If you are a small business owner and sell a product requiring a user manual, you probably recognize the value of good technical writing. You know that if your customers don’t understand how to use your product, they aren’t likely to buy from you again in the future. A good product or user manual can also reduce the time you spend responding to customer queries.
Perhaps your business doesn’t have a need for product manuals or user guides. Even if that’s the case, you may still want to develop proper documentation of your company’s internal processes and procedures. Providing well-written operations manuals or employee guides can help improve efficiency and minimize errors and downtime.
Technical Writing Tips
While it’s one thing to understand the importance of good technical writing, it’s another to actually know how to do it. What are the elements of good technical writing? What information does a user manual need to have to guarantee a customer will know how to use your product properly? How should an operations or employee manual be organized? And how do you best relay complex technical information in everyday language?
An experienced technical writer can help you answer these questions and be a valuable resource for creating a clear, detailed manual. So, whether you’re looking to tackle your project yourself or just want to know what to expect from a professional writer, here are some basic tips for creating technical documents:
- Identify your goal. Ask yourself, “Why am I writing this?” Don’t get caught up in details that derail you from your purpose.
- Use clear, simple vocabulary. Your customers might need or want the product, but that does not mean that they’re experts on the subject matter. Be clear in your explanation and use words that you know everyone will understand. For employee manuals and internal documents, it’s still important to limit technical language and jargon so new employees won’t be confused.
- Provide examples. Examples make it easy for readers to assimilate information and relate it to the product or process being described. For a user manual, consider common experiences your customers may have with your product and incorporate them as examples within the instructional text. Operations and employee manuals should also contain specific on-the-job examples workers can relate to.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat. For the most important or most complicated details you need to communicate, it may be a good idea to repeat instructions or explanations. Repetition will help the reader understand and remember the information.
- Use visuals. Include diagrams or pictures of products or parts you are explaining. Tables and graphs are also great visuals for summarizing and comparing information.
- Ask both technical and nontechnical personnel to review your work. A technical expert can point out data or instruction steps that are missing, while a nontechnical reviewer can inform you which sections may be confusing.
- Proofread what you’ve written. This goes without saying for any document you write. We all make mistakes, but it’s crucial your mistakes do not end up in the final print. Either step away from your document for a few hours (or even a day or two) and then reread it with fresh eyes, or better yet, have someone else proofread it for you.
Just like any aspect of business, technical writing can’t be summarized in one short list. There are many other elements of good technical writing, which is another reason to talk with a professional technical writer about your project. However, following the recommendations above will give you a great start in developing quality manuals and guides.