Simplify Critical Information with QRGs

Team of IT specialists in datacenter working by network servers

At some point somebody will ask you if you have a Quick Reference Guide, or QRG. These documents are useful for summarizing operational information about products, services, and processes for employees, partners, and/or customers. They are for “quick reference” and easy to use because they summarize the critical operational information.  If you don’t have one, you may be a bit perplexed how to create it. However, it can be fairly easy to do.

A QRG is similar to a data sheet but more like a spec sheet. Instead of trying to influence the reader to buy something, you are striving to help the reader quickly find the most commonly required information for daily operations. If you can focus on the key components of the topic that need to be shared with users, and have a template for the structure, it is simple to assemble. As with data sheets, writers attempt to keep QRGs to a maximum of two pages when possible.

Recently I was asked by a colleague if I had a Quick Reference Guide that I had created a while back for a project we both worked on. Of course I still had a template and a few drafts. So, I thought I’d share them with you (names changed of course).

It may be easier to design the template you will use before you worry about filling it in with real data. Typically, I consider the structure (e.g., types of components) first and then the layout. Once you have your template set up, you can use it for each QRG, and modify it according to the corresponding subject matter.

Structure and Layout
Typically, the QRG will contain an overview, some graphics and tables, and links to related content, such as useful tools, contacts, and reference material. This is the information that you want to be literally at the fingertips of the reader. It is a “quick reference” for people on the job, such as field personnel and customer support. That’s why it has to be brief and to the point. The information must be easy to find.

For the layout, you should have access to the branding guidelines from your Marketing department. The layout may need to include marketing/legal requirements, such as copyright notice, logo and trademarks.

The following is a very basic sample template without any text or data. As you can see, it shows the main sections, and encourages use of tables and graphics wherever possible to organize the content.

Key Components of the Product/Service/Process
Think about what somebody in the field needs right at his/her fingertips. Not only is this information useful for on-the-job projects, but excellent for training purposes. You have to reduce the subject matter down to just the basics, the most critical or commonly used data the reader will need.

Once you have a list of what you would like to include in the QRG, it’s time to figure out how you can fit it all into the available space – again, typically two pages. Sometimes you can reduce the data footprint by including it in a table or a graphic (e.g., an infographic). Of course, you don’t want the content so jam-packed that it is not readable. If some of the material won’t fit, maybe you can summarize the critical information and include a link to a another document for additional information.

The following draft illustrates information as it has been inserted in the template, organized in bulleted lists, tables and graphics. There is still a lot of real estate available on the two pages to add more useful content to aid the reader.

 Sample QRG

Have fun creating your own QRGs!

About jleer

Jonathan Leer is writer/owner of Leer Technical Communications, LLC, a technical/business writing consultancy that strives to add value to content creation and delivery. He and his fellow writers and editors provide their services to companies in the high-tech, financial, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Many of these projects have required working with stakeholders in compliance, product development and testing, professional services, customer support, marketing, sales, finance, and training. Content has been targeted to customers, and partners, as well as developers and other internal personnel, and published for wiki, web, and print delivery. Contact Jon for questions or requests for assistance with your next content project.
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