to improve clarity? What about a video?
Always seek feedback. Then act on the feedback you receive. That's the key to creating the best possible user manuals for your software company.
5. Update Your Manuals Regularly
Your company's IT team is constantly working to improve your software, which means it will undergo updates from time to time. When this happens, you may need to rework your user manuals to match the most recent software updates.
It’s a tedious process, but it’s a must. If your user manuals aren't up to date, they'll confuse and frustrate customers rather than help them.
Take the time to review your user manuals regularly and update them as needed.
Make Better User Manuals With Tango
How do you make top-level user manuals in less time? Try Tango.
Tango is an intuitive documentation software used by some of the biggest brands in the world, including Netflix, LinkedIn, Indeed, and Verizon.
To use Tango, simply download the app and start capturing workflows. Walk through the step-by-step processes you want to explain to your target audience and Tango will automatically document your actions with written instructions and a wealth of screenshots.
When you're done, quickly look through the documentation that Tango created for you. If something isn't quite right, you'll be able to easily edit your manual by adding additional text descriptions, blurring out sensitive information, and annotating your screenshots.
All that's left to do is share your finished user manual with the world, which you can do by linking to it in an existing document, LMS, or team chat app. You can also download your manual or paste and embed it in another application.
Get started with Tango today and experience the power of our app for yourself!
If your company creates software, you need a user manual.
Once you create one, you'll be able to satisfy your customers better, empower your sales reps, and boost the productivity of your support team.
Fortunately, learning how to create a user manual for your web application isn't difficult. Simply follow the five-step process we outlined above. And remember that the best manuals are easy to consume, include visuals, and are easily searchable.
Make sense? Great, now go make a killer user manual for your product!