Quick-Start Guides

How often have you or your staff confronted a new software application with no clue how to use it?

What of your customers? Do they receive a cheat sheet they can use without having to call Support or (probably worse) use the developer-written online help? Is it really important to provide this type of information today?

Users need to use the products you sell. People have problems using online Help systems. For many, it’s too hard to page through subject after subject in online Help just to find what hotkey they can use to conduct an operation much more quickly. I can’t blame those people; I hate Help, too. In most cases, it just doesn’t help prevent:


 Help Center calls

 Poor reviews

 Lost sales

Teach Your Customers Well

If one of your goals is to retain customers, it’s important to help them use your products.

That’s why Quick-Start references and user guidebooks are so important to you.

Your customers depend on your documentation to easily and properly use your products.

The Quick Reference Guide

The Quick-Start Reference, or Quick Reference guide, is an operational road map for your product. It shows and briefly describes the shortcuts that may be taken to accomplish a task using your product. The content does not attempt to explain why the user should push a button; it merely shows what button or buttons may be used to execute a simply identified task.

Users are customers.

I organize a Quick-Start reference by the operations a user can execute with your product. The requirements analysis used to guide your design specifications is critical to the organization of this reference. After all, the requirements were based on analyses of your customers’ needs and wishes, weren’t they?


You can distribute quick reference guides as:

  • 3"x5" cards
  • Printed brochures
  • Printed fold-out sheets
  • Electronic portable document files (PDF)

How Do Adults Learn?

Adults most often learn by directing themselves and evaluating, on their own, the quality of their learning. In part, this reflects the different influences and demands upon an adult as opposed to a child. The science of teaching children is known as pedagogy whilst that of adult learning is andragogy. When an adult attends a class at a university or an instructor-led seminar, she or he is being taught pedagogically. On the other hand, when your customer installs, opens, and tries to use your product—either hardware or software—he or she is learning andragogically since the adult learner directs his or her own training.

Customers use your documents only as references. They want to quickly obtain an answer to a specific question of immediate concern to them.