Difference Between A User Guide And A User Manual

  1. Difference Between User Guide And User Manual
  2. User Guide Vs User Manual

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A user guide, also commonly called a technical communication document or manual, is intended to give assistance to people using a particular system.[1] It is usually written by a technical writer, although user guides are written by programmers, product or project managers, or other technical staff, particularly in smaller companies.[2]

User guides are most commonly associated with electronic goods, computer hardware and software, although they can be written for any product.[3]

Most user guides contain both a written guide and associated images. In the case of computer applications, it is usual to include screenshots of the human-machine interface(s), and hardware manuals often include clear, simplified diagrams. The language used is matched to the intended audience, with jargon kept to a minimum or explained thoroughly.

Contents of a user manual[edit]

The sections of a user manual often include:

  • A cover page
  • A title page and copyright page
  • A preface, containing details of related documents and information on how to navigate the user guide
  • A contents page
  • A Purpose section. This should be an overview rather than detail the objective of the document
  • An Audience section to explicitly state who is not as well as who is required to read, including optionals
  • A Scope section is crucial as it also serves as a disclaimer, stating what is out-of-scope as well as what is covered
  • A guide on how to use at least the main function of the system
  • A troubleshooting section detailing possible errors or problems that may occur, along with how to fix them
  • A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
  • Where to find further help, and contact details
  • A glossary and, for larger documents, an index


The user guide engraved into a model of the Antikythera Mechanism.

User guides have been found with ancient devices. One example is the Antikythera Mechanism[4], a 2,000 year old Greek analogue computer that was found off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera in the year 1900. On the cover of this device are passages of text which describe the features and operation of the mechanism.

As the software industry was developing, the question of how to best document software programs was undecided. This was a unique problem for software developers, since users often became frustrated with current help documents[5]. Some considerations for writing a user guide that developed at this time include:

  • the use of plain language[5]
  • length and reading difficulty[5]
  • the role of printed user guides for digital programs[6]
  • user-centered design[6]

Computer software manuals and guides[edit]

User manuals and user guides for most non-trivial software applications are book-like documents with contents similar to the above list. They may be distributed either in print or electronically. Some documents have a more fluid structure with many internal links. The Google Earth User Guide[7] is an example of this format. The term guide is often applied to a document that addresses a specific aspect of a software product. Some usages are Installation Guide, Getting Started Guide, and various How to guides. An example is the Picasa Getting Started Guide.[8]

In some business software applications, where groups of users have access to only a sub-set of the application's full functionality, a user guide may be prepared for each group. An example of this approach is the Autodesk Topobase 2010 Help[9] document, which contains separate Administrator Guides, User Guides, and a Developer's Guide.


  1. ^'Online Technical Writing: User Guides'. [email protected]. Retrieved 13 August 2009.
  2. ^Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 143. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN0020130856
  3. ^'Manuals Brain - all useful manuals at one place!'. manualsbrain.com. Retrieved 2017-08-15.
  4. ^'Boffins decipher manual for 2,000-year-old Ancient Greek computer'. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  5. ^ abcChafin, Roy (January 1982). 'User Manuals: What Does the User Really Need?'. SIGDOC '82 Proceedings of the 1st annual international conference on systems documentation: 36–39 – via ACM Digital Library.
  6. ^ abMcKee, John (August 1986). 'Computer User Manuals in Print: Do They Have a Future?'. ACM SIGDOC Asterisk Journal of Computer Documentation. 12: 11–16 – via ACM Digital Library.
  7. ^'Google Earth User Guide'. Google. 4 June 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2009.
  8. ^'Getting Started with Picasa: Getting Started Guide'. Google. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2009.
  9. ^'Autodesk Topobase 2010 Help'. Autodesk. Retrieved 13 August 2009.
  10. ^Manualdevices - Free User Manual 'Manualdevices - Free User Manual ', Retrieved on 01 August 2019.

See also[edit]

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Difference Between User Guide And User Manual

Old merge discussion (2007/2008)[edit]

Hi, I believe this page (User_guide)should be merged with Owners_manual.

Calvinleemk 20:07, 23 August 2007 (UTC)

I agree. It is also known as 'user manual'. The user of a car is not always the owner, so this is not the reason to make a difference between owner's manual and user guide or user manual. All this terms may refer to many things. The software user manual is described in a section of Software_documentation.Arauzo 23:53, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

Completely disagree and call into question the sanity, intelligence, breeding, intellect, education, lineage, and species of whomever was insane, stupid, ill-brought up, ignorant, unschooled, bastardly, and inhuman enough to suggest it in the first place. The distinction between an owner and a licensee is reason enough for the distinction. (talk) 19:05, 7 March 2008 (UTC)

Yeah an owner, licensee and user are not the same things. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:24, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

A user's manual is not the same as an owner's manual because of the distinction between owner and licensee previously mentioned. User's manuals are usually for software, and owner's manuals are usually for equipment. Arthemise (talk) 20:57, 30 July 2008 (UTC)

Definately Agree, with the above three comments. These should not be merged at all. An owners Manual and a user guide are two different things. It's the difference between operating a car and maintaining a car. They should not be merged, but there should definately be a comment on each explaining the difference and linking to the other. (talk) 22:16, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

User guide versus User manual[edit]

As a practitioner who sometimes writes user guides and/or user manuals for computer software products, I offer the following thoughts:

  • There is a significant difference between a user guide and a user manual, which is not mentioned in this article.
  • This article would benefit from a section titled Computer software user guide.
  • The section on Car user's manual does not belong here.
  • There is justification for a separate article on User manual, with a section titled Computer software user manual.

User Guide Vs User Manual

For examples that illustrate some of the differences between a user guide and a user manual, see these websites:

Downsize43 (talk) 01:35, 4 August 2009 (UTC)

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Where is the apostrophe?[edit]

I noticed that Wikipedia shamelessly removes the apostrophe in articles like User guide or Tourist guide. But I don’t agree. An “Installation guide” would be without apostrophe because it is a guide about installation. But user guides are not about users, they are written for them. A linguistic evolution does not become good just because many people are stupid enough to follow it. If you have difficulties to remember how it is correct, I recommend reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If nobody argues against me, it might happen that I'll try to create a new article User's guide and make User guide redirect to it.--LucSaffre (talk) 05:15, 29 September 2015 (UTC)

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