User Guides

User guides are a common technical document. They can be written for cars, software, hardware, and a variety of consumer electronics. The purpose of a user guide is to provide the consumer with all of the basic information they will need to set up and use their computer, MP3 player, DVD player, or other device. Aside from containing clear, easy-to-understand text, most user guides also contain graphics like screenshots or simple diagrams. A user guide typically contains the following sections:

  • Preface: This section will tell readers how to use the guide. For example, you can briefly discuss how to use the table of contents and the glossary. In this part of the document, you should also identify whether any additional information about the software, hardware, or electronic device is available. This could include a reference CD or help files that are built into the software.
  • Table of Contents: Any user guides that are more than 10 pages (which most are) should include a table of contents to help readers find information and sections quickly and easily.
  • Guide: The guide is the main part of the document. In this section, you'll explain in simple terms how to accomplish major tasks like installing software, connecting hardware to a PC, or downloading songs onto an MP3 player. Remember to make use of bulleted and numbered lists to break processes down into easy-to-understand steps. Graphics can also be used if you think they will be helpful.
  • Troubleshooting Information: In this section, you'll identify the problems users are most likely to encounter and explain how to solve them. When you're writing this part, it's important not to assume anything. For example, you probably know that the first thing you should check if a piece of hardware isn't functioning is whether it's properly connected and turned on, but don't assume your readers will think the same way.
  • A FAQ: Think about the top questions somebody who just purchased the hardware, software, or device you are writing about would have, and then structure the FAQ section around these questions. It's okay if the information included here overlaps with what is contained in the guide or the troubleshooting section. The point of the FAQ is to address major concerns and questions in a succinct manner.
  • Contact Information: You will need to tell readers where to go for further assistance if they can't solve their issue by relying on the information in the guide. If there is a toll-free number customers can call, for example, provide it here.
  • A Glossary or Index: Any technical terms that readers may be unfamiliar with should be defined in the glossary or index. Again, don't assume that your readers have a similar level of technological knowledge as you. Define any terms you think they might not understand - it's better to include too much explanation than too little.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014