Creating User Manuals and Help Files for Mobile Apps

Have you ever wondered or given a thought to a user manual for a mobile app? How would you expect the manual to be? Here’s a look at the various aspects that I think are relevant in creating such a user manual.

Ways to access

Or in other words, how will the user consume this document? Whether on a mobile device itself or on a separate device, maybe a tablet or a laptop? It is not easy to switch between the app and the user manual when accessing it on the same mobile. It is recommended that users download the pdf and refer it on a different tablet or laptop if they need to. This also means the user manual can be written like the way we create user manuals for software applications that are used on computers. They will be detailed with screenshots and steps explaining the features.
On the other hand, if the help file is something that has to be shown on the mobile itself, it has to be very short (about 5 – 6 screens) and should point to the relevant areas on the screen itself where the user inputs or interaction is expected. This usually happens when we download and use an app for the first time or if a complete overhaul of the UI happens in an upgrade. The specific area is pointed out and action expected is displayed in a text form with the rest of the screen becoming dark so that user knows where to find that menu or feature and what to do with it. (Swipe left, swipe up or down etc).

What is the app about?

What exactly is the app for? Is it going to monitor the user’s health statistics or is it going to help him/ her in carrying out financial transactions? The former could just be sitting on the mobile phone and doing most of its work in the background. The only time the user interacts with this kind of app is when he wants to review the report or his activities. And the latter requires constant interaction with the app and does many things on the foreground and some things in the background.

Who are the users?

I will not fully agree to this one as I believe that the line between users age factor while writing the user manual for a mobile app is not that important. The user manual usually just describes the features and how to use the functionality.


Are there any language considerations?

Almost all the apps are available in many languages. The user manuals also need to follow suit and translators are in a lot of demand for creating language versions of the user manuals.

As we build new apps, and change the way we interact with mobile devices, the user manuals will also go through changes and current things to be considered while creating them will become irrelevant.
The new age content writers must be prepared for all of this and ride the wave of change to make the most of it.

Taking screenshots of the application

Most mobiles have an easy method to take screen shots of the current screen. The user manual developer must have the app installed on the phone he is going to use and be able to take the relevant screenshots with the right amount of data. These need to then be transferred to the user manual.

The connecting link

The user manual developer is the hidden link between the app developer and the app user. He has to understand the app and write simple and easy to use content for the end users.

Is the user manual like a micro website?

That’s a good idea. The micro website could be dedicated to a particular app and feature FAQ’s and other details like compatible operating system versions, compatible mobile phones and memory requirements etc.

Videos! Why not?

Small videos or animations can go a long way in helping users understand how to use the app. Screen recordings of the app doing what it is supposed to do is a really good idea of a help file.
Animated videos or scenarios explaining the context of the app are also awesome tools to promote the app and create awareness among the user community.

For the app developers, the UI and UX need to be simple and intuitive such that the need of a user manual or help file should be just for the purpose of compliance or for extra reference.

Let me know what you think about this or if you agree/ disagree with my views here. All types of comments are welcome.

You can always write to me directly at

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