How to Use MS Word to Make a User Manual


Microsoft Word provides all the tools needed to create a professional looking user manual. While quality instructive content is important, the success of the manual depends largely on how well you utilize Word's tools and how well you plan your document ahead of time.

Customize Styles

  • Styles determine the appearance of all text, so you must decide ahead of time what size, color, and behavior you want for the user manual’s fonts. It is vital that you do this before you start writing, because if you change your mind later about a particular font, you only need to change the style once rather than hundreds of pages of text. It will also help you create your table of contents later. Microsoft Word has built-in styles for some of the most common documents, but for something as extensive as a user manual, you should customize your own styles.

    Open the Home tab to find the Styles pane visible from the ribbon. Right-click a style that is similar to the one you want to create, like "Title" or "Heading 1," and select "Modify." Rename the style using a naming convention that puts all of your user manual styles together, such as “UM_Chapter.” Edit the styles to suit your manual. Select the “Style for following paragraph,” which is the font you want to resume after you press "Enter." Most header styles, for example, are followed by “normal” or “paragraph” styles. Click "OK" to save your new style.

Set up Headers, Footers and Page Numbering

  • The next thing to do before adding content is to customize your headers and footers to include the document name, version and page number. Open the Insert tab and select from the Header, Footer or Page Number drop-down menus. If you are not happy with the built-in options, you can download others from Microsoft or you can click “Edit…” to customize. Begin page numbering at chapter 1. This keeps the numbering with the actual content and ignores the cover page and table of contents.

Prepare Page Layout

  • For a non-technical general use manual, you would use chapter titles that progress with the user. A toy might have a first chapter called “Assembling the Product” followed by a chapter called “Using the Product.” When you write a technical manual, however, the convention for chapters is typically to use outlined numbering. The reason for this is that engineers often refer back to a product’s documentation, and it is easier to tell teams “I am following chapter 4.2 specifications” than to have everyone hunt for the location of the specifications. Regardless of whether you use chapter titles or outlined numbering for each chapter, always set this up as a style and never format each chapter individually.

    When you are ready to add content to the manual, select one of your custom styles and begin typing. A typical user manual chapter layout would contain a chapter title, followed by a chapter introduction and then by sections and subsections.

    Use a hard return at the end of a chapter. A hard return on most Windows computers is accomplished by pressing "Ctrl- Enter." This ensures that each chapter begins on a new page.

Add Supporting Content

  • The best user manuals are created with a balance of text, references and visual aids. You can add side notes and other supporting references by inserting endnotes or footnotes. Endnotes are notes that occur at the end of a chapter and footnotes appear at the bottom of the referenced page. Place your cursor where you want the reference mark. Open the References tab and click "Insert Endnote" or "Insert Footnote."

    Adding images to a user manual can be tricky in MS Word because of the way it wraps text. The two best ways to control images are to either place the image on a new line by itself or to create an invisible table and place the image inside it. Using a table works well when you want to place the image on the right side of the page and not worry about text wrapping issues.

Create an Index

  • An index at the end of a user manual helps users look up content by key words. To create an index in MS Word 2007 or later, open the References tab. Select the text to index, and click "Mark Entry." Mark other key words throughout the document. When you are done selecting text, place the cursor where you want to place the index and click "Insert Index."

Generate the Table of Contents

  • When all your content is added, it's time to create the table of contents. Place your cursor where you want to place the table of contents. Make sure this is a new clean page with no other content on it. From the References tab, click "Table of Contents" and select one of the built-in layouts that are based on your selected styles.

Convert the User Manual to PDF

  • Once you have yourself a perfect user manual, convert it to PDF format. This is optional but highly recommended. One of the disadvantages of using MS Word for large documents as opposed to using publishing software is its tendency to misbehave when sharing. Your readers’ styles may be set differently or they may have a different version of Word. PDF is essentially a snapshot of your manual. It allows readers to make comments but leaves the document intact. Select "File" and "Save As," and select PDF as the file type.

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