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4.1: Writing Instructions- Overview

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    246555
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    Most people have read instructions, but many have never written instructions for another audience. In many professional roles, you may have to write instructions. Instructions may be simple and brief, but other instructions may be complex and take more time to complete, so it is useful to know how to write useful instructions.

    In a technical field, you will likely find yourself having to write instructions for others. Doing this type of writing may not be a formal assignment. Instead, someone may simply ask you to write, or even show him or her, how to do a specific task. Even if you are not formally writing a set of instructions, knowing how to clearly communicate ways of following a process in a clear and logical fashion is incredibly important to your professional success, to the success of your company, and to keeping your workplace safe.

    Writing useful instructions can be difficult people read and comprehend differently. Some people are visual learners, and so they may be more comfortable with following a more visual set of instructions. When writing instructions, you have to remember that readers have different educational backgrounds. Because of all these considerations, it is important to use a simple and logical style and format when writing instructions. Some of the key guidelines in writing instructions discussed in the headings below will help you to be successful in writing any set of instructions.

    CONCISENESS AND CLARITY

    If you look at a set of instructions, you may immediately notice that they are written in a way that is simple. Sentences are short. Each sentence contains a command, or action, with the action verb opening the sentence. The language overall is clear. Avoid using idioms, jargon, slang, nicknames, abbreviations, or other terminology that your general reader may find confusing.

    AUDIENCE

    One of the biggest steps in preparing to write a set of instructions is to know your audience. Consider what the audience already knows about the task your instructions will ask them to complete. What is the level of education of the audience? Think about what the audience might find confusing. Note under what conditions they will use your instructions. All these considerations will help you to write your instructions toward the specific needs of your audience. For example, if you are writing instructions to software developers, you will not need to explain to them how to open a basic software application. If you were writing the same set of instructions to a group of senior citizens, it likely would be a good idea to explain the basics of opening a basic software application.

    If an audience is likely to have a wide range of experience and knowledge that includes varying levels of familiarity and expertise, you can use various techniques to keep each set of instructions concise and focused on a single task, while still providing necessary information. For example, you can create separate instructions for prerequisite information and provide your audience with the means to quickly and easily access the separate instructions through a hyperlink or appendix.

    When you consider your audience, you need to tailor your instructions to that specific audience. When you do this, there are a few considerations you may need to make.

    • What background does your audience have and what prior knowledge might they possess?
    • What will their needs/interests be?
    • How will their demographics affect how you write? For example, if your audience is non-native speakers, you will have to be aware of language issues and make sure your visuals are clear.
    • Will your audience consist of multiple variations? If your audience consists of people from varied backgrounds, your writing must be tailored to the majority of your audience, and you may consider adding additional information in an appendix or through links.

    When you consider the prompts above, you may find yourself adding information through side notes or tips. Make sure to not add any unnecessary information. Make sure your instructions has a clear organization and add examples and graphics where needed.

    GRAPHICS

    Including a visual for each step you have listed in your set of instructions helps your audience follow along with the task your instructions are guiding them through. You may consider that your audience may be more comfortable following a set of visual instructions over written instructions, so it is always wise to include graphics within your instructions. You can do this by giving an image or photograph for each step you are asking your audience to follow. You may also use graphics or other images to illustrate what specific tools look like, or to point out certain components of specific tools your audience will be using.

    The best way to get graphics for any set of instructions you write is to complete the task yourself and take photos of each step within that task. When taking photos, make sure each photo is clear and does not include any glare that makes the photo difficult to interpret. Make sure to also designate dimensions for various objects within your graphics, as the objects do not always appear to scale.

    One of the more important aspects to remember about including graphics within your set of instructions is to correlate an image with the text that best represents that image.

    FORMATTING

    Remember that readers will be performing the task set out in your instructions as they read through your instructions. You should not use small, solid blocks of texts as that is often difficult to read. Make sure to create a layout and design for your instructions that allows for easy readability. Use white space to separate text from graphics and to help visually separate steps. Keeping the page simple, but with a defined hierarchy, will help your audience in following the instructions.

    When designing your page, a solid hierarchy is important as it allows your audience to scan the instructions with relative ease. The use of bold headings, italics, and roman numerals will aid the reader in finding their place easily and helps with the overall visual appearance.

    ORDER

    You need to write out your instructions in a logical progression. Make sure to clearly outline the purpose of your instructions on the first page. Follow the statement of purpose with specific steps for accomplishing the task. Technical instructions must flow in a logical pattern. For example, when assembling a table it would not be good if you put the finishing touches on it before you had all the screws in place. As stated before, there should also be clear graphics where necessary to clarify the action. Remember that your audience may need clear visuals for each necessary step.


    4.1: Writing Instructions- Overview is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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