How to Create User-Friendly WordPress Instruction Manuals for Clients (in 7 Steps)

How to Create User-Friendly WordPress Instruction Manuals for Clients (in 7 Steps)

Teaching WordPress to anyone who has never used the platform before can be a huge and daunting task – especially for clients who want to keep a close eye on everything you do for them.

Nowadays it’s quite common for business owners and other employees to want to understand how their WordPress site works. Thankfully it’s unnecessary for you to invest hours of your own time standing over their shoulder so you can teach them everything one-on-one.

Instruction manuals should be the first point of reference for users who are stuck using your products.
Instruction manuals should be the first point of reference for users who are stuck using your products.

Both you and the client undoubtedly have more important things to do, and besides, having to teach every individual client that you work with would probably drive you nuts. Instead, you can create your own comprehensive WordPress user manual (or even pay someone else to create it for you) so that your clients can have peace of mind knowing that they are in control of their site.

Here some essential tips you should consider in your approach to drafting your first WordPress instruction manual.

1. Begin with an Introductory Overview

Before you do anything, you have to really put yourself in the mindset of a complete WordPress beginner – ideally someone who struggles with the technical side of the web. The scope will depend on the types of clients you work with, so you may want to spend some time writing down exactly what your client needs from the manual. Asking them is the easiest way to get this information, and then you can tailor your manual to the needs of your clients as closely as possible. The more thorough you can be with regard to your specific client base, the more your clients will be able to get out of your manual.

A good way to go about easing people into WordPress is to start off with introducing the extreme basics. Try briefly covering topics like:

  • What WordPress is
  • What people do with WordPress
  • Why WordPress is so popular
  • Why anyone can learn WordPress
  • What the user will learn about WordPress from the instructional manual
  • What the user will be able to understand and execute in WordPress upon reviewing the manual

Keep it simple. You want to establish the right tone of voice here in order to reassure that your clients will be able to follow along easily. It may even be more appropriate to tackle this introductory part after you’ve finished drafting out the main part of the content so you’ll be able to provide a better summary of everything here.

2. Break up the Main WordPress Components into Sections

Proper arrangement of all the content included in your manual is not only essential to avoid confusing the user, but also necessary to cover more detailed points and flow into related sections in a way that makes the most sense. For example, you wouldn’t start with showing users how to publish a post, then move on to talking about comment management, then go back to showing users how to publish pages. Although posts do flow into commenting, keeping all publishing content together would provide a better flow.

Use the WordPress dashboard for inspiration on how to structure your content.
Use the WordPress dashboard for inspiration on how to structure your content.

Ask yourself, where would the user start? What order of instructions would make the most sense? From here, you can start building an outline of your main sections.

In fact, you can use the order of the sections displayed in the Dashboard Menu as inspiration and adjust it accordingly to what you want to teach your users.

As an example, your main sections might include:

  • Logging in
  • The Dashboard
  • Posts
  • Pages
  • Images and Media
  • Comments
  • Appearance Features
  • Plugins
  • Users
  • Tools
  • Settings

Could this be improved? Sure it could. Posts and pages are quite similar, so it might make sense to combine the two into one section, although making sure to provide explanations on the difference between posts and pages, and using separate subsections for pages or posts when necessary. But that’s all up to you.

Alternatively, you might want to even leave out entire sections like Users, Tools, and Settings if you want to just provide the very basics of content publishing and editing for your users. You could also add in more advanced or customizable sections for anything pertaining to specific plugins or theme options.

3. Add Subsections to the Main Sections

There’s a lot to learn about WordPress, so breaking up your big sections into subsections is the smart thing to do. Some sections will naturally have more subsections than others. For example, Logging in is pretty straightforward, but still requires a few areas to be covered:

  • Accessing the login page
  • Logging into your account with your username and password
  • Retrieving a forgotten username or password
  • Logging out of your account

That’s about as much as you need in terms of the very basics of logging in, and you could even condense it all into one or two subsections if you wanted. In contrast, the main section affiliated with publishing content is likely going to be your biggest section to tackle. It might look something like this:

  • Posts vs. Pages
  • Adding a New Post
  • Adding a New Page
  • Using the Visual Editor
  • Using the Text Editor
  • Adding Images and Media
  • Adding Links
  • Formatting Content
  • Adding Excerpts
  • Setting Featured Images
  • Adding Categories to Posts
  • Adding Tags to Posts
  • Customizing Parent Pages and Templates
  • Saving Posts and Pages as Drafts
  • Submitting Posts and Pages to Pending Review
  • Scheduling Posts and Pages to Be Published Later
  • Previewing Posts and Pages
  • Publishing Posts and Pages
  • Editing Existing Posts and Pages
  • Deleting Posts and Pages
How to log in to WordPress is a natural step you will need to explain to new users.
How to log in to WordPress is a natural step you will need to explain to new users.

That’s a lot of stuff, and some of these could be broken up and elaborated on even further with more detail.

Remember to keep your main sections and subsections in line with the needs of your ideal user. Regularly referring to the user profile you wrote up in the beginning can help with this.

Don’t overwhelm your users with information or functions you know they don’t necessarily need to know or use, but also make sure you’re not skimping on areas that are important and essential to the content publishing, customization, and maintenance of their site.

