he good folks who buy your how-to manual do not want to read anything complicated or hard to comprehend. They bought your manual to help them solve a specific problem, quickly, easily, and efficiently.
Youve heard the acronym KISS Keep It Simple, Sport! Obey this admonition and you cant go wrong. This isnt Hemmingway were writing here, folks. Just the facts. Write whats in your head, then fine tune it, but dont over-write! Were trying to clear the fog here, not contribute to it.
Fortunately for users of word processing programs, there are a number of tools to help us in our quest for simplicity and clarity.
In Microsoft Word, for example, under the Tools menu item, theres a selection for Word Count. Clicking on this option will display (logically enough) the number of words in our whole document plus some other information about the document.
More importantly, when you run the Spelling and Grammar checker from the Tools Menu, at the end you will get a display of the number of sentences per paragraph, along with other statistics, two of which well focus on next.
When Word finishes checking spelling and grammar, it can display information about the reading level of the document, including the following readability scores. Each readability score bases its rating on the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence.
The Flesch Reading Ease score rates text on a 100-point scale; the higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For our how-to manual, aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score rates text on a U.S. grade-school level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most standard documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.
Ive mentioned word processing programs several times in reference to writing your how-to manual. You are certainly not required to use a computer or a word processing program to write your how-to manual.
I know of several writers who prefer to write (at least the first draft) with a pencil and legal pad. An advantage of the handwritten draft method is that you can carry it with you conveniently practically wherever you go. And its available and ready to be used quickly, without having to wait for a laptop computer to boot up. I always carry a notepad (or my handheld palm-style computer) to jot down ideas whenever they occur to me. (I just havent figured out how to take it into the shower with me yet!)
And theres one other method Ive referred to that I personally like in certain situations: the audiocassette recorder.