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Can Videos Replace Authoring?

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As the rate of technological adoption explodes globally, technical writers are left asking the question: can video replace the manual? Ask yourself these two questions:

  • How many times have you searched the web to find a video for a quick how-to demo?
  • How many times have you searched for written instructions after watching the video?

30% of people that access YouTube search for How-To type videos.1 A useful video should not be longer than 4 minutes without the risk of losing audience.2 Within this time frame, a video can provide helpful information for a simple process on a user-friendly device. However, as you have probably experienced, many times the videos are not created by experts and you have to spend time browsing videos until you find the ONE that is helpful.

A user guide, also commonly known as a manual, is a technical communication document intended to give assistance to people using a particular system.2 A manual can contain very specific information that cannot be included in 4-minute videos. While a video can be useful for a quick set up, the best resource for complex configurations, such as servers and networks, are written instructions.

Let us compare a few aspects on videos and manuals.

Time efficiency

If you have tried to create a how-to video, you probably noticed that it is a long process for the 4-minute end result.  In the same amount of time, you can write more than one procedure, right?  In a technical writer’s world, a short manual can contain 60 procedures.  Imagine the time required to create videos for a longer manual! And yes, I am referring to manuals instead of topic-based content, but the time required has the same implications on both content types.

Cost efficiency

The cost to produce a video depends on the quality of the video.  Whereas a home-made video is great to promote a shampoo, it is not a company’s best option to promote quality technology.  Of course that the same criteria applies to the manuals, as a company would require an expert to write the written instructions.  However, the manual can include more quality information in the same amount of time invested in video creation.


Both videos and manuals are used in training, and again, the best tool to use depends on the level of expertise and the subject to learn. Videos and manuals have different purposes.  Videos can provide useful information to viewers but is not intended for more complex procedures.

A recent study found that 73% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase after watching How-To videos explaining a product or service. 1 This could be the reason why many companies offer customers both options: videos and manuals.  While videos can be a supplementary aid for written instructions, videos do not replace the value of a manual.

Has the age of written instructions come to an end?

Definitely not, although manuals could be evolving, from manuals to modules, from PDFs to html or other web-based formats, to adapt to quickly-changing consumer’s needs, written instructions still have an important place in our technological world.

  1. "Online Technical Writing: User Guides". hcexres@io.com. Retrieved 13 August 2009
  2. http://truefocusmedia.com/5-reasons-why-you-should-be-creating-how-to-videos/
  3. https://www.minimatters.com/youtube-best-video-length/