Writing a technical manual is a lot of fun, right? No? Well, maybe it is for some people. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry: You aren’t alone! For the rest of us, though, writing an effective technical manual can be a challenge.
Whether you’re new to creating documentation or just looking to improve your process, here are some tips on how to make it easier and more enjoyable while still ensuring your instructions are clear and concise enough that anyone could follow them no matter what their level of expertise.
|Writing technical manuals can be challenging.|
|The perception of technical writing as “fun” might need reconsideration.|
|Addressing complexities and making content accessible is crucial.|
|Using relatable examples can enhance comprehension.|
|Balancing clarity and accuracy is essential in technical writing.|
|Effective technical manuals require careful planning and organization.|
|Technical writing tools and resources can assist in the process.|
Use Simple Language
You want your readers to understand what you’re saying and not be confused by technical jargon or abbreviations that they don’t know. Keep sentences short and straightforward, using only the most common words (e.g., avoid “utilize” in favor of “use”). If you can’t explain something in a few words, then maybe it’s too complicated for a manual!
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Avoid Complex Sentences
Complex sentences are difficult for everyone even native speakers of English to read because they often contain multiple clauses separated by commas or semicolons rather than conjunctions like “and,” “but,” or “because.”
In addition to being confusing, these kinds of sentence structures can result in passive voice or awkward phrasing (e.g., “This document has been written with the intention that no reader should have difficulty understanding its content”). This makes them hard on both writers and readers alike!
Use Simple Sentences
Write Short Sentences.
Writing short sentences is a good way to ensure that your manual will be easy to read, understand, and follow. When writing a technical manual in English, it’s important to remember that readers of all different languages will be reading the document.
Short sentences are easier for translators because they’re easier for readers in general and as you know from reading this article so far, short sentences are also more likely to make sense than long ones!
Writing short sentences is great practice for writers who may have difficulty communicating with their audience using plain language. It can even help writers develop better analytical skills by forcing them to think critically about what they’re saying before putting pen (or finger) to paper or typing on their keyboard
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Use Bullets, Tables, And Headings To Organize The Text.
You should also use bullets, tables, headings, and subheadings to organize the text. If you don’t know what these terms mean, here’s a quick explanation:
Bullets are used to highlight important points. They can be used in paragraphs or lists (though they’re mostly used in paragraphs). The best way to use them is if there are only one or two key points that you want your reader to understand.
You can also use them when describing something technical that needs more than just one sentence but not an entire paragraph.
For example: If a customer asks for help with their computer and they have Windows 10 installed but want help using macOS Sierra instead of Windows 10 because it’s too slow (they don’t need any other assistance), then you might respond with something like this: “Sounds like we’ll need some extra time tomorrow so I can get everything set up properly.”
You could also write something like this: “It sounds like we’ll need some extra time tomorrow so I can get everything set up properly.” Or even better yet…
Tables are useful when presenting numerical data such as inventory records or sales numbers broken down by month/quarter/yearly totals over many years’ worth of data spanning multiple decades!
It helps readers see trends in sales through different periods without having them scroll forever through pages upon pages of text trying to find where those trends start happening each year!
Be Consistent In Your Use Of Terminology
If you are writing a technical manual, it is important to use the same terms throughout your document. This will help readers understand what they’re reading and make sure that everyone is talking about the same thing.
The more consistent you are with your language, the easier it will be for people who read other documents written by other people using similar terminology (both within their organization and externally)
To grasp what’s going on without having too many questions left unanswered or having to reread parts over again because someone used an unfamiliar term instead of another one which was common knowledge at their company’s level but less so outside its walls!
Be Consistent With Terminology, Style, And Formatting
Consistency is a powerful tool, and it’s not just for writers. Consistent terminology, style, and formatting help readers learn the document and make it easier to understand.
Being consistent with terminology means using the same word or phrase to describe something throughout the document. This can be especially important when writing technical documents because there are often multiple ways of referring to something (for example, “data” can mean several different things in a given field).
By being consistent with your choice of terms within your documents, you will be able to more easily communicate technical information because readers will know exactly what is being referred to at all times.
Using consistent styles like bolding headings makes it easier for readers to find information quickly within a large document by allowing them to use their eyes as search tools rather than needing their brains as computers would need them if they had no idea what was bolded!
If everything were written in regular text instead of headings being bolded then finding information would take much longer which means less time spent doing stuff and more time spent reading other people’s writings (which isn’t very useful).
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Draw From Outside Examples
A good way to start a technical manual is by drawing from outside examples. This can be done in several ways. For example, you could use an example from another source that illustrates the point you want to make or will be doing in your work, such as how to do something or what not to do.
Or, if you are writing about how to do something and there are multiple ways of doing it (or multiple tools that may accomplish the same thing), then use an example from another source that shows one way or tool over another.
When using other sources’ material this way, be sure they are appropriate: don’t take text verbatim or copy images; instead, summarize the main points in your own words and make sure it’s clear who owns the rights so there aren’t any legal issues down the road!
