How to Write an Effective Technical Manual

Are you looking to write a technical manual, but aren’t sure how to get started?

Writing a technical manual can be tricky, as it requires you to dispel extremely complicated information into language that the everyday person will understand. In order to write a great one, you need to think like a scientist, writer, and consumer. 

So, how do you do it? Check out this guide to discover how to write a technical manual. 

Think Like the Consumer 

The golden rule of writing an effective technical manual is to think like the user of the product. In order to do this, you need to have a deep understanding of who the user is before you even begin writing. 

Do some research to learn about the users:

  • Educational background
  • Technical proficiencies
  • Reason for using the product or service
  • General knowledge of the product
  • Age, gender, and geographic location

Once you know how to think like the user, you’ll be able to write content that speaks to them. If you have the chance, it can be very useful to watch users interact with the product you’re writing a manual for. 

This way, you’ll get a better idea of how the users approach each task and what they need to do. 

Speak Directly to the Reader and Use Active Voice 

Writing an effective technical manual isn’t just about what you say, it’s about how you say it. 

When writing a technical manual, it’s very important to use active voice. This not only makes the manual easier to read, but it also helps to emphasize the user. 

With active voice, the subject and verb are clear in the sentence. With passive voice, the subject is being acted upon by something that is unknown or not stated. Let’s look at an example:

Passive Voice: Tools that will be needed to complete the project include a screwdriver, hammer, and nails. 

Active Voice: To complete this project, you will need a screwdriver, hammer, and nails. 

With the second example, it’s clear that the reader is the one who will be completing the project. 

In addition to using active voice, you also want to make sure that you’re speaking directly to the reader. To do this, make sure you’re using the word “you”. This will help you:

  • Reinforce the fact that the information you’re providing is for the reader
  • Better engage readers with your document and pull them in
  • Avoid using passive voice by focusing on the reader

Doing these things will make it easier for your readers to stay engaged with the manual. 

Write Crystal Clear Instructions 

While it may seem obvious that your instructions need to be clear, this unfortunately isn’t the case for many technical writers. In fact, one of the biggest pain points users have with technical manuals is unclear instructions. 

Sometimes, knowing a product inside and out can be a disadvantage. This is because certain aspects of the product that are a given to you may not be a given to your users. 

Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re writing clear instructions:

  • Use numbered lists
  • Begin each step with an imperative word, such as “Click”, “Select”, or “Enter”
  • Avoid using system responses as a step
  • Omit unnecessary information. Instead, provide just enough info so that a user can complete a step
  • Use simple vocabulary (unless you’re writing for a highly-technical audience) 

Remember, when writing a technical manual, you need to keep your audience in mind. Oftentimes, the goal of a technical manual isn’t to get your audience to know the product inside and out like you do. 

Instead, the goal is to ensure that the product functions in the way it’s intended to help the user. As you write each instruction, keep this goal in mind. 

Use More Than Words 

Did you know that 65 percent of people are visual learners? 

For technical writers, this is a very important statistic to keep in mind. In order to create an effective technical manual, you need to use more than just your words. 

To help your users as best as possible, you should also use illustrations, infographics, and if possible, animations. Whether you’re teaching users how to put together a bed or a mobile video surveillance device, illustrating your instructions will make the learning process easier. 

Get Feedback and Edit 

The best way to figure out if your technical document is user-friendly is to have actual users take a look at it. 

Find test users, that is, people who will try out the product, and allow them to evaluate your technical manual. With any type of writing, it’s always good to have a second pair of eyes look at it to catch mistakes and point out areas that need clarification. 

The same is true for technical writing. By having other people take a look at your document, you’ll be able to catch mistakes that you probably wouldn’t have found on your own.

Once you’ve been made aware of these mistakes, make sure you properly edit them. After you’ve done one round of editing, we suggest having another test group take a look at your manual. You should do this for however long it takes to get your manual right. 

Are You Ready to Create an Effective Technical Manual?

Now that you know how to create an effective technical manual, it’s time to put these tips into action. Pretty soon, you’ll have a great technical manual that helps out your users. 

Be sure to check back in with our blog for more writing tips and tricks.