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How To Create a Quick Start Guide (Free Checklist)

How To Create a Quick Start Guide (Free Checklist)

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💡 What is a quick start guide?

A quick start guide (or QSG for short) is a concise set of instructions designed to help people hit the ground running with a product, service, or software application.

"Concise" is the operative word. What's the minimum amount of information needed to set new users up for success? That's all that should go into your QSG.

If you were today years old when you learned what the acronym “QSG” stands for, you’re in good company. We live and breathe all things documentation, and that was a new one for us, too.

We may need to brush up on what the cool kids are calling them, but we love a quick start guide. If you’re in the business of teaching people how to use software and you aren’t already familiar with QSGs, prepare to have hearts for eyes. 

Since understanding how QSGs differ from other types of documentation can be confusing, let’s take a look at one of their closest cousins.

💡 What is a quick reference guide?

A quick reference guide is a useful tool designed to help people look up (and recall!) specific information about a product, service, or software application.

The goal is to connect users with some level of basic familiarity with the specific information they need to get unblocked, ASAP.

Quick start guide vs. quick reference guide

Just in case the distinctions aren’t jumping out at you, here’s a more detailed explanation. 👇

A Venn diagram showing the commonalities and differences between quick start guides vs. quick reference guides.

You may hear people talk about user manuals, too—but those are d-e-t-a-i-l-e-d documents. They usually cover more advanced features that quick start guides and quick reference guides won’t.

Now that that’s cleared up, we’ll give you the full rundown on quick start guides—including their biggest benefits, best-in-class examples, 9 tips to keep your end user front and center, and a checklist to help you whip up one of your own. 

Types of quick start guides 

A quick start guide is a great example of documentation that punches well above its weight. 

It’s also a choose-your-own-adventure situation, with lots of different types to choose from. 👇

 A list of eight types of quick start guides common in the software-as-a-service industry.
  • The basic one → Aka the classic. Provides a brief overview of popular features, plus instructions on how to get started.
  • The task-based one → For people who love a step-by-step guide. Focuses on specific tasks or workflows within the application, and how to complete them quickly and easily.
  • The solution-oriented one → Has all the troubleshooting tips. Answers questions people often have when using the software for the first time and promotes self-service.
  • The platform-specific one → Designed for users of specific platforms, like Windows or Mac. Contains tips and tricks to avoid frustration, especially during setup. 
  • The feature-specific one → Helpful for those interested in a specific feature or set of features. Comes with instructions on how to use them effectively, ASAP.
  • The mobile-only one → For people on the go. Gives guidance on how to download, install, and use software on smartphones, tablets, and the like.
  • The integration one → All about extensibility. Shows how to integrate the software with other applications or systems.
  • The custom one → For people with unique use cases (and enough influence to sway people to create a separate QSG!). Offers customized instructions and tips for using the software in their particular context.

Advantages to having a quick start guide

Research shows:

  • Over 90% of customers think that companies could do better when it comes to onboarding.
  • 80% of people have deleted an app because they didn't know how to use it.
  • 63% of customers consider the onboarding experience when making a purchasing decision.

Quick start guides go hand-in-hand with onboarding, and we could talk about the benefits of both all day. That said—since we’re talking about the beauty of brevity today—we’ll keep it short and sweet. 

Here are nine advantages to including a quick start guide in your onboarding process: 

  1. They save time (and improve productivity!). From a customer perspective, QSGs are easy to skim, search, follow, and share. From a creator perspective, QSGs reduce repetitive questions and empower people to self-serve.
  2. They flatten the learning curve. Quick start guides help users overcome the initial learning curve associated with new software applications. If you want to improve usability and accessibility, QSGs are key. 
  3. They reduce frustration (and improve user experience!). What’s better than no instructions or information overload? Clear and concise instructions. Why does a friction-free experience matter? Because it leads to less churn. 
  4. They lead to better adoption rates. What makes people want to adopt tool #9000 in the first place? When top performers try it, love it, and tell their coworkers about it. 
  5. They support people who do specific tasks sporadically. Quick start guides offer a reference for anyone who needs a quick refresher on how to reach a desired outcome. This is especially helpful for those who only need to perform a task occasionally (ex: pull a quarterly report). 
  6. They free up support teams to resolve more complex issues. By providing users with the right amount of information they need to get started, QSGs can free up support teams to handle more technical issues users may encounter.
  7. They differentiate products, services, and/or software. In a world with so much feature parity, well-designed documentation can differentiate your offering from competitors that don’t offer as much guidance and support.
  8. They help users see faster return on investment. If you’re an IT manager, we don’t need to tell you how pricey building out a tech stack can be. Quick start guides make it easy for people to embrace the new solutions you worked so hard to vet, implement, and integrate.
  9. They lay the foundation for turning new users into loyal evangelists. If you’re part of a product-led company, your quick start guide may be one of your customer’s first touchpoints with your brand. When done well, QSGs can lead to increased loyalty and advocacy.

Quick start guide examples 

If it’s all in one ear and out the other until you see a practical example, this section is for you. 😎 First, a quick overview on formatting options.

