Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tips for Writing Instructions

Instruction documents are procedure documents. They tell the reader how to do something clearly and concisely. Instructions help people do something that accomplishes a specific result: set up a computer, bake a chocolate cake, change the oil in a car, put together an armoire.
How to write instructions

In some cases, the person needs to master a process so that he/she can perform it independently of the instructions: reboot the computer when it crashes, send and receive email, take photographs with a 35 mm camera.

  • Target instructions for the other person’s level of expertise. If you’re not sure how much they know, assume they know little.
  • Use learning aids such as graphs, charts, tip sheets, quick steps, etc.
  • Match the person’s preferred way of learning. Some people learn by watching, looking at diagrams, or training videos. They are visually oriented. Others prefer to listen to instructions and repeat them back. They are more auditory. Finally, some people need to perform the activity in order to learn it. They are probably kinesthetic.
  • Test your instructions by asking the person to repeat what you told them or actually perform the activity.

When writing instructions:

  • Break instructions into short, simple steps.
  • Use imperative voice – start all sentences with a verb.
  • Make sure sentences are concise and clear.
  • Use “If” to denote something that may or may not occur; “when” to denote something that should occur. For example: “If the dial moves into the red zone, stop” and “When the dial moves into the red zone, stop.”
More good resources for writing help!

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