A user guide, also called a user manual, is meant to help people figure out how to use a certain product, service, or application. It is usually written by a technician, the person who made the product, or the customer service staff of a company.

Most user guides have both written instructions and pictures to go along with them. Screenshots of the user interface (UI) are usually included with computer programs, and hardware manuals often have clear simplified diagrams. The language is geared toward the people who will be reading it, and jargon is kept to a minimum or thoroughly explained.

What’s in a user guide?

User Guide

Often, a user manual has the following parts:

◉ A front page

◉ A title page and a copyright page

◉ A preface that gives information about related documents and how to use the user guide.

◉ A contents page

◉ A section called “Why.” This should be a summary of the document’s goal, not a list of specifics.

◉ A guide on how to use at least the system’s main feature

◉ A section called “Troubleshooting” that lists possible errors or problems and how to fix them.

◉ A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

◉ How to get more help and where to find it

◉ A glossary and, for longer pieces of writing, an index

◉ A section called “Audience” that makes it clear who the intended audience is and what they must read and what they can skip.

◉ A Scope section is important because it serves as both a disclaimer and a list of what is and isn’t in the scope of the document.

History

User guides for old devices have been found. One example is the Antikythera Mechanism, a Greek analog computer from 2,000 years ago that was found in 1900 off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera. On the cover of this device, there are passages of text that explain what it does and how it works.

As the software industry grew, there was no clear answer to the question of how to best document programs. This was a unique problem for software developers because users often got frustrated with the help documents that were available at the time. Some things to think about when writing a user guide that came up at this time are:

◉ Using simple language

◉ Length and how hard it is to read

◉ How printed user guides for digital programs help people use them

◉ User-centered design

Manuals and guides for computer software

User manuals and user guides for most non-trivial software are documents that look like books and have the same kinds of information as the list above. They can be sent out in print or over the Internet. Some documents have more internal links and a more fluid structure. A document that talks about a specific part of a software product are often called a “guide.”

In some business software, groups of users may only be able to use a small part of the full set of features, so a user guide may be made for each group.

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