Handbook Planning Guide

A handbook, as we are defining it here, is a combination of concept, instruction, and reference information focused on a specific topic for a specific audience's needs.

Handbook Basics

Your handbook project must include in some shape or fashion each of these three elements. Moreover, these elements should be a natural, logical "fit" for your handbook project. Don't cram in a reference or concept section just to meet project requirements. Brainstorm with your instructor to adjust your topic or to find practical useful reasons to include all three elements in your handbook. Eventually I will have a nice verbose discussion of the handbook, the three essential elements, and examples. But at least for this week, here's what we got:

Concepts. Conceptual information explains how things work, how things are put together. For more complex instructions, you have to know some concepts, theory, background, principles to perform the instructions. Consider the example of the software function that enables you to modify or create your own color. Using something like Photoshop, Illustration, CorelDraw or Paint Shop Pro to do this — the actual buttons and sliders — is easy. But understanding how hue, intensity, brightness, saturation, density, contrast, RGB —that's hard. You have to know computer color theory to create the color you need.

Consider another example: simple Linux file system commands—ls, cd, cp, mv, pwd. To use these commands, you need to understand what files and directories are, and probably what an operating system is as well as wildcards. You really can't understand how to use these commands—follow instructions using them—unless you understand these basic concepts.

Instructions. If you do understand the fundamental concepts, then you can intelligently follow the step by step procedures. Instructions are those familiar numbered-list things that carefully walk you through a procedure. Instructions are everywhere, on product packaging, in user guides that come with appliances and computers.

Reference. The last category of information involves what I call look-up information, or quick-reference information. If you followed my file system example, you need to study and learn the concepts of files, directory, wildcards first. THen you could follow and understand the instructions on changing directories, copying, deleting, or moving files. After a while though you no longer need the instructions, but now and then you have special requirements no covered in the instruction section or you can't remember certain procedures that were covered in the instruction section. Now's the time you need basic reference information: you just go to that section and quickly look it up. In fact, the reference section will also have the same information essential information presented in the instructions section, but just presented in a reference-style format. And so after more time, you no longer need either the concepts section or the instructions section: you gotten so accustomed to those procedures, you know them by heart. But now and then you forget some little detail or you have some special task you've never done before —that's when you go to the reference section. You could probably tear off the concepts and instructions sections and throw them away. All you'll ever need is the reference section.

Handbook Format and Style

In your handbook for this course, you must adhere to rather specific guidelines for the use of headings, lists, notices, graphics, tables, documentation, and introductions—which of course assumes that you must use these things:

Prototype. From the link below you can get a dummy version of the handbook. It includes all the required pages in good format. Included in this Word document are paragraph and character styles that will make your work easier and add some professional skills to your repertoire. The table of contents is particularly useful: it gives you the Word styles to produce a professional-looking TOC:

Handbook prototype
Table of contents prototype

Handbook Examples

Here are some examples. Be aware that there are some problems in the examples, problems most of which I have commented on. Some of these are borderline handbooks. What makes a handbook for me is the presence of conceptual discussion, instructions, and references to other resources.

Film production
Amazon
Asthma
Avian flu

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