How to Write an Instruction Manual or Handbook

Have you been assigned the job of creating an instruction manual or employee handbook? Are you wondering how to go about accomplishing this task?

Don’t panic. You probably already know all the information you need to include, or at least you know where to find it. Now all you need to learn is the process and the structure.

To start, write a description of the audience your manual or handbook is intended for. What do they know already? What do they need to learn? What are their goals? What are the goals of the manual or handbook? You may want to discuss this audience description and goals with colleagues or your boss to make sure you’re including everyone and planning to meet the needs of the organization.

Next, make a list of all the topics you need to include. Do these topics need to be in a specific sequence to be understood or learned? In other words, does one section build on information learned in the previous section? Or do topics / procedures need to be grouped by category, such as “Employee Benefits” or “Troubleshooting Procedures”? If so, order your topics accordingly. Then share your outline with others and request their input to make sure you’ve thought of everything. Get approval if needed. This outline will become the basis for the table of contents in your manual. Now you’re ready to get started writing the body of your manual or handbook.

Although you could write in any sequence to fill in your outline, we’ll start at the beginning. First you’ll need a Title Page with a descriptive name, like “How to Use the ZYX Printer” or “Smith Corporation Employee Handbook.” Next should be a copyright page, which should contain the date of printing and information about ownership by the author, company, or publisher. This page sometimes includes disclaimers, such as a statement saying the publisher and author are not responsible for misinformation that might be included or for any information that was left out. If you find you have a lot of disclaimers or a lengthy legal explanation, you should put that on a separate Disclaimers page.

Next will be your Table of Contents, but the odds are that you will need to create and insert that after you have completed writing your manual, so for now, just keep in mind that it belongs here.

The first page you will probably want in the body of your manual is an Introduction, where you’ll explain the purpose and goals of the document. You can also include here any assumptions you are making, such as that all your readers are using a specific operating system or that they are familiar with standard medical devices, for example. If you need to list a lot of Assumptions, include them on a separate page.

Now you’re ready to write the main content of your manual or handbook, with all the procedures or topics your readers need to know. After you’ve written all your topics, you may want to end with a Conclusions or Summary page, and perhaps include an Index to help readers find easily find topics.

Does that sound like too much work? Keep in mind that you don’t need to start off with a blank word processing screen to do all this. Using a pre-designed kit can help tremendously. The templates in a kit can give you a big jump start on creating your manual, and help you at each step along the way. Each template contains suggestions and examples of information to include on that page.

There are more than a thousand topic templates, including templates for all those pages mentioned above in a kit. You can probably find precisely the topic you’re looking for, but if by chance you don’t, a well-designed document building kit contains templates that you can adapt for any purpose. For employee manuals, there are many company-oriented topics like Mission Statement, Organizational Structure, and Ethics, just to name a few. The templates are Word documents, so you can easily adapt them for your use, and you can insert graphics like charts, illustrations, and photos.

Any manual or handbook is likely to be read by a large audience, so you want to be sure that the grammar and spelling are perfect. It’s always best to use a professional editor if you can, but if that’s not in the budget, then enlist someone who is not familiar with your manual’s content to proofread it. Testing is an essential component of finalizing any “how-to” or informational booklet, too. You want to be sure that your instructions are clear, complete, and useful for your intended readers. You might also need to get the approval of your company’s legal department before publication, too–corporate attorneys and personnel departments are often concerned about employment issues, trademarks, and all sorts of consumer information that may cause legal issues in the future.

A business document writing kit is perfect for assembling any kind of Word document. Using the included Wizard software, you simply pick the templates you want and fill them in, and then let the assembly software do the page numbering and create a table of contents for you, as well as take care of the cover page and any appendices. A pre-designed document writing kit handles the layout and design of your manual, so getting started with a kit not only helps you write like a professional, but also makes your finished work look professional, too.

Your final manual or handbook can easily be printed and bound, or transformed into a PDF file to send via email or read on any electronic device. You can even use various tools available on the Internet to translate your masterpiece into an e-book for use with Kindle or other electronic devices.

You’ll find that using a pre-designed document writing kit is great for producing and organizing any kind of document. It’s a powerful addition to your arsenal of office tools.