Training manuals are everywhere in the business world, but many will end up unread on the shelf. Manual writers often miss opportunities to produce interesting, important and usable training materials because they simply don’t understand some basics about manual writing. Here are five key points to consider:
Manuals don’t have to be boring. One writer was asked to produce a dental terminology manual for an insurance company’s agents. Rather than include a long list of dental terms, the writer decided to weave the terms into a well-known fairy tale. According to this version of the story, Little Red Riding Hood looked up at the big bad wolf and screamed, “Grandma, what sharp lateral incisors and enormous canine teeth you have in your first and second quadrants!” The insurance agents learned terminology while being entertained by the fun and ridiculous stories.
Consider the audience. If you’re writing for experienced workers, you’ll lose their attention if you make the instruction too elementary. Likewise, if your manual is to be read by new hires, don’t assume they know industry jargon or anything about the equipment they’ll be using.
Use screen shots, diagrams, or photos. Don’t use a lot of verbiage when a simple diagram will do. Many people are visual learners. It is important to produce effective visuals by making sure they are clear and of adequate size. Don’t make the reader scratch his head wondering what is depicted in the visual.
Get feedback. Don’t assume everyone will think your message is clear. Put together a test group comprised of people who are similar to your audience. Have the group find anything in your manual that is unclear, unrealistic, or uninteresting.
Review and revise your manuals periodically. Nothing is worse than having to read an out-of-date manual. Not only is it a waste of time, it also does little to help the worker understand how to use newer tools or how to solve problems using present-day resources.
A manual writer’s goal should be to engage the worker so that she comes away with a clear and memorable mental picture of what you want her to do and how you want her to do it.