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A manual by any other name…

It’s an officious sounding word for many people, and certainly a daunting prospect if you have to write or update the manual for your business. So much so, that people often avoid having a procedures or operations manual or just call it something less intimidating.

Which raises the first question – what is a manual?A pile of business manuals

Really it is just a collection of ideas and instructions to help operate something efficiently. It may be boring to read the manual that came with your new iPod, phone or TV but it is very handy when you can’t figure out how to set it up or use the advanced features.

Manuals range from a few pages long to hundreds and even thousands of pages long, depending on the purpose of the manual. Obviously the manual to run a multi-million dollar business will be longer than the manual for your home printer, but the concept is the same.

Here are a few tips to make the concept of a manual less intimidating in your business:

  • call it something other than a manual if the name has negative associations for you – options include guidelines, procedures, rules, ‘helpful information’, policies and the ‘how to book’
  • make sure to write it (or get it written) in simple terms so it’s easy to understand
  • present it in an accessible way – a heavy folder stored on a high shelf will be ignored but a shared computer file on your intranet is much easier to use
  • divide the manual into usable chunks – much better to have a long index than instructions that go for pages and cover many tasks

If you are starting a new manual from scratch, you have the advantage of making it friendly from the start, and preparing procedures and style guides doesn’t have to be frightening either!

Thinking about manuals you’ve had to use in the past, what were some of the big issues with them?

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