Quick start guides differ from user guides or manuals because they exist to help customers set up and start using their new products or services as quickly as possible. A quick start guide (QSG), is a document that helps the user to get started with a product or service. A user manual, or guide, is an in-depth document that a user may refer to if they have any issues or, for example, want to explore more advanced features of their product or service.
In order to write clear, comprehensive quick start guides, you need a good understanding of the user experience (UX) at setup. A QSG should be written from a place of knowledge about the product or service and it is essential to consider the perspective of the target audience so that it can successfully communicate to the user and help them to solve the problem.
While not essential, it can be a good idea to give the task of writing your quick start guide to someone that is external to your company in order to harness an uninformed view of a product or service; one that is similar to that of the end-user.
You may feel that some of our tips need no explanation. We’ve included them to provide absolute clarity, a principle that you should consider following in your quick start guide writing process.
1. Identify the objective(s)
What problem does your quick start guide help the user to solve? Your guide may need to cover multiple setup scenarios. It is important to identify the objectives for creating it and the problems that it solves before starting to write it. This will help you to ensure that the QSG continues to align with its purpose throughout the creation process.
2. Show don’t tell
Have you considered imagery and visual indicators? Users may depend on illustrations or imagery to show them the part of the equipment they should be using and how to complete the actions. Including imagery in the steps creates a QSG that is accessible to more users; ensuring that readers of all abilities can comprehend the steps they need to take by observing the imagery. Adding visual indicators, such as icons and colours, can tie sections or steps together or make them stand out, helping the user to identify what type of content it is or what type of action is required.
3. Define the scenarios
Do you know what they will be thinking or feeling? In order to cover and explain everything required to solve the problem, the guide must consider the user perspective, and the writer should imagine what it is like for the user, especially their likely environment, level of understanding, situation, emotions and thoughts around the problem. Consider the format of your quick start guide; would a video or walkthrough suit their needs more effectively?
4. Research the user
Do you really know your user? Before you start to write your guide from the assumed perspective of your user, carrying out research into the user and scenario will help you to understand what they are thinking or feeling at the time of reading the QSG. This can inform the language and the content used. It will also help to ensure that you cover every aspect or piece of information that a user may need during the process. Research activities that are useful for this stage are interviews and focus groups.
5. Assume a low level of understanding
Quick start guides are written to help guide non-technical individuals to a setup solution. It is best not to assume that a user will understand something, even if you consider it a basic function. Address the user and explain every aspect thoroughly, imagining that they have no prior knowledge or understanding of the product. Additionally, assume your user will not read the instructions in the order you intend them to and may not have picked up on the context by reading a previous section.
6. Add headings and timings
Have you clearly separated the steps of your guide? Writing clear, succinct headings that summarise the step in the process allows users to quickly ascertain whether that step matches their progress. Adding a time scale to each step, or sequence of steps can help a user to accurately estimate the time it will take them to complete the setup process.
7. Keep it simple, but descriptive
A QSG guide should be simple and succinct but simultaneously descriptive and add context where it needs to. The language should be positive but not patronising. Technical language should be avoided wherever possible, and any necessary terminology or acronyms should be explained wherever your user will encounter them. What is required for each step or situation can be ascertained by the user research.
8. Be clear and consistent
The design and the language of the guide should be clean and clear, adhering to the brand tone of voice and optimised to improve the readability of the guide. In order to create a good user experience and easily understandable guide, ensure that terminology, design elements, imagery, iconography, colours, heading structures or styles, and copy are consistent throughout.
9. Test with real users
Have you checked that your quick start guide is helpful to the user? Before you publish your guide and celebrate completing a valuable project, user testing will confirm that the guide solves the problem, fulfils your objectives and helps the user without adding to their frustration.
10. Keep the content up-to-date
Last but by no means least, quick start guides are only useful if they are accurate, up to date representations of the product or service. Update your guide when there are changes to the product or service.
Keep an eye out for the next article in this series, where we will outline 7 reasons for creating quick start guides:
- Improve clarity and understanding
- Reduce costs and resources
- Empower the customer
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