How to Create Step-by-Step Instructional Guides (2023)
Step-by-step documentation contextually guides an employee or end-user how to perform a task. It offers more clarity into the details of a process, empowering employees to collaborate and achieve repeatable success. Step-by-step guides are used to train new employee, provide reinforcement training, and help document and share knowledge.
Documenting business processes was already a major focus for companies, with 96% of all organizations documenting their processes as far back as 2015. With hybrid work and distributed teams now common across industries, companies have had to rethink how to create, manage, update, and track their various process tutorials and overall internal knowledge management strategy.
This blog will explore the applications and benefits of step-by-step guides for organizations and the best practices and tools to create process documentation.
Use Cases for Step-by-Step Instructions
Step-by-step instructions simplify any task, eliminate confusion and roadblocks, and help continuous improvement. The best part is that you can create stepwise guides for any process—training a new employee or explaining a newly launched product feature.
Let’s look at four crucial scenarios where you can use step-by-step instructions:
1. Employee onboarding
Employee onboarding is an opportunity for organizations to familiarize new hires with their culture, mission, and overall work environment. But with so many moving parts involved, an onboarding program can often overwhelm new employees with information.
Step-by-step instructions make things clearer for new joiners to quickly process all the information. These stepwise guides can minimize confusion and build better awareness, increasing employee productivity and turnover.
Here’s how HelpScout breaks down its employee onboarding process into different steps and stages using Trello. Every list includes a set of steps to complete for finishing the onboarding tasks:
2. Customer onboarding
The onboarding flow experience sets the tone for the entire customer lifecycle. The onboarding process can either increase retention or ramp up the churn rate. When done right, it can excite and encourage users to explore the product in more detail.
With step-by-step instructions, companies can create an effective, personalized, and simple customer onboarding process to help users hit the ground running without any hassle.
Basecamp‘s 4-step customer onboarding process shows how it’s done. It takes relevant information from users to set up their accounts and gives them a quick start with suggested templates for their chosen use cases.
3. Better software adoption
Introducing new software into your workflows is challenging, especially when training an entire workforce on how to use a new tool. Step-by-step guides neatly define these technical processes and feature tutorials to shorten the learning curve, offer ease of use, enhance outputs, and overall empower employees with the skills to maximize their productivity through software expertise.
These instructions provide users with better insight into a product’s overall functionality to help them get more value out of it and how to take advantage of individual features through overall high levels of digital adoption.
Below you can see how organizations are empowered to create in-app step-by-step instructions for their internal applications with a tool like Whatfix.
4. Overall knowledge sharing
Whether you work in a small team or a larger organization, sharing knowledge within a group is often tricky. You have to design knowledge-sharing material matching different individuals’ understanding levels and comprehension capacities. This is where step-by-step can prove to be a game-changer.
Stepwise documentation allows people to approach any task, tool, or workflow with better clarity and direction. Moreover, you can easily transfer this knowledge to a larger group of people.
Below you can see how our content team created a step-by-step process document in Google Docs on how to use Elementor for updating our blog content, complete with annotations and contextual support each step of the way.
Benefits of Creating Step-by-Step Tutorials
Documenting business processes with step-by-step tutorials can facilitate knowledge sharing, level up teamwork, boost operational efficiency, maintain consistency, and reduce the risk of inconsistencies.
Let’s break down each of these five key benefits of step-by-step tutorials:
1. Improved knowledge sharing
The average worker spends 2.5 hours every day searching for the correct information about a task—that’s 30% of their workday. Most of this time goes into waiting for a coworker to respond. Besides slowing down workers’ efficiency, inadequate technical documentation leads to knowledge loss when key employees leave.
Creating step-by-step guides for every process makes knowledge easily and quickly accessible. Teams can also use this documentation to train new employees to take up the work without disruptions when the old ones depart.
2. Higher levels of collaboration
Team collaboration takes a hit when employees don’t have all the details about a task—who’s responsible for doing what, how they will execute the process, and the end goal. This confusion often leads to unproductive work and poor quality output.
A step-by-step guide defines all the steps involved in a task and designates these steps for particular employees. This reduces operational ambiguity and brings everyone on the same page—making collaboration more seamless.
3. Streamlined onboarding experience
New employees need continued guidance when transitioning to a different company. Their onboarding experience also determines their motivation to stay at a company—with 33% of new joiners looking for a job change within six months.
You can create a clear roadmap for your organization’s new hire journey with step-by-step guides. These guides also establish the company’s expectations and offer training to maximize employee turnover.
Documenting your onboarding process helps you identify and remove any unnecessary steps.
4. Better process documentation
Process documentation is critical to maintaining efficiency, eliminating flaws, and ensuring compliance. Organizations can create a single point of reference with standardized step-by-step guides – also known as standard operating procedures (SOPs) – for every process and reduce operational discrepancies.
Employees can get quick answers to any question and win back the 5 hours per work week otherwise spent waiting for the right information.
5. Enhanced quality control and fewer errors
The outcome will be inconsistent if every employee takes a different route to complete a task. Standard process documentation shows employees how to carry out a task and what the result will look like.
