Best Practices for Creating Instruction Manuals

Instructions manuals can come in many forms, from IKEA furniture assembly instructions to quick start guides for household electronics. Whatever the need for a user manual, you’ll want to anticipate your audience’s need for finding information – and fast. Far too often, instructions manuals are too heavy on text, difficult to understand, and not easily accessible or searchable.

At AM Patent Drawings & Graphics, we have helped many clients create clear, easy-to-use instruction manuals. In this blog post, we offer some best practices for creating one of your own.

Begin with a promise

Have you ever noticed that those famous IKEA assembly guides always start out by including an illustration of the end result? It’s a neat little trick that leads their reader to believe that he or she can also assemble the object successfully. State the case for the end result upfront in your manual and this will help instill confidence in the process.

An IKEA assembly guide that shows the end result as the first image

Focus on visuals

Did you know that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual? With statistics like these, it’s a wonder that still so many instructions manuals are too text heavy, leaving the human eye to fumble through long, dense paragraphs for information. Use visuals whenever possible when giving instructions, best illustrated through static images, illustrations, or animations. By combining clear imagery with short, concise text, the information in your manual will be even easier to understand.

Use the same perspective and view

When incorporating illustrations into your instruction manual, it’s best to render each successive picture from a single, unchanging point of view. This avoid confusing rotations or perspective changes that can make it more difficult for your audience to follow.

Focus on the task in your visuals

Many instruction manuals make the mistake of not breaking down the process into actionable steps, overwhelming the user from the very beginning. Each step in the manual should focus on a single problem, not the entire product itself.

This illustration needs to be broken down into smaller steps

Use videos when needed

Video clips can also help illustrate a step in your manual by capturing simple actions. Clips only need to be a few seconds long in order to be beneficial and ideally should not include voiceovers which are more difficult to translate. Video clips should be subtitled to aid in indexing and searching.

Use color coding when necessary

Although IKEA manuals are printed in black and white, they still utilize color coding for certain objects in their illustrations. In the below example, we can see a product that requires electrical illustration. By color coding the electrical wires in the image with different patterns, the user is able to obtain additional clarity about the specific wires.

Color coded symbols are used in this illustration

Adapt to your reader

As the expert on your topic, some things may seem extremely simple to you as a creator and seem as if they are not even worth mentioning. This is a costly error when designing an instruction manual, as it’s important to put yourself in your audience’s shoes, since they might be entirely new to the subject.

Anticipate your reader’s questions

When designing your manual, constantly ask yourself questions from your intended audience’s viewpoint. What would they think about this explanation? What processes or steps might they find more confusing than others?

Clearly define industry jargon

Do you use terminology, acronyms, and other industry jargon in your manual? Explicitly define and explain them in a designated section for easy reference.

Use an online readability test

When writing an instruction manual, keep in mind you may be speaking to an audience of differing levels of education or experience. Use a readability test to determine if your text is appropriate for your target audience.


Do you need to translate your instruction manual into another language? Consider the background of your intended audience.

Distribute your manuals

With your instruction manual finally completed, it’s now time to distribute your manual to your clients. Publish them online while optimizing for phone and tablet devices. Consider adding a QR code for easy access. In addition, implement easy-to-use navigation and search functions in your manual with a table of contents and clearly numbered pages and subsections.

Update your content

We all know how frustrating it can be to be on the receiving end of information that is no longer up to date. A good instruction manual is one that is continually updated. Solicit feedback from your end users and review their comments, complaints, or other suggestions for improving your manual’s content.

Next steps

Our expert team has over 45 years of graphics and illustration experience and can help you design an instruction manual that will impress your clients. Contact us to take the next step today!

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