A woman learning to create a quick reference guide.

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, I often like to work on projects over the weekend. This can include renovating my bathroom, making cabinets, or just general woodworking. Furthermore, I often find myself buying new power tools since most of my old ones exceed their lifetime. Somehow power tools seem to be getting more complex with more functions. However, all tools tend to come with reference guides that explain what specific functions of a tool can do.

Moreover, quick reference guides are not to be confused with user manuals. User manuals tend to be very long and they cover everything you need to know about a product or service. They are meant to be easily accessed for quick information. Reference guides can come in many forms. My example had it included with a product, but it can also be used for services. 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 Do I Create A Quick Reference Guide?

You need to understand your audience’s needs

It is crucial to understand that it is more important to give the client/user content they want rather than trying to communicate what you want to tell them. You may want to communicate something important but there are sections and places to communicate this. For a quick reference guide, it is important to deliver precisely what the user/guest is looking for. If you do not deliver then your reference guide will just be irrelevant.

You need to include only essential information

I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your reference guide short and simple. Too much information can overwhelm the user and will not achieve the goal of a quick reference guide. A good rule of thumb is to make your quick reference guide one through two pages. You have to keep text to a minimum while information stays relevant. The more visuals the better. If you find yourself having to make a table of context and/or an index then you’re likely making your quick reference guide too long.

You need visuals

A study by SH!FFT 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 also need to consider an easy-to-follow layout for the eyes 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 then you may only need a screenshot of your screen with arrows that guide eye motion.


Here Is An Example Of A Quick Reference Guide Scenario

I mentioned earlier that a quick reference guide can be based on a product or service, and should be around one through two pages. Moreover, a reference guide can be accessed through paper or digitally; for this scenario, it will be 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 function is slightly different, in addition to being able to locate certain basic applications.

The first issue you come across is 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 did not over-inform nor give unnecessary information. This is the essence of a quick reference guide.

Quick reference guide of taking a screen shot on a Mac

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


Here Are Some Things That You Should Not Do.

You need to avoid cramming/repeating information, hard-to-read fonts, and 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.


Our Promise to You

A quick reference guide is a short and concise document that helps 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 answer a user’s doubts.

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, which is that we will be available for you whenever you need us. You may already have an idea of how you want your quick reference guide to look, and that’s ok. We will work with you to meet your goals.

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 sales@edc.us


Written by Pablo Mota