I am not a writer but need to create a manual
April 1, 2015 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Help I know what I want to say, have it in text files. But I am not a writer! I need to write a small book / manual to support a training that I am putting together.

In order to support an additional service to my business that might take me into a new direction. I need to write a small book / manual. I know what I want to say but don't know how to write it in a manner that is enjoyable to read and understand.

How do I best go about this?
posted by Mac-Expert to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Put yourself into the mind of your desired end user. (I write things about local such-and-such; my end user is someone like my mom.) If you were that person, what would you want to know? Don't leave out the stuff you think might be obvious. Don't leave out the stuff that you currently don't know.

Make a list of everything. Mark the things that seem to come up most frequently.

Then make an outline so you can divide it into sections by topic. Fill in the outline with information, step by step. If you don't know, refer to someone who does.

When you're finished, get people to review it. Get a few other experts in that field. Get a few people who are more like your end user. Listen to them and see if you can identify any patterns in what they're saying. Ask THEM what their obvious questions, things they think are missing, things they find the most useful are. They are the experts at this stage, not you. Listen to them.

Edit it, and/or get others to edit it for you. Never, ever put something out without another set of eyes on it, preferably multiple sets of eyes. Your eyes are used to reading through quickly and taking it for granted.
posted by St. Hubbins at 9:22 PM on April 1, 2015

Can you hire out the writing of the manual? Do you know a good concise writer?
In addition, to the above...
Use complete sentences.
Use specialized language sparingly. Don't assume your readers will know your shorthand.
Use terms consistently throughout the manual.
Use illustrations and photos to show exact ports, switches, and physical settings. Show the equipment from the perspective that the user will see it.
Consider what material should be introduced before you walk your reader through the process.
Wrap up your sections or chapters with most important points or a checklist of what they should be able to do now that they have read this section.

Maybe review some manuals or some "...for Dummies" books on subjects you know nothing about.
After reading a chapter, do you feel that you can now perform the activity?
What was confusing to you as a reader? That might help you to develop an eye for useful and concise manual writing.
posted by calgirl at 9:40 PM on April 1, 2015

I need to write a small book / manual. I know what I want to say but don't know how to write it in a manner that is enjoyable to read and understand.

do you need to be the writer? Is there a budget for tech-writer or at least an editor? Can you afford the time it's going to take to "... write it in a manner that is enjoyable to read and understand"?

You sound like an SME to me (Subject Matter Expert). That is, you know your stuff well. But unless you've got some facility for writing, taking that on would be akin to me coding a web site. I probably could, with a pile of sweat and stress and delay, and I'd learn a lot in the process ... but is that something you want to take on right now?
posted by philip-random at 9:48 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

You may want to look into "chunking" (Wikipedia). I tend to refer to this as "make it pretty," but the general idea is that using formatting effectively can be helpful for readability.

Also, a glossary could be a helpful addition to your manual, to help define any technical concepts that you use throughout the text.
posted by Little Dawn at 12:02 AM on April 2, 2015

I recommend hiring a technical writer, if you can afford one. The ability to write clearly and concisely is a learned skill. Good writing looks effortless, but isn't!

If you have to do it yourself, ask these questions:
- Who are your users?
- What do they already know? What is their level of expertise, and what do they already know about your product, if anything?
- What do they need to know?
- What order do they need to know it in?
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 4:27 AM on April 2, 2015

Put a request on odesk.com maybe. Then send your thoughts and scribbles to a freelancer that makes a good book out of it.
posted by hz37 at 6:14 AM on April 2, 2015

Hire someone if you can. It will be much easier, but make sure you hire someone who's not going to half-ass it. Much of my workweek has been eaten up by fixing training scripts that my organization hired an outside firm to do. They did it badly. Putting something like that together seems simple, but really there is a lot of planning and work involved.

Don't risk it with something like odesk, unless you find someone with the exact skillset you need and good ratings. A lot of the "writers" on there don't speak English as a first language, which is why they're willing to work cheap. You get what you pay for. You're probably going to pay around $25/hr for someone who knows what they're doing, BTW.
posted by dortmunder at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2015

Thanks for all the advice.
I rather hire someone than waisting my time and energy. Knowing that at the end an editor has to rewrite half of it...
Rather provide the content in a factual way so someone with writing skills can turn into something decent to read.
Willing to pay for this service but have no idea who / where to look for and how to prevent that the person takes my content and runs with it...
posted by Mac-Expert at 8:18 AM on April 2, 2015

I'm not really in the tech-writer loop these days, but I've got a feeling you might find someone if you post the job right here in ...


One thing I would advise is that you not just hand off a bunch of scrambled information. That is, the more organized your plan, the easier the job will be for the writer (thus fewer hours etc). So by all means, take the time to sort out all your notes, plan a detailed Table of Contents etc

As for how to protect your content, I suspect somebody else here has more up to date advice than I can offer.
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on April 2, 2015

Willing to pay for this service but have no idea who / where to look for and how to prevent that the person takes my content and runs with it..

You're gonna need a contract spelling out that the project is "work for hire," and belongs to you. If you've already got an attorney they should be able to draw one up in no time at tall.
posted by dortmunder at 9:33 AM on April 2, 2015

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