Training manuals are important to educate new employees about a company or old employees about new systems or programs. It is the respective industry that determines the exact process for writing a training manual. However, there are some general steps you can take to help employees get the most out of the manual. You should make sure you have all the necessary information before you begin, that you write with your audience in mind, that you make the manual understandable to them, and include some additional materials to make the information more understandable. The manual will be beneficial if it includes pictures and graphics, blank spaces to take notes, quizzes to review what they have learned, and checklists of important tasks.
Method 1 of 3: Gather the information
Step 1. Review and collect the information that the manual will address
Never write a training manual from memory. Review the many processes and knowledge that will be in the manual and make sure you have no doubts on any point. Make a list of all the important information and refer to it as you write the manual. Verify that you have included all the items on the list.
- Even if you only skip a small step, this will cause your users to be confused, so you must be vigilant. For example, you can tell someone how to enter information into a spreadsheet, but you can easily forget to mention "click File to open a new spreadsheet." Also, when describing how to use a piece of machinery, you might forget to mention that a certain switch must be turned, which is vitally important.
- If you don't review all the information and forget something, users are likely to be stressed as they will know that something is not working well. This would not be the desired outcome of a training.
Step 2. Summarize the flow of the training manual
Use the list you made and begin to organize the information in a logical order by chapters, sections, or parts. You could start with the basics and work your way up to the more detailed concepts.
- Before writing any content, make sure you have an idea of where all aspects of the manual would fit. You shouldn't mention something that you think was mentioned in a previous section if the manual hasn't covered that information yet.
- Writing separate sections that don't connect to each other would be a good approach in some situations.
Step 3. Include tables of contents and an index
Even if the manual will be read directly from cover to cover, these navigation sections will be useful when people want to go back to some points to refresh their memory and study what they have learned. The table of contents should include all chapter titles and any relevant heading sections to include. Make the index as detailed as possible, giving people all the information about what they will find throughout the manual.
Word processing programs often have templates for these types of documents. Online resources will also help you structure these elements
Step 4. Write informative chapter summaries
At the beginning of each chapter or section, write 2-3 paragraphs that summarize what that part of the manual will cover. You could include a list of objectives for that section, keywords that one should focus on, and mention the quizzes and activities that will be included.
Chapter titles will be helpful in knowing what the chapter will contain, but users should be able to read the summary and feel confident that the chapter contains what they need to know
Step 5. Conclude each chapter with a summary
It is always helpful to review what has been read in the chapter. You should not mention everything, as it is a summary. Highlight what you think is the most important information you should know about the chapter.
You can mention the goals one more time for people to check if they have learned what they should
Step 6. Organize a working group to help you write the manual
You will be more successful in writing the training manual if you have people to help you do it. You need people who are on the lookout for mistakes, who make sure the content is understandable, and who help you consider all the things you are training your employees for. In addition, that way you can delegate a part of the work and distribute it equally.
If you can't organize a group of people to help you through the entire process, at least consider asking a few questions about different points to get second opinions
Method 2 of 3: Suit yourself to your users
Step 1. Write for and for your audience
Make sure you are clear about who your audience is. Consider if they have a basic knowledge or are starting from scratch. This will give you an idea of how broad or specific the information in the manual should be. When you have the idea, write directly to your audience: "When you get to this step …", rather than something like "When you get to this step."
- If you are training employees on new software that no one has seen before, feel free to assume they don't know about such software. If you are training on sales techniques in a clothing store, you do not need to explain what pants and shirts are.
- Don't be condescending to people by explaining simple concepts, but don't assume that they know something they may not know.
Step 2. Include problem-solving scenarios and topic discussion
Not everyone can learn by reading 20 pages of text, so you should include ways that users can apply what they read so that they can gain experience. Introduce them to a situation and ask them how they would solve the problem. Allow them to discuss and collaborate with each other. You need to cover the different learning styles, so the manual should be useful to as many people as possible.
You can't please every employee in their entirety, but if you only use one approach, you may not be able to please many of them. The goal of the training manual is to help employees learn what they need to know, so you should focus on making the manual as understandable as possible for everyone
Step 3. Enhance the manual with video or audio recordings
If it's a printed manual, decide whether to give employees access to additional materials, such as video or audio recordings. For those who have trouble reading an entire manual, you can take action to make sure they are learning what they need to do. Written manuals are often the main training tool; however, a few additional materials will make a big difference.
This will depend on the type of content included in the manual and may not apply in some cases. Make a list of the details in your manual and judge whether or not additional materials should be created
Method 3 of 3: Test Users' Understanding
Step 1. Include a section for users to take note
As you write each section of the manual, the people who read it are going to have to process a lot of information. If you intentionally include blank spaces for taking notes, you encourage users to write down what they are learning. This will increase the amount of information they retain.
Note sections will be well positioned if you place them next to most sections of text, but you could also make a note section at the end of chapters and at the end of the entire manual. This will prevent people from having separate notebooks that they can lose sight of
Step 2. Use images and graphics
Every time you show the reader some visual resource, it will have an impact on the amount of information they can understand. You shouldn't cram a lot of resources into your manual, but draw on illustrations whenever you can. You can take screenshots of the steps of a computer job. You can also include relevant information graphics and images of tools or machinery that the person will be using.
In itself there is no limit on the types of visual aids that you can include, so you must think about the objective of the training and what information is useful for the user
Step 3. Include checklists of important steps
In many manuals you will detail the steps of various processes, so checklists are a great way to summarize information. When the user needs to go back to a section that includes specific steps, the list will remind them of it, and they will go through it faster than if they had to do it with a good number of paragraphs in a text.
- Making the pages easy to read would be much more useful for users, as they can keep the list handy for later use when doing work.
- Checklists can include materials needed, sections on what to do before, during, and after the process of completing a task, or how to evaluate a job once it's done.
Step 4. Include activities and quizzes that measure learning
You must make sure that the users of the manual are learning in the process, so you will have to prepare small exams to evaluate their knowledge. Include the answers in a separate space so they can check how well they did. You can ask multiple choice questions, to fill in the blank or to match, or scenarios to pose solutions.
These tests will be independent of the official evaluations that will be made to employees once they have completed their training. The purpose of this is to help them along the way by assessing how much they have learned
- Once the manual is complete, put together a test group to see if the manual is consistent and if it is an effective training tool. Receive constructive criticism about any way they think can be improved.
- Use simple and concise language, so that people can understand the content without problem.
- Do not write the content in a formal way so that it is not boring and so that your audience does not lose interest.