Your team has an ideal reference point and doesn’t have to figure out the best way to finish a task. This increases consistency and improves the quality as well
How to Create Step-by-Step Instructions
You’re convinced about the benefits of step-by-step tutorials and ready to start documenting your workflows. But with so many different kinds of tasks, knowing where and how to start is tricky.
Here’s a simple 5-step framework to create step-by-step instructions for anything:
1. Identify what processes you're documenting
Start with the basics and define the processes you want to document. Look at your organization and dig deeper into individual departments to create clusters. For instance, recruitment can be one cluster of processes within the human resource department.
Survey members from each department and conduct 1:1 meetings with team leaders to identify the processes worth documenting.
Once you’ve shortlisted your clusters and processes, create a brief overview for every process by sourcing essential details such as:
- Name and purpose
- People or teams involved
- Ideal length for completion
- End goal and deliverables
This step defines the scope of work for every process and sets the base for your documentation efforts. It’s important to ensure you’re clear on the processes you want to document.
2. Know your audience
You can make a contextual, focused guide for any task only when you know who it’s meant for. Define the ideal audience intended to read and use a guide.
For example, the marketing team would be the target audience for a step-by-step guide on researching keywords for SEO. You won’t need to dive into high-level SEO definitions for this audience. However, if you’re mentioning SEO in a step-by-step guide with an HR audience, you’ll need to define more entry-level SEO terms.
Knowing your audience clarifies the primary pain points to resolve through each guide. Once you’ve defined the ideal readers for a guide, focus on understanding the main flaws in their workflows.
3. Outline each step of the process
The third step is where all the heavy lifting happens. Once you’ve identified the right processes and their intended audience, you’re all set to outline the steps for each process.
Start by outlining a rough flow of steps from start to finish. If you’re covering a long workflow, remember to set milestones for the team to track progress. Discuss this structure with the subject matter experts (SME) to check if you’ve missed or misplaced any steps.
This step requires insights from the SMEs—team leaders and managers. Co-create with them to outline as extensive and accurate as possible.
4. Write the content
At this point, you have to add the content and chalk out every step in greater detail. Write concisely to ensure the guide is easy to read and understand. You can also add visuals, screenshots, GIFs, and videos for visual learners. Pro tips enabling readers to execute a step more effectively can make the guide more valuable.
5. Leverage digital tools
For the final step, you want to present your guides in an interactive and accessible format. Pick the right tool to give readers the ease of using these step-by-step tutorials.
With a digital adoption platform like Whatfix, organizations can create in-app guidance that provides interactive step-by-step tutorials for your team to provide them training and support, in the moment of need. This means employees and end-users don’t have to access these guides in a separate tab and guides them through the next steps while performing a task.
Whatfix helps provide a standardized process documentation hub for organizations – with L&D leaders building in-app resources such as interactive guidance, embedded self-help knowledge bases, smart tips, task lists, and more. Whatfix supports the digital workplace and helps provide learning in the flow of work and on-demand employee support.
Whatfix also provides L&D teams with analytics on how digital processes and tools are being used, what tools and processes employees are adopting or struggling with, and what needs to additional documentation.
8 Tips for Creating Effective Step-by-Step Documentation
Knowing how to create step-by-step tutorials is just the first step. To ensure your employees use and benefit from these guides, you must make them engaging, easily readable, and contextually meaningful. Collecting readers’ feedback is also vital to constantly updating your documentation.
Here’s how you can enhance your stepwise guides for maximum output:
1. Organize it well for simple accessibility and knowledge discovery
A single team has dozens of guides for various workflows. New employees might feel lost in this pool of information in the absence of a well-organized structure.
Organize all your guides on a single platform with correct categorization and sub-division. Add a search option for workers to easily search through the large library of resources and find what they’re looking for.
Notion’s resources page shows how it’s done. The library is neatly divided into categories with a separate page for every guide.
Organizations can take this one step further with a tool like Whatfix and embed all of their process, support, and company documentation directly into your employees’ digital applications such as Salesforce, Microsoft Teams, Workday, and Gmail in a searchable knowledge base. This means employees can find the right documentation and find answers in the moment of need, without having to search through your Google Drive, submit an IT ticket, or bother a co-worker.
2. Structure your instructions in an easy-to-read way
The success of your step-by-step guides depends on how neatly they’re structured. While some guides are shorter with fewer steps and less content for each step, some are long enough to confuse the readers. The structure is key to making these long guides easily understandable.
Here’s a great example from Asana to demonstrate a reader-friendly structure. Its long guide on “How to start using Asana” has seven steps. Readers can quickly jump to the step they’re struggling with and get the right answers.
3. Make your tutorials contextual to the reader
When writing the steps for a task, make the content contextual to the reader. Help them solve a problem or figure out a feature. Instead of focusing on a tool’s functionality, create your guides to help users perform a task using that tool and achieve their goals.
4. Use visuals, GIFs, and video
Research concludes that videos and visual cues help people retain more information than other mediums. Including visuals in your stepwise guides can make it more value-packed for the end users.