Test The Instructions On Live Products
Make sure the instructions work. Testing your technical manual on a piece of equipment is the best way to make sure it’s accurate and easy to follow. If you can’t test the product before writing your technical manual, then you should at least have someone who does have access do some preliminary testing for you.
That way, when writing your document, if there are any questions about how something works or what needs fixing, at least someone will be there to provide answers before sending it off for printing and that may even save money in the long run!
Make sure they’re easy to understand: A good technical writer knows how important it is not only that their audience understands what they’re reading but also that they understand what they’re reading right away and not just after re-reading it several times over (which can easily happen).
If someone has problems understanding something within one pass through an instruction manual or tutorial, then either those instructions aren’t working properly or we need better writers here at Company Name! Hire me as soon as possible so I can start helping out with this problem ASAP!”
Try To Avoid Abbreviations And Acronyms
It’s no secret that people who are not familiar with the technical field you are writing about will not be aware of your abbreviations and acronyms. As such, it is essential to define all terms in your document.
It is also important that you do not use abbreviations or acronyms in a user manual or similar type of documentation because they may be confusing to the end user. If you must use an abbreviation, make sure it is spelled out at least once somewhere within the text so readers can find it easily when they need it later on in the document.
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Maintain A Neutral Tone In The Writing Style
You might think that using a friendly tone in your writing would make it more approachable, but it makes it harder to understand. And if you’re not sure how to maintain a neutral tone without sounding boring and impersonal, here are some tips:
Never write in the first person (I, me). Instead, use the third person (he/she/they). This can be tricky when you’re trying to personalize your text with examples from your own experience or expertise. But try not to stray into the first-person territory; doing so will distract readers from the point of what you’re saying.
Avoid slang and abbreviations not just because they can be confusing for people who don’t know them, but because most technical manuals should be largely consistent across all language versions of the document.
If there’s an abbreviation or short form used only within one country or region of origin, then consider including an explanation at its first appearance in English text (though this isn’t necessary if there is no difference between U.S./European versions).
Avoid contractions such as “can’t” and “won’t.” These needlessly shorten sentences without adding clarity or impact; instead, use full forms like “cannot” and “will not.”
Use Words That Most Readers Will Understand
When you write in a style that’s familiar to your audience, they’ll have an easier time understanding what you’re saying. If the people who are reading your manual need to look up words every 10 seconds, they’ll be frustrated and distracted from the task at hand.
In addition to being easy to understand, this kind of language should also be short and simple. Long sentences can be intimidating for readers who aren’t familiar with technical documents they might not know where one sentence ends and another begins!
You want them focused on what’s important: how best to use whatever product or service is being discussed in your document.
Also, take care that these words are easy to spell and pronounce; sometimes long titles can have awkward spellings (like “hypertext markup language”). And make sure that symbols like # don’t throw off readers who aren’t familiar with HTML code it may seem obvious when looking at it yourself but other people will struggle!
Choose Action Verbs Over -Ing Verbs Wherever Possible
Active voice is the preferred writing style for technical manuals because it focuses on subjects instead of objects. It does not hide who or what is doing something but instead names them plainly in sentences.
For example, consider these two sentences:
“The Program Was Executed By The User.”
This sentence uses passive voice and nominalization (the -ing verb execute). The subject of the sentence is not clear: Is it “the program” or “the user?” Also, notice that this sentence starts with a preposition and ends with an adjective; both are considered weak words in terms of their ability to drive meaning forward in your writing.
This means that this sentence is difficult to digest quickly it requires some thought before readers can follow its meaning fully. Yet even if they do understand what you mean, they may still wonder why you chose such an awkward phrasing!
Know Your Audience And Their Level Of Technical Expertise
When writing a technical manual, you need to know your audience. You also need to know their level of technical expertise. If they’re newbies, use simple language and terms that most readers will understand. Use short sentences, and watch out for ambiguous pronouns in your writing that could confuse readers (like “it” and “they”).
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Keep Things In Order When Discussing Multiple Steps Or Tasks
Use numbered lists.
Use bullet points to highlight key points and make the text easier to skim.
Use headings when you need more than one paragraph but not a full sentence or even a full line of text. If you can’t think of anything else, try starting with H1 tags (headings 1).
Tables are great for displaying information in columns and rows, like an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheets table would do.
Table formatting is very similar to how you format your document overall: choose the right font family and size, adjust margins, and set the spacing between rows/columns/cells… just like I did above! It’s almost too easy!
The only difference is that instead of focusing on major elements such as headings or images (which have their sections below), we focus specifically on tables here because they’re so important for organizing information clearly without overwhelming readers with too much stuff at once – which brings us back around again.
The Verb Should Always Appear Before The Noun In An Instructional Step
The verb always comes before the noun in a sentence. This is because the verb is what we call an action word, and it describes what’s happening. Sometimes, it can describe multiple things that are happening at once for example: “The CEO hired a lawyer.”
The noun is the thing being acted upon by whatever verb you have chosen. In this case, we could say “The CEO hired a lawyer” or we could say “The company hired a lawyer.” Both sentences mean the same thing; only their word order differs slightly (the former has fewer words).