Popular formats 

While every company (and creator) approaches quick start guides differently, there are a couple of formats you’ll see all over the place. One may strike you as a no-brainer over all others, depending on your needs and available resources. Or you may decide to mix and match a few to create the best experience. 

You can approach your QSG through:

  • A dedicated section on your website. A tightly curated online hub of information can provide an interactive and engaging way for users to learn how to use a software application. This format may include videos, animations, or interactive quizzes to help users test their knowledge, and is one of the most popular ways for software-as-a-service companies to approach quick start guides.
  • An in-app tutorial. An in-app tutorial can give people access to guidance and instructions while they are using the software application. This format may include pop-up messages and tooltips.
  • An interactive demo. Who doesn’t appreciate the ability to take something for a test drive before downloading and/or purchasing? This format can be particularly useful for complex or technical software applications that may require more detailed guidance.
  • A video series. If you have a videographer (or particularly outgoing/fearless person) on your team, short videos can be a great alternative to densely written documents. It’s common to see video-based QSGs broken down into “chapters” that are easier to digest and revisit. 
  • A step-by-step how-to guide. An ideal option for all the people who like to learn by doing. Easy-to-follow tutorials provide step-by-step instructions for completing a specific task or achieving a particular goal. This format can include brief descriptions, annotated screenshots, links to related resources, and more.
  • An infographic. An infographic can be a great way to depict key information about a software application (especially for visual learners!). This format can leverage graphics, icons, and text to succinctly communicate important steps or concepts.
  • A PDF document. While it may not sound as cutting edge as the others in this list, a PDF document can be a useful format for a quick start guide, as it allows for easy distribution and printing. It can also include graphics and screenshots to help illustrate key instructions.

Quick start guide inspiration

To get your wheels spinning, here are five quick start guide examples.


A screenshot of Tango's in-app quick start guide.

For people with answers to FAQs:

Tango makes documentation easy, fast, and fun by automatically generating how-to guides with screenshots. 

When the inevitable “How do I…” question comes your way, Tango makes it simple to share your expertise, avoid hours of tedious documentation, and help everyone around you get stuff done—with fewer impromptu requests to screen share. 🙏

For people looking for answers to get unstuck:

Teaching people how to use a how-to tool *with* a how-to may be slightly meta, but it’s undeniably effective. 

After watching a quick demo and clicking the quick start guide link, new users learn how Tango works in-app, in the flow of their work, while viewing their first Tango. On-screen guidance makes it easy to know exactly what to do next—while saving mental energy and minimizing mistakes. 🕺


A screenshot of Slack's online quick start guide.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Slack. When you need to help a new employee streamline communication and collaboration, there’s this treasure trove of information. 

Slack’s online quick start guide delivers on its promise. With instructions to download the desktop app, view a short video, and zip through a quick tour, it couldn’t be easier to set up your digital HQ.


A screenshot of Asana's online quick start guide.

Asana is a web-based project management software that allows teams to collaborate and manage their tasks and projects more efficiently. (If you haven’t tried it yet, it is nothing short of ✨.)

They also take an online approach to their quick start guide, with a structure that accelerates the process of finding what you’re looking for. Their guide uses text, video, and animations, and includes a high-level overview of how their program is organized alongside key things you can do.  


A screenshot of Salesforce's online quick start guide.

Salesforce is a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software that helps businesses manage their sales, marketing, customer service, and other business functions in one place. 

Since there’s a lot to learn, Salesforce has many, segment-specific quick start guides. This one's for small businesses who want to use Salesforce, and covers the basics, how to track customers and close deals, how to manage contacts, tips to resolve customer issues, and a glossary. There’s also a chatbot for real-time support, and a call to action to try the product out for free.


A screenshot of Wistia's quick start guide demo video.

Wistia is a video marketing platform that makes it easy to find, engage, and grow your audience with video. 

You may not be surprised to learn that their demo video doubles as a quick start guide, with tips for hosting, marketing, analyzing, and creating video.

9 tips to create user-centric quick start guides 

If the only thing you like better than a practical example is an actionable tip, we can do you one better—with a round-up of 9 best practices for creating user-centric quick start guides.

A list of nine tips to create a user-centric quick start guide.

1. Talk to successful and unsuccessful customers.

We like personas as much as the next person. But to create a 🤩 quick start guide, there’s no substitute for talking to customers. It’s a good idea to connect with both inactive users (to suss out areas for improvement) and successfully onboarded users (to see what’s working). 

Issuing a survey works well for gathering quantitative data. You can ask questions like:

  • What were you looking to accomplish with [your product] when you first signed up? 
  • Were you able to achieve what you set out to do?
  • Where did you run into roadblocks when getting set up with [your product]?
  • What resources would you have liked to see as part of your onboarding process?
  • Where could we have done a better job of showing vs. telling?
  • How long did it take for you to start seeing value out of [your product]?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 = not very important and 5 = essential), how important is having a tool like [your product] in your workflow? 

