Instruction guides, or instruction manuals, are a form of technical writing designed to provide step by step instructions for the performance of an act, assembly or use of a product, or acquisition of a skill. Instruction guides can take a wide range of forms. The most common is perhaps an assembly manual in which step by step instructions, frequently with a diagram or other illustration, explain how a product is to be put together by the end user. Another common form of instruction guide is a software manual which explains how to install, operate, and troubleshoot software. Similarly, the owner’s manuals for an automobile, mobile phone, or desk lamp are still other forms of instruction guides.
It is common to think about instruction guides in terms of products and services, but they are also found in other areas. A book on learning Spanish as a second language is a form of instruction guide, as is any sort of teaching aid or guide. Similarly, the brochures that arrive with income tax forms explaining how to file taxes are still other instruction guides. What all of these materials have in common is the use of technical writing to provide a set of steps through which a desired goal can be accomplished. They differ in the goals each type of manual is intended to achieve and the steps needed to reach that goal.
Assembly guides, or assembly manuals, are a form of instructional guide, which in turn is a subset of technical manuals. These guides are a type of technical writing intended to provide the user with information on the correct assembly of a product. Like all technical manuals, assembly guides are a text-based format in which illustrations or diagrams are employed to work with the text for better comprehension of the material. For some products, especially those sold internationally, the text is increasingly minimized in favor of illustrations, though this can and does cause confusion when customers are unable to decipher what the illustration is intended to show and there is no text to explain whether arrow B-3 is pointing at hole A-2 or D-12. Lego instructions are particularly famous for including no text, making them internationally appealing and child-friendly.
Assembly guides are generally arranged in a fairly standard order. At the beginning, the guide lists the pieces and components of the product and indicates any tools that are necessary for assembly. There is frequently a warning about health or safety risks associated with assembling the product. Then, the assembly of the product is depicted in a series of chronological, incremental steps that the user must follow to achieve the finished product.
Product guides can take many forms, and the term is used both for instruction manuals that inform readers how a product is used and for guidebooks designed to give an overview of one or more products so that a potential user can make an informed decision about utilizing that product. The first type of product guide, the instruction manual, is a form of technical writing that provides an overview of the product and a step-by-step guide for using it, as well as information about troubleshooting or repair. It also offers information about warranties, disclaimers, and contact information for the manufacturer in case of defects. Such manuals are included with the product at time of purchase and may also be available for download on the web.
The second type of product guide, the guidebook, comes in a number of formats. Famously, Consumer Reports offers product guides that compare and contrast a number of entries in a given product category in order to inform consumers about the most and least desirable aspects of each so the consumer can make an informed purchasing decision. Manufacturers and retailers also produce product guides for their products, intended for a general audience and written to highlight positive aspects of the product and entice consumers to select that product for purchase. Such guides are frequently available in stores and on manufacturer and retailer websites.
Maintenance guides are a form of technical writing intended to provide information to end users of a given product on its proper care, including information on technical performance issues, repair, and scheduled part replacement. Maintenance guides serve as reference books that allow operators or users of a given product to consult it in order to find information on what the parts of a given product do, how they are to be cared for, and how and when they can be replaced. Maintenance guides may also include health and safety warnings related to the product and an indication of trained professionals who may be required to service the product or provide replacement parts or other services.
Most maintenance guides contain similar material. Most will contain a schematic or diagram of the product along with a listing of all of the parts that comprise it. It will then offer a technical overview of the product’s operation and a description of the performance of each part. The guide will also indicate the expected life of each part and how each part should be cared for, checked, or repaired. It will then indicate how a broken part should be repaired, removed, or replaced. The guide will include health and safety warnings as well as documentation about when professional services are needed to maintain the product.
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