Person Reading a Quick Reference Guide on a Table

What is a Quick Reference Guide?

Quick Reference Guides are a form of document or manual that users can easily access for information to complete specific and complex tasks. Something important you should note as well is that quick reference guides are not typically wordy. In addition, quick reference guides tend to have more detailed pictures with short, but concise and effective sentences at times.

For example, some people may work on projects over the weekend. This can include renovating their bathroom, making cabinets, or just general woodworking. Furthermore, they may find themselves buying new power tools when their old ones exceed their lifetime. Certain power tools with more functions can seem more complex. However, all tools tend to come with reference guides that explain what specific functions of a tool can do.

Quick Reference Guides are Not Just User Manuals

Moreover, quick reference guides are not to be confused with user manuals or instruction manuals. User manuals and instruction manuals tend to be very long, covering everything the user needs to know about a product or service. Reference guides, meanwhile, can come in many forms, and are meant to be easily accessed for quick information.  Teachers often find themselves using quick reference guides to create lesson plans. These reference guides are so versatile that many industries can benefit from them. Not only do they increase understanding of certain products, plans, or business requirements, but they also are cost-friendly and help with preventing any issues before they arise.

How To Make A Quick Reference Guide?

There are a number of factors to consider when building a quick reference guide. Documentation services are complex, but the right tools can be incredibly effective. Although this process can be difficult, there is a way to make it easier. This can be done by creating a quick reference guide template.

Quick Reference Guide Template

A quick reference guide template is a pre-designed layout that gives you the structure for creating a quick reference guide. This will simply serve as your starting point for organizational purposes, including simple outline material such as the cover page, table of contents, etc. When this is done you are ready to start. Here are just the main steps and concepts to understand when creating a quick reference guide:

Step 1: You Need to Understand Your Audience

It is crucial to understand that it is more important to give the client or user the content they want or need to read rather than trying to communicate what you want to tell them. You may want to communicate something important, but there are other kinds of documents that can be used to communicate this, such as process and procedure documents. For a quick reference guide, it is important to deliver precisely what the user is looking for. If you do not deliver then your reference guide will just be irrelevant.

Step 2: You Need to Only Include Essential Information

The importance of keeping your reference guide short and simple cannot be stressed enough. Too much information can overwhelm the user and will fail to achieve the goal of a quick reference guide. A good rule of thumb is to make your quick reference guide one to two pages. You have to keep text to a minimum while ensuring information stays relevant.

In addition, be sure to use visuals to further get the point across. If you find yourself having to make a table of contents and/or an index, then you’re likely making your quick reference guide too long. Technical writers can be helpful in ensuring that reference guides are both quick and simple to read as well as capable of getting the message across, as technical writers are highly skilled in translating complicated information into a form that is easier to understand.

Step 3: You Need Visuals

As previously mentioned, visuals are necessary for helping to communicate information to the audience. A study by SH!FT concluded that 90% of information is transmitted through visuals rather than text. This is because visuals are easier to understand, and they convey a message faster. You should also consider using an easy-to-follow layout in your quick reference guide. In other words, eye movement involves the processing of visual and written context. Often, you won’t even need to create a picture. For example, if you are working with software, you may only need a screenshot of your screen with arrows that guide eye motion.

Step 4: You Need to Test, Review, and Distribute

Lastly, after your quick reference guide is finished, you want to guarantee that everything is clear and accurate. So, you will need others to review it, then make adjustments based on the feedback. After these slight adjustments are made, then be prepared to distribute your quick reference guide in the correct format to make it accessible to your intended audience

Quick Reference Guide Examples

As was mentioned earlier, a quick reference guide can be based on a product or service and should be around one to two pages. Moreover, a reference guide can be accessed through paper or digitally; for this scenario, the reference guide would be accessed digitally.

The scenario is that you own an earlier edition HP laptop, and you are currently looking to buy a new laptop. Moreover, you start looking into Apple computers for different motives, but above all, it is because they look simple to use. You buy an Apple computer and you don’t feel the need to read a whole user manual because you are familiar with the basic functions of a laptop. However, upon opening the laptop you realize the laptop’s function is slightly different, in addition to being unable to locate certain basic applications.

The first issue you come across is with one of the most commonly used basic functions: copy & paste. You see a touchpad but there is neither a left nor right button. The easiest way to find out how to accomplish this is by asking a search engine “how to copy and paste on a Mac”. The first link to show up will be from Apple support. This very short but concise reference guide has only two steps. It does not over-inform nor give unnecessary information. This is the essence of a quick reference guide.

Quick Reference Guide Showing How to Take a Screenshot on a Mac

Up until now, we have mentioned more product-related quick reference guides. However, we also mentioned that quick reference guides can help with services. The National Council of Teachers of English has even more good examples of how they use quick reference guides with services.

What Not to Do When Creating a Quick Reference Guide

When creating a quick reference guide, you should avoid cramming/repeating information, using hard-to-read fonts, and writing in small text sizes that will decrease readability. Cramming information means that you are likely giving the reader too much information they are not looking for. Repeating information will make the reader feel like you are just beating around the bush, and possibly lose their attention. Hard-to-read fonts and decreased text sizes will force viewers’ eyes rather than allow a steady flow of eye movement.

Technical Writers Can Create Effective Quick Reference Guides

Quick reference guides are short and concise documents that help the reader access information that will help them complete complex tasks. When creating a reference guide you need to understand your audience’s needs, include only essential information, and use more visuals than text. Although a quick reference guide may not seem complex to create, it can be hard to make relevant content that will offer answers to a user’s doubts and problems.

At Essential Data Corporation we have teams of technical writers that can help create effective and concise quick reference guides. We understand and appreciate the importance of communication, and as such we are available for you whenever you need us.  We will work with you to meet your goals.

EDC Can Help with Quick Reference Guide Writing

Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or to get started.

Written by Pablo Mota