User manual

A user guide or user's guide, also commonly known as a manual, is a technical communication document intended to give assistance to people using a particular system.[1] It is usually written by a technical writer, although user guides are written by programmers, product or project managers, or other technical staff, particularly in smaller companies.[2]

User guides are most commonly associated with electronic goods, computer hardware and software.

Most user guides contain both a written guide and the associated images. In the case of computer applications, it is usual to include screenshots of the human-machine interface(s), and hardware manuals often include clear, simplified diagrams. The language used is matched to the intended audience, with jargon kept to a minimum or explained thoroughly.

Contents of a user manual

The sections of a user manual often include:

  • A cover page
  • A title page and copyright page
  • A preface, containing details of related documents and information on how to navigate the user guide
  • A contents page
  • A guide on how to use at least the main functions of the system
  • A troubleshooting section detailing possible errors or problems that may occur, along with how to fix them
  • A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
  • Where to find further help, and contact details
  • A glossary and, for larger documents, an index

Computer software manuals and guides

User manuals and user guides for most non-trivial software applications are book-like documents with contents similar to the above list. The "PhotoMeister User's Manual"[3] is a good example of this type of document. Some documents have a more fluid structure with many internal links. The Google Earth User Guide[4] is an example of this format. The term guide is often applied to a document that addresses a specific aspect of a software product. Some usages are Installation Guide, Getting Started Guide, and various How to guides. An example is the Picasa Getting Started Guide.[5]

In some business software applications, where groups of users have access to only a sub-set of the application's full functionality, a user guide may be prepared for each group. An example of this approach is the Autodesk Topobase 2010 Help[6] document, which contains separate Administrator Guides, User Guides, and a Developer's Guide. These guides are a valuable tool for On-the-job training.

References

See also

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