Designing a Training Manual

Training manuals are particularly useful in the following situations:

  • Trainees can use the manuals for reviewing the subject after training.
  • It lets the trainee concentrate on and partake in the training during the training session instead of taking detailed notes.
  • It can serve as a reference document in the work place.

Developing a training manual is an important part in designing a formal training program. A formal training manual ensures consistency in the presentation of the training program. Another major advantage is that all the training information on skills, processes, and other information necessary to perform the tasks is together in one place. Training manuals should support the training objectives.

Manuals are generally developed using the most commonly used instructional design models - the "ADDIE" model.

  • "A" stands for Analysis of the audience, and of training needs;
  • "D" stands for Design of training, its objectives, sequencing of tasks, etc.
  • "D" represents Development of training/instructional materials, that are consistent with the design requirements.
  • "I" means Implementation of the training, and
  • "E" is Evaluating the training.

Training manuals can be designed to be used as:

  • Work books – often used in training sessions. It provides basic information, examples and exercises.
  • Self-paced guides: designed for trainees to work through on their own.
  • Reference manuals: for containing detailed information on processes and procedures.
  • Handouts: provide general information to support training done during the session.
  • Job aids: provide step-by-step instructions to be used in the work place.

Designing the manual


A well designed training manual, that is kept up to date, can become a valuable source of information to the organization. An effective manual:

  • Is easy to read and has easy to follow instructions;
  • Has an attractive design;
  • Uses illustrations to enhance understanding;
  • Can be used for future reference.

The following should be taken in consideration when designing the manual:

  • Content – topics, tasks, procedures and other information arranged in a logical sequence and broken down into small units;
  • Audience – their reading skills, previous work experience;
  • How the manual is to be used during the training session, afterwards (for revision) and/or as a reference in the work place.

The training manual can have different versions for the trainer/presenter and the trainees. The version for the trainer would include the basic text, prompts for discussions and demonstrations or other activities. It could also include information or checklists on preparation for the session. The trainee’s version will have the basic text, examples and exercises, as well as space for making further notes.

Writing the manual


Once the purpose for the manual has been established and attention has been given to the preliminary design, the main task of writing is the next step. First, organize the contents into a logical sequence of topics. Break down the topics into smaller segments that describe a task, procedure or concept. Include an overview on how to use the manual. As preparation for the training session give a list of key points or a summary of what is going to be covered at the start of each chapter.

What are the key elements of a Training Manual


The Training Manual may contain the following elements

  • A Cover page with plain or graphic with Title clearly written
  • A Blank page after the cover page
  • Table of contents
  • An Introduction page on What-How-Who - "What the Manual is about", "How to use the Manual" & "For whom the Manual is meant"
  • A Navigational Tips page with visually catchy icons which will be used throughout the manual
  • Expanding the Table of contents - Objectives / Description of each topic / Section Summary
  • Placeholders for graphics
  • Placeholders for work sheets
  • Page for Conclusion
  • Page for Further Reading
  • Page for Bibliography / References / Citations
  • A Blank page prior to closure
  • Closing Cover page

The following advice has been given by many authors:

  • Write in plain English: Avoid using technical terms, unless it is part of the work place vocabulary. In that case make sure technical terms are explained in simple language/terms. Spell out or explain acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Use the active voice: It is concise.
  • Be consistent in the use of terminology, tone and style of writing.
  • Long sentences and paragraphs can be confusing. Use short sentences and phrases. Numbered steps are easier to follow than long paragraphs.
  • Include illustrations (graphs, flow charts, tables, pictures, screen displays, examples of finished tasks) where appropriate to clarify concepts and enhance understanding. It also adds visual interest. Illustrations should be in proper proportion to nearby text.
  • Write a detailed table of contents that include chapter headings as well as the next level of subheadings.
  • Write a detailed index, including cross-references, to make it easy to find information. A good index makes the manual usable as a reference work for future use.
  • Check spelling and grammar.

After the completion of the first draft get feedback from trainers/presenters and other key personnel. Implement any suggestions if appropriate.

The title page, table of contents, a glossary of terms (if used) and the index are prepared last. On the title page the following should appear: Name of the manual, author(s), company name, publishing date. A copyright notice can be included, as well as acknowledgement of contributors if appropriate.



An attractive appearance and ease of use can motivate the trainees to use the manual and thus reinforce learning. Good page layout increase readability and make the information more accessible. The organization of the material on the page guides the eye of the reader – which areas get attention and in what order.

