Sooner or later, every company or organization needs to create a training manual. Often, they need to create multiple manuals to cover both internal and external training needs.
Internally, training manuals help all employees remain efficient and productive in the course of doing their jobs.
Externally, training manuals are critical content pieces for customer education, training, and, most importantly, satisfaction.
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But, if you’re like me, the term “training manual” conjures a drab mental picture. A thick, corporate looking booklet bound in a bland cover. Maybe it has some stock imagery on it, or maybe it’s just the title on a solid cover.
So, first, let’s erase that picture from our minds. The old booklet format still has its place in the world (e.g. the glovebox of your car), but there are so many more options now. The training manuals of today don’t look or function like training manuals used to. It’s also possible for anyone to create one.
In this post, we’ll go over how you can write a great training manual and some of the options you have as you create it.
What is the purpose of a training manual?
While the packaging of the traditional training manual has changed, its noble purpose remains consistent.
A training manual is a set of instructions that improve the quality with which a job, process, or task is performed. Companies use training manuals with in-person, remote, on-demand, and just in time training. A few common applications include:
- Onboarding new employees
- Rolling out new software and systems
- New protocol or process documentation
- Sharing standard operating procedurs
- Customer training and education
- Product instructions and information
Companies create employee training manuals to increase organizational productivity and ensure everyone has the tools and information necessary to excel at their jobs.
On the flip side, companies and organizations create training manuals that support their customers, too. They teach how to use their products, when certain features come in handy, and demonstrate key workflows.
Training manuals for customer education help users get the most out their purchase. They are a critical resource, and every successful company provides them.
The best training manuals are easy to follow, informational guides. They lay out concepts in clear language, using relevant examples and imagery. Done right, a good training manual becomes a trusted resource for employees and managers or customers and clients.
How to write a training manual
Creating a great training manual can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right approach, you can quickly go from outline to production, and provide your co-workers or customers, whomever your audience may be, with a helpful, easy to use resource.
Step 1: Define your audience
The first thing when you start working on your training manual is knowing for whom you are writing. To do this, develop a picture of when, where, and how people will access your training content.
To understand your audience, you might ask and answer questions like:
- What will bring them to your training manual?
- What is their level of expertise?
- In what industry do they work?
- How much time do they have?
- Do they have a preference for written or visual content?
- Are there language or cultural references that you need to be aware of?
Answering these questions helps you to right-size your content. With an understanding of things like audience skill level, their context, and their content preferences, you can build your content to fit their expectations and needs.
It’s easy to skip this step and tell yourself you have an implicit understanding of your audience. And, while you probably do, spending some time to flesh it out and bring the picture into clear focus will help you craft training content that truly solves your audiences problems.
Step 2: Plan your content
A great training manual is easy to navigate. Someone encountering it for the first time feels comfortable discovering the information they need and a returning user is able to quickly find specific content and topics.
You can make sure this is the case for your training manual by strategically planning your content. Simply put, this means laying out all of your training material and organizing it in a logical fashion.
There are different themes you might use to organize and categorize the topics in your training manual. You could organize them by:
- Beginner to advanced topics
- Jobs to be done
- Product features
- Usage frequency
- Popularity among the audience
This can be a quick process for short, one-off training content, or it might take some more time if you’re creating a comprehensive guide.
If you do have a lot of topics, consider placing them in groups and using headings and sub-sections to create a logical flow and organization within your manual. Use this structure to create a table of contents in the final manual.
Step 3: Determine content presentation format
You know your audience, and you know what you want cover, so now it’s time to determine just how you will present your content.
In many cases, there will be ideal ways to deliver your content. Figuring out which it is requires thinking about both your audience and your content. You have a number of options for delivery. Common delivery mediums for training manuals include:
- Knowledge base articles
- Video tutorials
- Online courses
- PDF guides
- Printed guide book or pamphlets
When it comes to your audience, consider their context.
- Where are they as they consume this training manual?
- What tools and resources do they have at their disposal?
- What will they not have access to?
- How much time do they have?
Questions like these will tell you if things like video, interactivity, and particular assessment strategies are viable techniques to include in your training material.
At the same time, some topics are more suitable to video, while others are better for text and imagery. If you’re showing complex processes that need to be seen in action, you may consider using video. If you’re working with a number of discrete, simple sequences, then using a written format supported by images might be ideal.
One nice thing is that today’s training manuals are often delivered online. You can combine different formats in one and provide rich, media supported content.
Step 4: Develop your content
At this point, you’re ready to start developing your content.
For video based training manuals
If you’re creating videos for your training manual, this is when you can start storyboarding, scripting, recording, and editing videos.
If you’ve never created videos before, don’t be discouraged from taking this approach. TechSmith Camtasia is a great tool used by professional video creators, but is easy for beginners to get started with. There are also tons of great tutorials that will get you creating in no time.
Additionally, we offer TechSmith Academy, a free resource where everyone from aspiring to advance creators can find all the resources they need to get started and level-up their skills. Find content on tons of topics around training, video creation, and more.
For text and image based training manuals
Training manuals that will be built using written text and imagery might seem antiquated, but they’re not. In many cases, this will fit your audience and your content best.
If your manual covers a process that is computer-based, capture screenshots of each step. Alternatively, for real-world processes, photos demonstrating the process or graphical illustrations are ideal.
Annotate images for clarity
Screenshots and images often need a couple tweaks to truly get their point across. Usually this means adding annotations like arrows, shapes, and other callouts. Another nice touch is to remove or hide sensitive or unnecessary information.
Use the drawing and editing tools in Snagit to edit your images so they convey the right message and have unnecessary or sensitive information blurred or removed.
Edit all of your images to prepare them for inclusion in your training manual.
Step 5: Assemble and deliver your manual
Now is when creating a training manual usually becomes tedious. The process of adding images to a template, document, or another source involves formatting frustrations, image sizing issues, and other similar, unforeseen challenges.
In this case, an easy solution is to create from templates in Snagit. This lets you select the images you want to include in your manual, add text, arrange the order, and make selections about the appearance in one quick process.
Snagit comes with a number of professional templates you can choose from, and you can find more free and premium templates and other resources in TechSmith Assets for Snagit.
This is a great method to use because you can take on each process or task you need to cover and create a separate section of the manual.
Then you can save the each as a PDF or an image for sharing, compiling into a complete guide, or posting individually in a company intranet.
Of course, making individual stand alone documents might not be the right approach. In this case, you might consider using tools like Zendesk or MadCap Flare to create a knowledge base support center or a help file document.
If you are creating an online knowledge base, you should be able to use video, image, and written content all at the same time. So, get creative and make content that covers everything your audience might need.
Step 6: Track feedback and keep your content updated
The final step to creating a training manual is to elicit feedback and keep it updated.
If you interact with your audience, listen to their feedback about the help you provide. Based on what they say, see if there are topics that need to be expanded or ones that are not yet covered at all.
As always, systems will change, products and features will be updated, and your content will need updates to stay relevant and helpful. Make sure to keep source files for all your work so you can easily return to it and make updates.
A training manual no longer needs to be the thick, boring tome it once was. People are used to learning online, and they often prefer it over analog sources of information.
Online training manuals are also easier to access and navigate than their paper ancestors. They’re searchable and allow users to bookmark particular pages for easy and quick access to often-used content.
With the right tools and the process shared here, you can create great training manuals for colleagues or customers alike.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and was updated in September 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.