© 2010 Ugur Akinci
There is no such thing as a single “user guide” or “product manual” in technical communication. It all depends on the audience you are writing for and their specific interests.
For example, imagine you are writing a “software manual” for a software that audits medical insurance claims.
Here are the interests of different groups of readers in this same product:
SHARE HOLDERS: How will this software influence the price of shares? Will it help us realize a healthy ROI (Return on Investment)?
EXECUTIVES: How will this software earn us more money and help us meet our quarterly revenue and profit projections?
MARKETING MANAGERS: How will this software help us expand our market share while keeping our overhead and future capital investments to a minimum?
PROJECT MANAGERS: How will this software help us differentiate ourselves in a market dominated by brands X and Y, and recapture 34% of the small businesses that we’ve lost over the last 3 years in the Western Region?
PRODUCT MANAGERS: Will this software audit 78% more claims per hour and capture 50% more fraudulent claims, and thus increase the profits of our insurance clients?
END USER: As an insurance adjuster, will I be catching 50% more fraudulent claims with this software without investing more than $1,000 per worker for re-training?
TECHNICAL DEPT: How frequently would we have to update this software? Would we have to buy new servers and any new routers? How long does it take to install and configure it for 5 or less sites, or for more than 5 sites?
CUSTOMER SUPPORT: Will this software reduce the number of calls we receive from doctors regarding disputed claims? Does it come with a handy help file that is context sensitive?
DATA ENTRY: How rapidly can I enter claim data into this software? How intuitive are the individual screens? Can I configure the menu and tool bars depending on the kind of medical bills we get?
Obviously not all these interests are mutually exclusive and they do overlap. But you get the idea…
So as you can see, different audiences have wide-ranging expectations regarding the same product. The “manual” you write should be appropriate for the intended audience. Otherwise your work will be tossed aside as irrelevant, and for good reason too.