3 tips to build a user guide efficiently

3 tips to build a user guide efficiently

14 Nov

Here at Symetris, we don’t just build websites; we help clients build business tools.  Part of the process is guiding the client through all the stages so that in the end, they can manage their new website efficiently.  A great thing we offer is a training session and an accompanying user guide with step by step instructions on updating their site with the chosen CMS. There are various steps involved in building a good user guide; here are a few key tips:

1) Start Early

This point is number one for a reason; if you wait until the very end of the project to start the user guide, it will take twice as long, as you have to go back to the beginning and go through each step, making sure that you didn’t forget anything.  If you need to go back a couple of months or more, this may seem as insurmountable as climbing to the top of Mount Everest. If you start building the user guide as soon as your first deliverable has been approved, this can help you make a clearer point, as there are fewer steps to go through.


2) Use visual aids

I find that the best way to illustrate a step by step guide is to use screen shots.  If you are like me and many other people out there, you are a visual person.  You can explain how to do something in writing until you’re blue in the face, but a visual aid is a priceless tool, as it really helps you see exactly what to do and where to go to do it.  You know what they say; a picture is worth a thousand words.  This will also help you greatly when you give the training to the client, since you’ll all see the same thing as on the site itself which eliminates some of the guess work.

Other than screen shots, there are tools out there such as Jing by TechSmith, which allow you to make short video Screen casts with voice commentary.  This is an excellent guidance tool and is especially handy for more complex features in a website since you can record step-by step what you are doing on the screen and gives you the opportunity to narrate you guide.  The best thing about Jing…It’s Free!

3)  Be clear and to the point

Aside from visual aids, you really should use a table of contents.  This will help clarify steps and allow the user to jump to a specific section quickly, instead of having to scroll down the pages endlessly.  A good idea, before even getting into the nitty gritty of it is to create a high-level outline of what the document will include (main and subsections).  A helpful way to build the guide is to divide the information into sections by type of users (i.e. Admin, Editor, Translator, Anonymous, etc.), this way each user can go directly to the section that concerns them. This will help you be clearer and more concise with each point as well as help you better structure the information.  Ideally try not to be too technical, because if you use too many technical terms, you may end up confusing the user.  Write it out with more of a ‘’your website for dummies’’ type of approach, your user will surely appreciate the simplicity of it.

Lastly, before presenting it to the client, you should give it a try and go through all the steps yourself, to make sure that everything is in the right order; this will help you make sure you didn’t forget anything.  Or better yet, get someone else in your office that’s never seen the site to go through it.  Sometimes having an outside perspective on it can be a good thing, seeing as you have been so involved in it, you may be less objective about it.

Websites can evolve and change very quickly, so don’t forget to keep an eye out on all these user guides and update the information periodically.

Tags : cms, user guide, websites

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