Writing a User Manual


Read https://web.archive.org/web/20150715004105/http://online-learning.com/five-tips-writing-user-manual/.

1 Differences From Labs 1 Through 3

Lab 4 is a User Manual. The pseudo-informal nature of such a document lets you:

  1. Ignore APA!!! Relax selected APA rules (based on class discussions)
  2. Use first, second, and third person.
  3. Use hype, use cute phrases, and be entertaining!!!
  4. Use multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!!

Treat the prose as if you are looking directly at someone who has just purchased your product. They have just invested in you. You are grateful (and helpful) as a result. The first section should tell them that.

Phrases such

Thank you for buying our product!


Your problems will no longer exist!

are acceptable. However, the phrase easy to use is still not allowed. That means the phrase

We have designed this exciting new software so that it is easy to use…

is unacceptable.

2 User Manual Specific Content

User manuals are filled with:

3 The Formal Stuff

Yes… formal stuff. While you have latitude to write in a more conversational style, we can not relax all the rules. You must still include:

  1. A Title and introduction (as a home page)
  2. A Table of Contents (e.g., a navigation panel or links)
  3. A Glossary of Terms

3.1 Consistent Formatting & Diction

Formatting must be consistent. This includes the standard fare:

  1. Font (i.e., typeface)
  2. Font size
  3. Emphasis (e.g., bold vs italics)
  4. Color use

If you are annotating figures, you must do so consistently. Consider a case where you need to enumerate elements in a figure (usually a screenshot).

It does not matter which method you choose. Just be consistent.