For instruction manuals, it’s first things first

21Dec10

While looking at an otherwise well-written instruction sheet, I noticed something odd. The instructions mentioned the use of several third-party products, which the typical person would probably have to purchase separately. However, there was no mention of “Supplies Needed” until the end of the document. Thus, someone who took a quick glance at the instructions could easily overlook the other items that are essential to the process at hand, and become frustrated by the seemingly inadequate instructions.

There’s a very easy way to prevent this situation. If the reader needs to locate or purchase third-party items before they can follow your instructions, then start the document with a section called “Before you begin”, “Items you’ll need”, or something else along those lines. If it’s relevant, tell them what quantity of the other products they should procure, and where those products can be purchased. Even better, put the list of supplies on the outside of the product box, or deliver it before the actual product or instructions arrive.

Taken together, these simple steps will help users get ready in advance, while keeping surprises to a minimum. Even if you don’t change a single word on the rest of the instruction manual, a well-prepared customer base will find the instructions more intuitive — and will be more likely to form a positive first impression of your product or service.



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