As a manufacturer or marketer, you may currently be contemplating what documentation your product will need. Depending on how complex your product is, and whether it's designed for a consumer or commercial customer, you might need to produce only one manual, or a complete suite. Here is a suggested list of manuals, and what they should contain.
Quick Start Guides may be part of a User Manual or a standalone piece. Appropriate to both consumer and commercial equipment or software, they tell the user how to operate the basic controls and make the product work. They may also touch briefly on more advanced functions so that the reader can try them out. Some one-page guides are essentially "wordless", using illustrations, numbers and arrows to show how to connect components together or work through setup menus.
Installation Manuals (other than software) are typically used by a manufacturer's field service / installation personnel or factory-trained subcontractors. They are written for specialized commercial equipment such as medical scanners, boiler equipment or a recording studio mixing console, to name just a few examples. Calibration and customer acceptance procedures could also be included.
User Manuals are intended to give in-depth instruction for the proper operation of the equipment, but may include assembly information. An example of this would be a barbeque manual. User manuals should include safety warnings, either at the beginning and / or at specific points in the manual where they apply. Manuals for commercial equipment will be written for an educated audience with training in a particular field. Simple troubleshooting and minor maintenance information are often included. A monograph published by pharmaceutical companies to instruct doctors in the application of a particular drug could be another type of user manual.
Service Manuals are written for factory-trained personnel. They should contain safety information, particularly where electric shock, crushing, chemical or any other hazards may arise when servicing equipment. More often than not, they contain troubleshooting guides, exploded mechanical drawings and / or schematic diagrams (for example: hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical or electronic). Removal and replacement procedures for failed subassemblies are written and illustrated in detail. Calibration or alignment procedures could also be outlined as a follow-up to the replacement of a subassembly.
Overhaul and Maintenance Manuals should include instructions for performing preventative maintenance such as lubrication procedures or calibration checks. They should contain the same kind of safety information as service manuals. They may go one step further than service manuals by providing instructions for corrective maintenance (removal, overhaul & replacement) for failed subassemblies, down to the component replacement level. They may include troubleshooting charts, as well as calibration and alignment procedures.
This is by no means a strict guideline for producing your manuals, but it should provide a sense of what each type of manual typically includes. Once you decide to start on your documentation, use a technical writer who can work with your team to effectively communicate this information to the intended audience. Poorly written or formatted manuals will do harm to your company's reputation and may leave you open to liability. Plan your manuals early in the design phase to ensure you have them available when the product ships.