Good quality in user guides is based on common practices, terms, and phrases that are marked down in a style guide. This way, the user guide stays coherent, even though there may be several writers working on it, and the reader sees text that is easy to follow, and doesn’t become distracted with inconsistencies in the writing style or terminology.
However, the writer should not be alone in being responsible for the correct and accurate contents in a user guide. The user guide must be reviewed, preferably several times. Product experts must read the guide to ensure that the functionalities of the product have been described correctly and the needed details are given. As the user guide is a document required by consumer laws, it is important that legal counsels check that all the needed safety, legal, and certification-related texts are in place. If the user guide ends up outside the borders of the country where the product is manufactured, it is worthwhile to let experts in those countries read the user guide beforehand, because many countries have very particular requirements for user guides, starting from the font size.
To ensure the coherence and correctness of the language and style in a user guide, have the guide proofread by a professional editor, or read in a peer review by fellow writers. A good editor is worth their weight in gold: the editor knows the style guide inside out and makes sure that the text produced by writers meets the set quality criteria. And by the way, a good editor also saves in localisation costs: uniform terms and phrases are easily found in translation memories, so they don’t need to be translated over and over again.
Peer reviews often bring up needs in changing the writing style. Together you can decide which changes need to be made and then update the style guide accordingly. In peer reviews, the entire knowledge bank of the writer team is utilised: one writer may have heard about a new requirement for contents that others haven’t heard of yet. This way, time and money are saved, as everyone updates their guides to meet the new requirement before any review or localisation rounds.
As the end user is the one who in the end pays the writer’s salary, end user studies are a handy way of ensuring quality. People who work with the product may easily be blind to the text and writing style. Therefore, it is interesting to get feedback on the usability of the user guide. You can use a questionnaire, as it is quick and easy for the end user just to tick boxes. It is also good to let the user give free feedback in writing as well, because the user study may not cover everything the end user would like to change in the user guide. Questionnaires also provide data with which a writer can fight back the often-heard argument “no one reads the user guide”.
One of the most important lessons for a writer to learn is to take feedback well, even negative, because when several experts read the user guide, the writer can be sure that the end result is good and valid. This way also the responsibility is shared: the writer is no longer the only one to be responsible for the user guide. All the people participating in reviews share it.