How to develop a user manual for your software - Zudu

If you’re building an app for iOS, Android, or the web, you want to make it as user-friendly and intuitive as possible. Modern software should just work, with natural navigation and interfaces and a straightforward onboarding process that can be repeated if necessary.  However, developing documentation can ensure that your software is accessible and spare your customer support team time that can be better utilised elsewhere. Below, we’re offering an introduction to app manuals and sharing some advice on writing your own.

 

What is an app user manual?

An app user manual is a document that outlines the core functionality of your software and offers instructions on how it can and should be used. Whether you’re building an app for consumers or businesses, developing a manual or how-to guide can ensure users can quickly familiarise themselves with your software and resolve common issues on their own. You might publish your user manual on your website, include it as part of a subscription package when businesses sign up or convert it into a more digestible version on your app’s support pages or knowledgebase. Ensure your app user manual can be easily found online.

One of the essential attributes of an app user manual is searchability and accessibility. Users don’t want to read through pages of text – they should be able to find the information they’re looking for quickly. Add page numbers, categorise documentation to improve readability, and if publishing your manual online, incorporate search functionality and consider showing related articles and video content to help frustrated users find answers.

It’s also crucial that your app user manual is accurate and kept up to date. Whenever your app introduces new features or enhancements, make sure they’re appropriately documented and consider serialising your app user manuals so those running older versions of your software can be supported. The language used in your software manual should be clear and concise – make sure it’s unambiguous and consider including screenshots to visualise instructions.

 

Understand your app

Before you begin writing an app user manual, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of your software. Review your app from beginning to end – downloading it from the App Store, signing up for an account, making a purchase, reviewing a feature, and so on. You’ll soon identify the steps the average user will take and common errors and stumbling blocks they might come across. Finding ways to troubleshoot these issues will make your manual more comprehensive – and check in with your app developers, who will know the product better than anyone else. They could even identify problems you might have previously overlooked.

 

Know your audience

You’re writing a user manual for your audience, so get into their psyche and consider how the average user might feel when using your software. If you’re writing a manual retrospectively, use data to determine common sticking points. What issues do new and experienced users commonly face? Which pages on your FAQs website get the most attention? Don’t be afraid to speak to your audience, too: getting them involved in the app manual writing process could prove helpful, especially if you can blind-test a user to determine its effectiveness.

Using a light, conversational tone when developing a manual makes sense, and an active voice makes it easier to follow instructions. Use simple vocabulary and avoid jargon, even if you’re writing a user manual for business professionals. If in doubt, offer a glossary where you can explain the meaning of technical phrases to improve comprehension.

 

Organise your app manual

One challenge you may face when writing your app manual is organisation. How can you fit so much information into a single document without overwhelming users? Using capitalised, bold headings and iconography like warning signs, speech bubbles, and question marks can all make content more digestible. Break down steps into bullet points and consider individual sections and chapters with a table of contents. Tables can also be useful when outlining instructions, especially when you’re trying to explain functionality to different user groups.

On the subject of organisation, it’s worth offering your user manual in multiple languages if you are trying to appeal to different audiences. Translators can interpret your manual into local languages and ensure language isn’t a barrier to entry when using your software. Bear in mind, however, that offering documentation in different languages could result in more enquiries from foreign users – ensure your customer support team can accommodate this.

 

Use graphics and screenshots

When designing your user manual, graphics and screenshots can prove useful. Illustrating your content with case studies and examples can help users grasp the concept of different app features, though try to be vague and avoid confusing users with too much unnecessary information. Remember to keep your screenshots and graphics up to date. If you change your user interface or design language, outdated screenshots can only make users confused. It could result in them thinking your app is no longer adequately supported.

 

Review, test, and repeat

Finally, once you’ve created a draft of your app’s user manual, review and test it within your team and with real-life beta testers. Work with a technical writer who can streamline the content and ask users to try out directions to see whether they make sense from an outsider’s perspective. Make modifications accordingly, and remember that as your app evolves, you’ll need to review and republish your manual. It’s also worth mentioning that even the world’s largest companies cannot include answers to every question and problem in their user manuals – focus on the key elements and remember that your manual can be an ever-developing piece of work that grows as your business does.

 

If you’re looking for support building an app for your business, reach out to the team at Zudu today. Our experienced software development engineers are ready to bring your ideas to life.

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