You can include visuals like:
- Stepwise GIFs
- Charts and graphs
- Screen recordings
Canva’s tutorials are the perfect case in point. All these guides offer interactive walkthroughs for every feature with short videos.
With Whatfix, organizations can create contextual tutorials that interactively guide employees through each digital process step, similar to a product tour. Organizations can track the completion of these processes and collect data on the effectiveness of these process tutorials
5. Leverage your experts to create the instructional content
Requesting contributions from your experts is one way to make your step-by-step instructions fail-proof and credible. Your experts will have a clearer and more comprehensive knowledge about specific tools and workflows than others.
You can use expert insights while preparing the outline for a process. They can also suggest improvements to make each step as accurate and concise as possible.
6. Make sharing simple
Think of your busiest readers when deciding the format for your step-by-step tutorials. These occupied readers might not have the time to download a PDF or go through a presentation. Present your instructions in an easily shareable format for anyone to read and understand a task.
With Whatfix, all your process documentation can be embedded directly into a searchable self-help knowledge base in your digital workplace – meaning employees can find the right support at the moment of need, without leaving the application they’re currently using.
7. Update your instructions frequently
Update your documentation for any changes in workflows, features, or guidelines. This enables readers to follow the new instructions instead of struggling with the outdated steps.
8. Collect data on how your learners are using your instructions
Lastly, don’t forget to collect data to understand how helpful your guides are for the readers. This data will help you identify the guides that need improvement because learners rated them unhelpful. You can revisit these guides and make enhancements using your experts’ insights.
Collecting this data is easy with a tool like Whatfix. Whatfix prompts end-users and employees after completing a process document to see how helpful that guide was, and allows them to provide feedback on what could be improved.
Best Tools to Create Step-by-Step Instructions
You’ve done all the heavy lifting to complete the documentation process. But here’s the big question: how do you present these guides in the most user-friendly format to maximize retention?
Here are six tools to create interactive and engaging step-by-step guides conveniently:
- G2 review rating: 4.7 out of 5
- Price: Custom Pricing
Whatfix is a digital adoption platform that lets you create interactive walkthroughs for any task. You can convert a step-by-step guide into in-app prompts or task lists that guide users without asking them to leave the app.
The platform empowers organizations to train employees on any task or tool with engaging step-by-step tutorials, in-app self-help knowledge bases, smart tips, and more.
Whatfix allows organizations to standarize their process and support documentation from the ground up, and track how this step-by-step support content is being consumed.
NudgeAlong is a Chrome extension designed to make step-by-step tutorials, guides, and all kinds of documentation. This tool helps you turn any process into a tutorial with a click-and-point functionality. You can create in-app instructions and share these guides with anyone via a link on how-to tutorials on Salesforce, Workday, Microsoft Dynamics, HubSpot, or any popular SaaS platform or website.
- G2 review rating: 4.9 out of 5
- Price: Basic version is free, Pro version at $29/month per user, Enterprise version at custom pricing
Scribe is a documentation tool for automatically generating step-by-step guides for any process. You only need to hit the start button, and Scribe will start recording your screen. Once you stop recording, you’ll have a detailed guide ready with annotated screenshots, textual instructions, and click marks.
You can also edit these guides to add more text and customize them per your branding. Share the final version with anyone with a URL link or export it offline.
- G2 review rating: 4.6 out of 5
- Price: Single-user license for $62.99
SnagIt is a screen capture tool for creating step-by-step guides using screenshots, videos, GIFs, and text. You can capture your screen and annotate the visuals. Then add textual content and edit your visual content to finish your guide.
The tool offers advanced features like Smart Move, Simplify, and Panoramic Scrolling Capture to make your guides more interactive.
- G2 review rating: 4.7 out of 5
- Price: Starter version is free, Business version at $8/month per creator, Enterprise version at custom pricing
Loom is a screen recording tool that effortlessly records your screen or camera and increases collaboration. The tool lets you create video guides. So, you can offer a walkthrough of any task while recording your screen, camera, and audio.
Once the recording is complete, you can add comments for specific timestamps to include crucial information. Then share a finished video through a URL link.
- G2 review rating: 4.7 out of 5
- Price: Basic version is free, Starter version at $49/month for 3 members, Business version at $99/month for 5 members, Custom version at custom pricing
Stonely is a documentation tool for making interactive step-by-step guides. The tool is designed to give end users a seamless experience of understanding any task or process. Teams can use Stonely for multiple use cases, including self-serve support, digital adoption, product onboarding, and knowledge sharing.
As your business scales, the team grows, and workflows become complex, maintaining your employees’ productivity and efficiency can be challenging.
With step-by-step instructions, you can create robust documentation to train employees about new processes and tools as quickly as possible. It also saves them the trouble of going through endless trial-and-error and spending large parts of their day looking for the right information to perform any task.
Whatfix is just the tool to create engaging in-app instructions to train employees about new workflows and applications. The digital adoption platform provides contextual guidance to streamline operations and improve employee training.
Whatfix’s digital adoption platform empowers your employees, customers, and end-users with in-app guidance, reinforcement learning, and contextual self-help support to find maximum value from software.