4. Use a Visual Step-By-Step Process

A big chunk of your user manual is likely going to be screenshots, and you should aim to show every consecutive step that a WordPress beginner would need to see in order to seamlessly follow along and avoid missing a step or getting confused. When you’re planning out how to display your screenshots, consider the following:

  • Incorporate numbered steps for each screenshot (or a combination of screenshots) and supporting text to make it easy for the user to follow in the right order.
  • Write the content of the entire manual in landscape orientation to facilitate full-page screenshots that are of high quality and very readable.
  • Use a photo editing or graphic design program to add labels, arrows, circles, extra notes, and anything else to draw attention to certain areas of the screenshot.
  • Use bright colors to emphasize those labels, arrows, and other edited components on the screenshots

5. Support the Visuals with Descriptive Explanations

Visuals are crucial, but they can still create a lot of confusion without appropriate explanations. Before delving straight into the step-by-step process of a particular WordPress activity, first explain what the user is trying to accomplish and why it should be accomplished. Any functions included in the process should also have an explanation so the user knows what they’re used for – not just how to use them. When writing out your text, you should aim to:

  • Break up long paragraphs as much as possible.
  • Use screenshots directly beneath the corresponding text as opposed to grouping them together after one or more pages of text.
  • Define WordPress terminology that may be used throughout the text.
  • Add links to other resources or video tutorials that users can refer to for more information.

6. Include Helpful Extras

Obviously, the instructions are the meat of your user manual, and it’s what matters most. But there are lots of additional sections you can add to the beginning and the end of your manual for a more complete and well-rounded user experience.

Table of Contents: Your manual is going to have a lot of sections and subsections of instructions, and you want to make it as easy as possible for users to find the instruction set they need for any particular problem. Having a complete table of contests of all sections and subsections and their corresponding pages is absolutely crucial.

Section Summaries: At the end of every section, or even every subsection if you so choose, you can include a brief summary of what the user learned and the main points that were covered.

Site Maintenance Section: An optional main section to have is one that goes into deeper detail about maintaining the site and updating existing posts, pages, widgets, categories, menus, appearance components, and anything else. You could explain what should be regularly updated, how often it should be updated, and how to go about doing it if the user wants to do it himself.

FAQ Section: Users love FAQ sections, and it’s one of the best places to present solutions to the most common problems. If you need ideas for your FAQs, try looking around at what people are asking about in the WPMU DEV forums or any other WordPress forums.

Don't reinvent the wheel! The Codex is the first place you should look for detailed information about WordPress.
Don’t reinvent the wheel! The Codex is the first place you should look for detailed information about WordPress.

Resources Section: There’s only so much information you can include in your manual, and even if you make it as detailed as you can, there’s still always more to learn and do with WordPress.

Adding a Resources section with links to the WordPress.org Codex, helpful WPMU DEV articles (natch!), and video tutorials on YouTube will help point users in the right direction when they need more help.

Glossary Section: Complete beginners aren’t going to have a clue about technical terms. Even though you should explain their meanings the first time you present them in the instructions, having a glossary section at the back of your manual for quick reference is extremely useful.

Support Section: Where can your users get help when they’re stuck? Can they contact you or someone else? Is there a forum or a support desk they should refer to? When the manual nor the extra online resources can answer a user’s questions, they should be able to find out how and where to get help from an actual person.

Quick Start Guide: Although not necessary, developing an extra little manual or section that goes at the beginning of your manual to help users publish or edit their content as fast as possible would be a good asset for those users who are short on time and want instructions that get straight to the point. A “Quick Start” Guide is made to do just that, by summing up just the essentials.

Hardcopy and Online Copy Options: Offer your clients the option of getting the manual in both hardcopy and an online copy, such as a PDF document. A hardcopy will make it easy to following along while using their WordPress site on a computer, and an online copy will be useful for clicking on links to other resources or tutorials.

Regular Updating for New WordPress Releases: Aim to update your user manual every few months or so in order to reflect the most current WordPress version. While you can get away with handing out a manual that’s just slightly off from the current WordPress version, leaving it for too long will no doubt create issues for users. Problems will only snowball once they start noticing big differences between the outdated information in the manual and the workings of their WordPress site.

7. Get Someone to Review Your Manual

Before your finalize your manual and start printing off copies to hand out to your clients, you should get at least one other person’s input on it to find out if it serves the user as well as it should. Even if you think you covered everything, someone else might notice something you’ve missed or needs clarification – especially if that person has no prior WordPress knowledge.

Wrapping Up

Creating a complete user manual for someone unfamiliar with WordPress can feel like a daunting task but, by approaching the task in a logical and organized manner, it can become a great resource for your clients.

To recap, here are those seven steps again:

  1. Begin with an introductory overview.
  2. Break up the main WordPress components into sections.
  3. Add subsections to the main sections.
  4. Use a visual step-by-step process.
  5. Support the visuals with descriptive explanations.
  6. Include helpful extras.
  7. Get someone to review your manual.

What other details do you think clients would really need to see in a WordPress user manual? How do you go about writing user documentation? Let us know in the comments section below.