Graphic design principles

  • Proximity: Group related pieces of information and other items together to form a cohesive unit, e.g. illustrations should appear on the same page as the related text. That is part of organizing the content in a logical order. Avoid too many separate elements on the page. Use close proximity to indicate unity between items. Use white space to separate unrelated items
  • Alignment: The alignment of text and graphics is another technique in organising the page. All the elements (text and graphics) should appear unified and interrelated by their placement on the page.
  • Repetition/Consistency: Consistency in the style of the elements (headings, graphics, arrangement) gives visual clues to the reader. It also unifies the different part of the manual and creates visual interest.
  • Contrast: Creating contrast between sections visually organise the page, leading the eye in a logical flow from one section to the next. Contrast is created by the use of fonts, line thickness, colours, shapes and space. Create a strong contrast to be effective.
  • Fonts (or type): Avoid using more than two or three fonts in a document. Fonts can be in italic, bold, light, heavy, or condensed versions. Avoid all uppercase – it is difficult to read – use bold, italic or other versions of the font for emphasis. Titles, headings and subheadings should be in a larger size font than the body of the text. When combining different fonts, use fonts that are clearly distinct to create contrast. It is often recommended to use a sans serif font for headings and a serif font for the body of the text.
  • Colour: It could be used in text for emphasizing and in graphics where appropriate. When used judiciously it increases learning and retention. Avoid overuse of colour as it loses its interest value.

Ease of use


Another consideration apart from the page layout is the collation of the manual to make the final product easy to use. The following techniques might be helpful:

  • Section dividers that extend beyond the page width make it easy to find sections, especially if it has the topics printed on the tabs. This is especially appropriate for a bulky manual that is to be used over several sessions.
  • A detailed table of contents at the beginning of sections, in addition to the main table of contents at the front of the manual makes it more accessible.
  • Allow wide enough margins to accommodate the type of binding used, as well as space for users to make key notes.
  • When considering binding, use a method that would allow easy replacement of pages. The manual can be updated easily, which adds to its reference value.

Lastly, be aware of copyright and other legal issues before reproducing the manual.

Training manual examples


Example 1: based on the training checklist


This manual is used during on the job training and is available for reviewing between training sessions. This format is based on the checklist, which consists of a lists of tasks/skills to be taught, with extra columns where the trainer date and signs as the trainee progresses through the checklist.

Discharge of returned items

(Policy: Returns)

Function of desk
  • To take items returned by the borrower off their records
  • To route items to appropriate storage places
  • To follow up on further action as indicated in messages
Setting screen up for discharging
  • Discharging is done in Circulation Services (no. 2 on the main Circulation menu)
  • At the command prompt (indicated by '>>') type in 2.
  • Look at the different command display on the screen.
  • To set it up for discharge type DI at the command prompt.
  • The date for discharging will be displayed and it is now ready for discharging.

Handout: Printout of discharging screen

Discharging books
  • First check the scanner's settings for issue/discharge and sensitise/neutral.
  • Stack books face down to a maximum height of 20 cm.
  • Stack books in a way to prevent injuries - see handout.
  • Slide book past scanner to wand in the barcode number.
  • Read message on screen and place discharged book in appropriate place.

Handout: OSH guidelines for discharge.

Comment: This format works well in the on-the-job training situation where step-by-step instructions are given for fairly simple tasks. As it follows the checklist it makes reviewing easy while training is ongoing. Illustrations are difficult to incorporate in the text, which have been handled as handouts to overcome this restriction. Some of the handouts lend themselves to appendices, such as the 'OSH guidelines' in the example. Since this manual has only three main sections with all the handouts filed after each section, it is still easy to handle, especially with the detailed index in the front of the manual. If it had more sections, then this format would be cumbersome to use. Although a detailed index would enhance its reference value in the workplace, this isn't the ideal format to use for future reference.

Example 2: Text book style manual


Discharge of returned items

    1. Introduction:

All returned items are handled at this desk. When borrowers return their items, the items are discharged, resulting in the removing of the items form the borrower's record. Once the discharging is done, the displayed message will indicate what must be done with the discharged item.

    1. Setting screen up for discharging:

Discharging is done in Circulation Services (no. 2 on the main Circulation menu). To set the system up for discharging type in '2' at the command prompt (indicated by '>>'). Different commands will be displayed on the Circulation Services screen.

Illustration: Circulation Services screen.

To display the discharge screen type 'DI' at the command prompt. The date for discharging will be displayed and the system is now ready for discharging items.

Illustration: Discharge screen.

    1. Discharging books

Before discharging check that the settings of the scanner are correct: It must be set on 'discharge' and the sensitiser must be switched on.

Illustration: Scanner set up for discharging books

Stack books face down to a maximum height of 20 cm. Be careful to stack the books in a way that will prevent injuries - see the Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) guidelines (Appendix 1, p--). Slide the book past the scanner to wand in the barcode number of the book. Read the message on the screen and place the discharged book in the appropriate place.

Comment: This is the more traditional format which most people are familiar with. The illustrations are at the appropriate places which makes it easy to follow the text. The text tend to be 'wordier' than in the succinct bulleted style of the previous example. This format is good for future reference in the work place. It is also suited for describing more complex tasks and concepts. To assist navigation, a detailed index is essential, especially when it contains many sections.