The second sentence still includes both verbs and nouns but reorders them so that it starts with something more familiar: “company,” which most readers will understand to be synonymous with “organization” or simply “business.”
Do Not Refer To The User As “You”
You’re writing a technical manual, and you’ve just finished the section on how to use the product’s app. You want your manual to be as helpful as possible, so you include this helpful sentence: “To get started, tap ‘My Account at the bottom of your screen.”
But you should reconsider that sentence. The word “you” sounds less professional than other terms that can be used instead and it isn’t as clear or easy to understand. When thinking about whether or not to use “you,” consider these substitutes:
Make Sure The Document Is Easy To Navigate And Understand
When writing a technical manual, it’s important to make sure the document is easy to navigate and understand. This can be done by using headings, tables, figures, and other visual aids. Make sure these are included in your document so that readers can quickly find what they need.
Some Of The Most Common Types Of Visual Aids Include
Table of contents
Indexes (for both text and figures)
Identify Sections With Descriptive Headlines Rather Than Numbers Or Letters
When you’re writing a technical manual, you’ll want to use descriptive headings. This is an important step because it will make it easier for your readers to find the information they need. It also makes your document more user-friendly, which is always a good thing!
You Should Make Sure That The Format Of Each Heading Follows A Consistent Pattern
Watch Out for Ambiguous Pronouns in Your Writing That Could Confuse Readers.
Watch Out for Ambiguous Pronouns in Your Writing That Could Confuse Readers.
Avoid using “he” or “she” when referring to a thing. For example, if you refer to an object as a “he,” it’s easy for readers to think you’re referring to a person instead of the inanimate object at hand. Try replacing those pronouns with more specific terms like “it” or by using plural nouns like “these.”
Don’t use “it” as a pronoun for people either; it should only be used as a pronoun for things or groups of people that aren’t known to the reader yet (e.g., “The first step is always the hardest; it took me several attempts before I could complete this project).
If you want your readers to be able to picture someone specifically, use proper nouns like Mary Smith instead of just calling her “the employee” throughout the document this will make it easier on both parties involved!
Include Screenshots Or Visual Aids If Possible In A Technical Manual To Help Readers Understand What You Want Them To Do Or See More Clearly
We recommend including screenshots or visual aids if possible in a technical manual to help readers understand what you want them to do or see more clearly.
Screenshots can be used to illustrate what the user should be seeing. If you need someone to make a change, for instance, include screenshots of the menu options he or she should select and of where those options appear on-screen (if applicable).
Screenshots can also be used to illustrate what the user should be hearing during a phone call (e.g., “You’ll hear ‘Hello’ from our automated greeting system.”) or from another party on an internal phone line (e.g., “
The person on the line will say ‘May I speak with John Smith?'”). This helps ensure that your documentation is easy for everyone involved including those who aren’t tech-savvy—to understand and follow along with as they use it at their own pace.
While writing a technical manual may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to improve your writing and help your readers understand what they need to do. You can use bullet points and headings, or even create charts or diagrams that show how things work together.
If you’re unsure about which words or phrases will be most effective in helping readers understand instructions, always choose those with which they’re already familiar!
Of course, no matter how well-written your document is and no matter how much time went into making sure it’s consistent, organized, etc. it won’t do anyone any good if the content isn’t relevant enough for them to use it as intended (which is why testing those instructions on live products before publishing them is so important).
Here are some additional resources for further reading on the topic of technical writing and creating effective technical manuals:
Technical Manual Writing: A Comprehensive Guide Learn the ins and outs of writing a technical manual, from planning and structuring to creating user-friendly content.
Examples of Effective Technical Writing Explore real-world examples that demonstrate how to convey complex technical information clearly and concisely.
Writing a Technical Manual: For Whom and Why Gain insights into the target audience and purpose behind writing technical manuals, emphasizing the importance of effective communication.
Have questions about technical writing and creating technical manuals? Here are some answers to common queries:
How can I make technical writing more accessible to non-experts?
Making technical writing accessible involves using clear language, avoiding jargon, and providing real-world examples to help non-experts understand complex concepts.
What are some best practices for structuring a technical manual?
A well-structured technical manual should include a clear table of contents, headings, subheadings, and a logical flow of information to guide readers through the content.
How can I ensure the accuracy of technical content in my manual?
Thoroughly research and verify technical details before including them in your manual. Consulting subject matter experts and conducting peer reviews can help maintain accuracy.
What role do visuals play in technical manuals?
Visuals, such as diagrams, images, and charts, can enhance understanding by providing visual representations of complex concepts. Make sure visuals are clear, labeled, and relevant.
How do I keep a technical manual up-to-date over time?
Regularly review and update your technical manual to reflect changes in technology, procedures, or products. Consider establishing a revision schedule to ensure accuracy and relevancy.
Costantine Edward is a digital marketing expert, freelance writer, and entrepreneur who helps people attain financial freedom. I’ve been working in marketing since I was 18 years old and have managed to build a successful career doing what I love.