How to Write a Quickstart Guide

published on 26 March 2022

A quickstart guide is an easy-to-read document that helps your users quickly get started with your product.

Outcome statement

Begin your quickstart guide with an outcome statement that describes the overall purpose of the guide. For example: “You can understand how to …” or “Learn how to …”.

An outcome statement helps your user avoid wasting their time if your guide is not what they’re looking for. It also helps you think about your user. 

To write an outcome statement, you need to think about:

  • Who the target user is.
  • What the target user will be able to do or understand.
  • What type of instructions the guide provides.

Types of quickstart guides

The type of quickstart guide depends on what type of help your users need:

  1. A procedural quickstart guide: Helps your user perform a series of steps to get started using the product. The guide describes the tasks the user “has to” perform. Here’s an example of a procedural quickstart guide:
  • Go to —.
  • Log in to your account with your username and password.
  • Under Options, choose —.
  • Choose —.
  • Choose —, and choose –, –, and –.
  1. A conceptual quickstart guide: Helps your user learn about your product. Introduces the main concepts of your product. The guide describes the tasks the user “can” perform. The sequence of steps might not be important. Here’s an example of a conceptual quickstart guide:
  • Learn about the —.
  • Account information —.
  • Claims —.
  • Payments —.

Can you blend procedural information (steps that must be followed in a sequence) with conceptual information (description of tasks and features)? The answer is “Yes,” but you must do it carefully or the user might not see the purpose of your guide.

Tips to blend procedural and conceptual guides

  • Create distinct sections of the guide for procedural and conceptual information. For example, you make them different colors or add some buffer space between them.
  • Provide conceptual information and then add the supporting procedural steps under each concept. In this case, the conceptual info leads the way and procedural steps support it.

How to write a quickstart guide

You first need to understand your users and their needs to know what topics you need to cover in your guide:

  1. Review the most visited knowledge base articles or FAQs on your help site. 
  2. Track what’s being discussed in your user community forums. You can get to know the areas of frustration for your user and write a guide that helps.
  3. What are the top 10 tasks that users ask help with when they call customer support?

Next, curate a specific set of topics to cover in your guide:

  1. Take a printout of your full user manual and mine the table of contents. 
  2. Pick out the topics that the user might need to get started.
  3. Within each topic, pick out the individual sections that you want to include in the guide.

If you’re writing a quickstart guide for a new product:

  1. Test a working prototype of the product.
  2. Gather a focus group of users who will try getting started tasks for you. 

Writing tips

  • Address your users directly. Use “you,” “you’re,” or “your.” You can imply the “you,” for example, “Choose —.”
  • Don’t use “please.”
  • Write clear and specific headings
  • Begin each heading with a verb: If the heading doesn’t have a verb in it, the user is left confused about the type of info in that section. You can also start with a question word: “How to —.”
  • Each heading must stand on its own to express a complete idea. Avoid truncating headings. Omit the article at the beginning of a heading. Articles are “a,” “an,” “the,” and so on.
  • Begin each step with a verb. For example, “Provide,” “Choose,” and so on. Describe the purpose at the end. For example, “Allow the — to cool before you —.”
  • Don’t blend in notes within steps. Provide notes before the steps so you don’t interrupt your user's flow. 
  • Write in a language that your user can understand and can act upon easily. You can create a short glossary, where you can park all the definitions of technical terms.
  • Use consistent formatting: Use fonts, colors, columns, and bullets to convey meaning.
  • Incorporate visuals: Make sure that any visual that you add—drawings, flowcharts, or annotated screenshots—is useful to your reader. 

Check for accuracy and usefulness

  • Get the input and approval of the team that created the product or feature that you’ve written about. Make sure to get feedback on accuracy, functionality, consistency, and appropriateness for the target user.
  • Try to get feedback from users as well.

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