A user manual, in its simplest form, is an instruction manual for the use of a product. In our case, we are concerned with products of the software application variety.
Oftentimes, the term user denotes a non-technical person, though it is just as easily shorthand for how a person uses an application and not the capabilities of the person. For example, our whizbang web developer Roy G. Biv may only be a user of a paint program despite his obvious technical capabilities.
For the purposes of this tutorial, however, user will refer to the end-users of a product, the folks who need to know how to use an application and are not whizbang developers. Their main job is not the application. Rather, the application is a tool used in their main job, making it imperative that they have the clear and straightforward instructions. If there is a doubt about specifying something for fear that it's possibly too elementary, the bias is on including it over assuming it is already known.
A user manual needs to have these elements (click each for the explanation):
The Wadado Suite allows you to create, edit and transmit financial proposals. You can operate on both internal and external sources of data using our sophisticated data manipulation functions, and produce a variety of output formats including your own designs.
A window is a window is a window. The more consistent the descriptions, the more understandable and approachable the document.
Explain how the interface is laid out and how to navigate it.
The exact steps to do operations broken down into discrete actions.
Select the data source from the external source list.
Click the Open button.
Enter the value of the weighting factor.
Drag the intensity slider to the desired level.
In order for these elements to be effective, the user manual writer must understand the task at hand, i.e., the reason the application is being used, and anticipate how a user will utilize the application. This produces a user manual that is a reference, a tutorial and an answer machine.