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Simplicity in a 550 page manual?

by Tom Johnson on Dec 9, 2010
categories: technical-writing

Simplicity in a 550 page manual?One of my readers, Shweta, asks the following question:

I am a Technical Communicator working in a software services company in India. I have been reading your posts daily from a long time now.

I am developing end-user documentation for an access control product. The current application that I have is huge and so is the user manual (550 pages, which I am sure not even 55 users will read). It also has an over exhaustive online help (not context sensitive, unfortunately). A Quick Reference Guide (prepared for each of the applications; there are 5) is still not sufficient to let the user know everything.

Was wondering if you can guide me on reaching best to the users with simple documents.

I'm opening this up this question to the community for response. You can add your thoughts in the comments below.

Here's my take on this situation.You have the right approach in creating several quick reference guides to accompany the longer, 550 page user manual.

However, don't expect the quick reference guide to cover the same scope as the long manual. There's no way that you'll teach users all they need to know from a 550 page manual in a few quick reference guides. That's not the point of quick reference guides. The point is to help get the user started, to introduce the user to the content in an approachable way. Learning takes place primarily from doing, so the key is to get the user exploring the application quickly. Give them some direction and guidance to begin. That's all a quick reference guide needs to do. See more from me about quick reference guides.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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