You can also dig into:

  • Product data → To uncover key actions that correlate to quicker satisfaction 
  • Support tickets → To proactively address any pain points felt by first timers 
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) results → To understand where you’re hitting a home run (and striking out)

To collect qualitative insights, you can take a 1:1 or 1:many approach. User research sessions can be particularly helpful—especially if you have people sign up to use your product and/or run through your quick start guide while they’re on a video call with you. Seeing where people get stuck IRL can be hugely illuminating—and open your eyes to missed expectations and opportunities. 

2. Confirm that perceived and experienced value are one and the same.

Is there a discrepancy between how you’re messaging your product (perceived value) and the value your users actually receive in the product (experienced value)? If yes, that’s a good signal your quick start guide isn’t quite hitting the mark.

3. Ask what will be most useful for users, not what will be easiest for you to make.

This one hits home, doesn’t it? 🎯 Creating a PDF probably wouldn’t require support from a videographer or an animator. Hosting a webinar probably wouldn’t require a web developer or too much time from your best graphic designer. But to truly take a customer-first approach to your onboarding documentation, you need to think about what would serve your user best.

Ultimately, you want your customers to find success—so understanding what success means to them and figuring out how your documentation helped (or hindered 😟) is key.

4. Keep users moving towards the “aha!” moment.

The average human attention span is 8.25 seconds. We officially have a shorter attention span than goldfish. This means it’s critical to keep your “quick” reference guide from being too comprehensive—and difficult to digest. 

If onboarding is a path towards value, you want that path to be as direct as possible, with no obstacles in the way. Your goal is to help your users reach the “aha!” moment—where they realize how useful your product is—ASAP. Every piece of content in your quick start guide should accelerate the movement towards that moment. If it doesn’t, cut it out ✂️.  

💡 Tango Tip

If you have several steps in a sequence, add a time scale to help users get a sense of how long they'll need to run through the process.

5. Make a distinction between necessary and ongoing education.

The temptation to squeeze in ALL the cool things about your product is real. But to keep your quick start guide from morphing into a user manual—and to keep your end user top of mind—separate what’s necessary to know from what can be taught later on. It’s a good thing if the latter is a long list! That just means you have plenty of ways to add consistent value over time (which will help with retention). 

6. Assume a low level of understanding.

What percentage of non-technical people make up your audience? If it’s anything other than 0%, write as if your reader has no prior knowledge of or experience with your product. 

💡 Tango Tip

To set people up for success with your quick start guide, don't assume people will read your instructions in order—or in full. If there's a critical dependency in a previous step, help a reader out!

7. Try not to name-drop features (too much).

Your engineering team likely puts lots of effort into shipping new solutions. And your product team likely puts lots of effort into naming them. It makes sense to want both teams to have their moment in the sun! But if you aren’t careful, your quick start guide may start to sound like an announcement of something awesome that you built—vs. an application that helps users understand how they can solve their problems. Focus on contextual application, or how your product can help to drive an outcome, rather than rattling off feature names.

8. Commit to keeping content current.

As anyone who creates documentation knows—maintenance is ongoing. And also: not the most fun. That said…your quick start guide will only be as useful as it is accurate. This is especially true when writing technical documentation since product updates can easily make your QSG obsolete. Work with your product, engineering, marketing, sales, and customer success teams to create a plan to update your guide whenever there are big updates to your product roadmap.

9. Be a guide, first and foremost.

When you pick a format for your quick start guide, think about the things that will help users feel the most supported through setup and beyond. Is that a chatbot on a website? A link out to a knowledge base from an infographic? Or a step-by-step tutorial with a literal “Guide Me” button?

Free quick start guide checklist

To deliver on our initial promise to you—here’s a Notion checklist to help you create a quick start guide in no time.

The bottom line

TL;DR: It’s hard to overstate the importance of the first interactions people have with your product, service, or software. 

"I truly believe the onboarding experience is the make or break moment for your product, especially for a self-serve user base. You could have the most incredible product in the world, but if it’s a pain to get set up, you’ll lose your customer."

Christy Roach

Senior Director, Portfolio and Engagement Product Marketing at Airtable

Potential users shouldn’t have to guess or work hard to understand your product. They should be able to understand what it is and why they should use it in a glance. That’s where quick start guides come into play—and show that (sometimes) less really is more. 

💡 Tango Tip

Trying to capture a process on any website, SaaS app, or desktop software—and realizing your quick start guide is starting to feel anything but quick to make?

There's a Chrome extension for that.

Try Tango for Free


What’s the difference between a quick start guide and instruction manual?

Quick start guides and instruction manuals are both types of documentation that provide information on how to use a product. Here’s how to differentiate the two: A quick start guide is a simplified and condensed version of an instruction manual, with the goal of sharing the essential information needed to get started with a product quickly. An instruction manual, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive and detailed document, with the goal of helping users who want to explore a product's full range of features and capabilities.

Why use a quick start guide?

Quick start guides are beneficial for a variety of reasons, including: 

  • Improved efficiency and productivity
  • Increased usability and accessibility
  • Reduced frustration and improved user experience
  • Better adoption rates and lower churn
  • Faster return on investment
  • Increased loyalty and advocacy
How long should a quick start guide be?

Exactly as long as it needs to be to help users get started using your product, and not a single word, flowchart, video, GIF, or progress bar longer. 🙂

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