User Guides

The staff handbook, user guides and team forms are all essential documents for sharing the brand vision, mission and guidelines. Resources to provide information and tools for your teams and a great way to ensure consistency in service, message and presentation. If you doubt your employees even skim through your documents, this article is for you.

How to make staff documents accessible & relevant

As a document specialist, I’m often asked to update staff handbooks, policies and user guides. When I look at the existing document in use, I am seldom inspired. All too often I am presented with lengthy, dull and wordy manuals, full of corporate speak.

These set the tone for how the employee feels in the workplace. You want employees to be informed, positive and prepared, not bored and dismissive.

Can we agree that there is no point in having important business documents if no one reads them? They aren’t designed to gather dust on the shelf; they need to be accessible, informative, relevant and useful.

I’d like to share how this is achieved by covering:

  • The benefits of digital documents
  • Tips for condensing content and boosting visual presentation
  • Document structure, language & tone

Why go digital with business documents?

To kick things off, I encourage you to create digital business documents. There are many advantages to online resources compared to hard copies.

Firstly, digital documents are easy to update, ensuring they remain relevant as the business evolves. I refer to them as living documents.

Secondly, they can include links to a range of other internal and external resources.

Thirdly, employees can access them via shared folders, a ‘staff only’ area on your website or the company intranet. This means they can check information when working remotely and make use of digital tools such as screen readers and translators. Shared folders also have the benefit of providing one central place for a master document, so that people aren’t working from old versions they have printed out or saved to a place on their computers.

Finally, it is possible to integrate interactive elements, such as a submittable staff questionnaire, into digital documents.

All that and you save on the cost of printing and posting hard copies!

5 steps for engaging user guides

Internal communication is all about employee engagement. To improve the chances of the staff documents being read, I challenge you to reduce the volume by half. Yes, it is possible, with these 5 steps:

1. Focus on the key information that employees need to know, understand and implement

2. Opt for bullet points in place of lengthy text

3. Use graphs, images, flow charts and infographics to share data & illustrate points

4. Include links to documents and resources, such as ‘how-to’ video content

5. Present information in a Q&A format

This approach makes the document more visually interesting, readable and memorable. The easier it is to recall, the more likely it is to be put into practice.

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Stephen R. Covey

Structure, language & tone


Present the content in a structured layout. Make it easier for employees to find the information they need:

  • Use page numbers
  • Use Heading 1, Heading 2 & Heading 3 style options to divide the content into sections
  • When the document is complete, insert a table of contents

Why not also use colour blocks to distinguish specific information, such as actions or resources, on the page?

Language & tone

Professional doesn’t mean dry and formal. To improve readability, I encourage you to think of having a 1:1 conversation as you write. Compare the following:

“Our firm provides employees with a standard uniform. We expect all staff to wear this apparel, in full, whenever in the workplace. It is your responsibility to keep it clean and pressed. Additional PPE is allocated depending on job roles.”

“In line with our brand image, we provide you with a uniform to wear at work <image to illustrate>. Please contact if you wish to swap sizes or need additional items.”

One sounds distant and dictatorial, whilst the other is personable and empowers the employee to take action as required.

My Working towards the same goal article offers further information on what to include in a staff manual.

Is there a template for user guides?

I’m all about promoting efficiency. With that in mind, I recommend creating branded templates for Word, Excel & PowerPoint documents. Accessible to staff, these ensure consistency across all communications and save considerable time.

To get you started, I have prepared a sample user guide to illustrate a potential layout. You are welcome to download this for free and use it as a template. There’s the opportunity to pick up my Excel tips and shortcuts in the process!

Alternatively, why not outsource to me? I specialise in creating professionally structured and branded digital documents.

Get in touch to find out more.

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Do your employees read staff documents?