A quick reference guide is a concise document designed to highlight important points and make it easy to understand how to use a product as quickly as possible. These step-by-step documents are particularly useful to new hires, ensuring that they can start working smoothly. 

Quick reference guides display the key features of how to use a product in a clear and condensed format. Information is displayed in an eye-catching and simple way that typically includes bullets, visual elements, and numbered steps.


Photo by Calle Macarone

What Is a Quick Reference Guide Used for?

A reference guide can encompass anything from basic task instructions to comprehensive user manuals. By adhering to best practices for creating effective reference guides, organizations can deliver essential information that helps users or employees navigate product manuals efficiently. Remarkably, a well-structured reference guide can be as succinct as just two pages long, providing users with concise knowledge that is easy to digest.

If you think that a quick reference guide is just for product information, though, consider that most businesses need basic task guides at one point or another. Think of checklists and flowcharts, workflows, and even tips and advice that can be summarized in a short and simple reference guide and distributed to help people grasp information.  

Businesses have discovered that creating quick reference guides or reference guide templates that are easy to follow saves them time and improves their efficiency and productivity. These guides come in handy in environments where time is important, such as during training sessions and in customer support. 

Take the time to create an engaging quick-start guide with visually appealing advanced features and your business will witness how workflows and productivity increase as less time is spent on tedious and repetitive questions. 


Do I Need a Step-by-Step Guide for a Product or Service?

You would be amazed at how many businesses and professionals can save time with a new quick reference guide. Indeed, the importance of how-to guides can’t be overstated across various industries. Quick reference guides often offer a solution with their adaptable reference guide template. 

The obvious industries that can benefit from a reference guide are technology and software companies, which use them to focus on troubleshooting and installation of their products. But they’re hardly the only ones.

For example, there are many other professionals, such as the healthcare industry. Healthcare professionals use quick training manual guides with annotated screenshots for medication dosage and patient protocols. 

Schools and universities use reference guide examples as part of their best practices for administration purposes and campus policies. A call or help center needs them for consistent and accurate user manual information to inquiries about products, services, or company policies. Even retail can benefit from such guides, as they can streamline employee training and help staff understand point-of-sale systems, customer service standards, and product manual details. 


Is a Quick Reference Guide Just Text?

Even if how-to-guides entail technical writing, they are meant to be interesting, which means they are much more than just text. They present process documentation on the go, display different types of quick information at a single glance, and help users pick it up quickly and effortlessly. 

A quick-start guide can be printed cards or brochures, which are compact and easy to distribute. As such, they are ideal for brief instructions, such as emergency procedures or quick-start guides for products. 

PDFs or other digital document user guide formats are easily shared via email or downloaded from a website. They can include visuals, hyperlinks for easy navigation between sections, and external resources.

Everybody likes infographics, which are particularly effective for summarizing information through graphics, charts, and minimal text. 

Interactive guides include clickable menus, search functions, and multimedia elements like videos or animations.

Cheat sheets are used for summarizing key shortcuts, commands, or codes and are a favorite among professionals in IT, programming, and other technical fields. 

Checklists act as a practical quick reference with steps to be completed and can be especially useful in healthcare.

Finally, flashcards help learners memorize information through repetition and are great for education. 


What Makes a Good Quick Reference Guide?

A clear reference guide template streamlines the process of generating basic task guides for staff or users. Here are the most important marks of a good guide.

It’s short, it’s precise and it’s helpful. 

It’s simple

  • The guide should present information in a straightforward and easy-to-understand language. Avoid technical terms that the intended audience may not comprehend. The goal is to make the content accessible to users with varying levels of expertise.

It’s short

  • Good reference guides can distill the information down to its essence. It focuses on the most important or frequently needed information.

It’s relevant

  • The information included must be directly relevant to the users’ needs: it addresses common questions or tasks they face. A well-designed guide anticipates the audience’s requirements and meets those needs effectively.

It’s well-organized

  • Information should be organized in a way that reflects how users will search for it, often incorporating headings, bullet points, numbered lists, or sections to guide the reader’s eye.

It’s visual

  • A fast and easy reference template uses diagrams, images, tables, and other visual aids to improve comprehension and retention. By incorporating guide examples and a well-thought-out design, along with a reference guide template, information becomes more accessible and easier to grasp.

It’s practical

  • Whether it’s a printed document, a digital file, or an interactive online tool, the text and visuals should be designed for ease of use. This includes considerations like the size of the guide (typically one or two pages long for physical copies), navigability (for digital or interactive versions), and overall user experience. 

It’s accurate

  • The information must be up-to-date and accurate. Misinformation or outdated details can confuse and undermine the credibility of the guide. Regular reviews and updates are essential to maintain its usefulness.

It’s easy to access

  • Users should be able to find the specific information they need through search functionality, hyperlinks, or a well-organized table of contents is key.

Tips on How to Write the Best Quick Reference Guide

Photo by Brett Jordan

If you wish to write your own reference guide, follow the tips below to create the perfect document.

Who will use the quick reference guide?

Know your audience, their level of expertise, and what they need from your guide. This will shape the language, content, and structure of your guide. After all, you are creating a guide for them, so it should talk in their language. 

What’s the point of the quick reference guide?

Why do you need to create a guide? This question will help you make a quick reference guide that’s focused and concise, covering only the most essential information. Decide on the key topics or tasks your guide will address and stick to them.

Organize your guide

Arrange the content in a way that makes sense to the user and make it intuitive and simple. Group related information and present it in a logical sequence. Consider using headings, subheadings, and numbered lists to break down the information into manageable chunks.

Make it concise and clear

People have busy lives, so they want a guide that’s clear and concise. Use simple language and short sentences. Avoid jargon or technical terms unless they are widely understood by your audience. If you must use them, provide clear definitions.

Make it interesting

Diagrams, images, pictures, infographics, charts, and screenshots can boost understanding and retention of the information. Use the right visual aids to complement the text and illustrate complex concepts or steps.

Format your text

Use bullet points, numbered lists, and short blocks of text to break down information into easily digestible pieces.  

Provide examples

Whenever possible include an example to clarify how specific instructions or concepts apply in real-world scenarios. This can help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Is it usable?

Once your guide draft is done, test it with actual users from your target audience. Their user manual feedback can be invaluable as they will identify any confusing sections, missing information, or unnecessary complexities.

Keep it up-to-date

Information that helps should be regularly updated. This is particularly important for guides related to software or products that may change over time.

Need Help with Your Quick Reference Guide?

Reference guides offer indispensable solutions across various sectors, securing clarity and guidance in a user-friendly way. So, next time you find yourself in need of a quick reference, remember the power of a well-crafted reference guide. Its concise nature and accessible format make it a valuable tool in any professional’s arsenal.

If you need help preparing your guide, we’re here for you. For over 20 years, we’ve been working with technical writers who can provide you with the solutions you need. 

Contact us today to find out for yourself why TimelyText is a trusted professional writing service and instructional design consulting partner for Fortune 500 companies worldwide!


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