Keeping Quick Reference Guides quick?

Aug 16, 2012

This isn’t Articulate-related, but I’d love your opinions/assistance…

I am creating a Quick Reference guide to give to our software users at our annual conference (these are external customers, not internal employees).  I chose which topics are important and typed the steps to accomplish each topic.  Ideally, I’d like one page, front and back…anything longer might be not-so-quick and more costly to produce.  (I have QRGs for other modules which fit a single page.)   Anyway, typed out, everything fits on the front and half the back.  Add in screenshots, and I am finding it impossible to make everything fit without bleeding onto another page.  Would you delete a topic?  Delete some screenshots?  Do some other option I haven’t considered?

I’ve already made online videos which we offer to our clients, so that isn’t an alternative.  Plus, our conference attendees just LOVE to take “stuff” back with them.  Gosh, they love them some handouts.   Thank you!

20 Replies
Holly MacDonald

Hi Kristen, you are right that a "one pager" is ideal for your QRG. You could consider language (instead of full sentences use phrases), sections of screenshots (maybe you can use partial), and I'm sure there are loads of graphic design possibilities (smaller margins, change kerning, slim fonts, use of color to draw attention, visuals instead of words, 2 column layout instead of 1, etc) to achieve your goal. 

Maybe if you post what you've got others in the community could give more specific advice?


Eric Nalian

Hey Rebecca,

When I am creating my quick reference guides, I always write them first without screenshots.  As part of a review, I find someone around the office and have them run through the steps and see if they are simple enough without the added images and we quickly figure out where screenshots could go, if any.

What we find is that most of the time, just throwing in a screenshot for the sake of reference is not even necessary.  This helps us keep our job aids down to 1 page.


Natalia Mueller

There are all kinds of development tools that will give you more options than Word. I don't know the really good, stand alone tools but I do know that Microsoft Publisher will give you much more control of the layout and page. I discovered this by accident trying to get more to fit in a printable job aid. For me, it helped to get away from the table and create sections by topic. This allowed me to use more space where I needed it and Publisher allows a lot more flexibility with layout.

Kristen Hull

Thanks for everybody's feedback.  Great food for thought.  I think first and foremost, I needed Holly's reassurance to stick to one page.  Once I commited to that, I found it easier to edit and prioritize.  I also inserted 2 columns in a section.  I'm really intrigued by Rebecca's example, and wonder if that would work for my purposes.  I might try a redesign at some point.  I'm really REALLY intrigued by Eric's suggestion to leave out screenshots.  I have always tried to illustrate the steps with pictures, but if my steps are clearly written- you are right!  Those screenshots could be unnecessary!  (Isn't it weird when someone else's suggestion seems kind of obvious after the fact, but you had never thought of it on your own?)

By the way, I use Publisher, and I love it!

 Unfortunately, I don't feel right showing it here for suggestions (that would be so great though-- you guys are such a fantastic resource).  It's proprietary software, and I doubt I am allowed to share the screenshots or the steps.

Thanks, everyobody!

Steve Flowers

Publisher is great for stuff like that. Word works too. It's really hard to do progressive disclosure in a static document. But one of the things I really like, if a job aid stretches to multiple pages, is a quick preview of what the article / job aid entails. Not so important if you're keeping it to one page but it can be nice to display a sidebar to briefly cover a process or provide an overview of what's going to be covered on a multi-page or multi-view performance aid. Sometimes this is just enough nudge to get moving and can be a critical primer to orient to complex procedures.

You can see an example of this on CNN's website:

The aside "Story Highlights" is a handy Cliff Notes version that might be helpful (in some cases) to orient the reader / performer before situating into the nitty gritty details.

David Lindenberg

Hi Kristen,

First off, I definitely agree with Holly's advice and I also have used the two-column table format that Rebecca mentioned.  Below is an example of another way to "scrunch" info into a tight space.  This was actually done for a smaller type of QRG (booklet for nurses that was small enough to stick in lab coat), so every inch counted!  Even though it isn't a 1 or 2 page format, the idea I used here could hopefully be helpful.  I created this in Publisher.

This was part of a QRG that taught the scheduling of medical procedures.  As you can see I put the instructions at the top and the screenshot below with corresponding circled-numbers for each step.  I had to be really precise on the screenshots and cut a lot, but still have enough for point of reference on the screen.  To help delineate the steps I put blue borders around each section.  Finally, I placed each successive step on top of the last and a little lower on the screen so the reader's eyes can flow down the document.

Hope this helps or sparks some ideas!


Jerry Anderson

Thanks for the example David!  I've been layering/numbering for years and found it is very well received by my learners.  The tool I use is SnagIt for the images and I can quickly craft and place into Powerpoint, Word, etc.  I can quickly layer, trim, & resize this "numbered image" and I've taught it to our other trainers.  

Mereki White

What a great thread, I'm bookmarking this for review with my team at our next meeting.  Thanks community! 

I agree with all these approaches.  For what it's worth, here's what we have found works so far:

  • A summary of a longer process at the beginning - we have been doing this as a list of steps without screen shots (a combination of Steve and Eric's suggestions) to act as a 'sneak peek' for the entire process, which acts as a reminder or reference for expeirenced users
  • Layering and numbering (like David) to show multiple steps from one starting point on a screen - though ours aren't as nicely ordered as these, because often the link you click is on the bottom right of a page, so can be obscured by the next layer and we have to get a bit creative with the layout
  • Tables, especially where the user needs to enter data in to a form on screen.  A table can help to identify each field (working from left to right, top to bottom on the screen) without needing to point to each field. 
  • 'Call out' screen shots over other screen shots, to show the options which are available under that link.  This works well for simple processes all driven from a single screen with many 'offshoots', but it can quickly get complicated..
  • Providing one larger screen shot as an orientation - i.e. a whole screen, showing where the different components sit - and then a combination of call outs or layers, or highlights, to drill further in to the process.  By using one bigger shot to begin with, users get a sense of location and you can then use smaller snippets later in the document without leaving them stranded.  Sometimes it's worth using an entire half page to do this, and point them around using numbers or similar, because it can save big screen shots later on. 

eg below of the call outs (a very simple version for Word)

Natalia Mueller

Welcome Suzanne! You have found a fantastic community full of support and free resources. If you haven't seen them yet, check out the blogs. They are full of practical tips for all things eLearning- not just Articulate products. Please feel free to send me a message if you are looking for anything in particular. If I don't know where it is I can usually find out who does.

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Ann Knechtel

We do not have Publisher at work but have discovered that using PowerPoint (change slide format to 8.5x11/portrait) is works well when developing things like Quick Guides or workbooks as it handles graphics and text boxes layouts better then Word.

I think you should keep the screenshots. Our users often 'get lost' with text only guides as they are unfamiliar with how to find tools/icons/menus so the screenshots help keep them 'on track' and they know they are in the 'right place'.

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