Presentation on theme: "Writing Instructions Guiding a reader through a process."— Presentation transcript:
Writing Instructions Guiding a reader through a process
What are instructions and manuals? They are the most common documents written by professional technical communicators. They help make products, procedures, and systems safe and “user friendly.”
Where are they found? Instructions can be in… long documentation projects (manuals) short informational docs (emails, memos) official policies (procedures)
So what? You encounter instructions every day. You will need to write instructions at some point during your work life. You need to know how to write good instructions.
First, consider your audience. Who will do it? What do they need to do? When do they need to do it? Where do they need to do it? Why do they need to do it? How skilled are they? How will they approach the document?
Four basic approaches: Obsessive Nerd Method –Some people read all the way through before beginning to follow any of the steps. –These people are relatively uncommon.
Four basic approaches: Computer Program Method –Some people read and perform each step without looking ahead to the next. –This type of reader is very common.
Four basic approaches: Handyman Method –Some people begin a task without reading any instructions and turn to them only when difficulties arise. –These readers are also very common.
Four basic approaches: Minion Method –Some people begin a task without reading any instructions and, when difficulties arise, hand the project over to somebody else.
Which type of reader are you writing for? Assume you are writing for the Computer Program audience. –Therefore, all instructions must be in a strict chronological order.
You will have good instructions if you… focus on the audience’s needs, not the subject’s features; analyze your audience carefully and match the writing to its characteristics; eschew obfuscation; use good document design.
A brief example… (Shhh… no talking during this example)
Follow These Instructions 1.Take out a sheet of paper. 2.Fold the paper in half (top to bottom). 3.On the right-hand side of the page, write the words “instructions test.” 4.Fold the paper in half again (side to side -- this will make your paper look like a greeting card). 5.Draw a smiley face on the front of the card. 6.Write your name on the card. 7.Fold the paper in half from top to bottom again. 8.Ignore step five. 9.Pass the paper to the instructor.
What goes into instructions? (short version) General introduction Step-by-step instructions Conclusion
What goes into instructions? (long version) Everything else in this PowerPoint.
Write a descriptive title. Be specific. Name the action covered in the instructions. –Poor:Snow Removal –Better:Using Your Acme Snow Blower –Better:Removing Snow with the Acme Snow Blower
State the audience and purpose. Explain the audience and purpose of the instructions unless it is obvious (i.e., a coffee maker). –“These instructions are for nurses who must inject dye into a vein through a balloon- tipped catheter.” –“This safe practices book is for employees who operate cranes and riggers.”
Name needed parts and conditions. If readers need to gather items in order to follow the instructions, list those items in the introduction. If readers need to prepare an area to perform the task, list the space requirements in the introduction.
Include safety information. Place in prominent areas on the page (location, location, location). The more critical the safety comment, the LARGER and MORE EMPHATIC it should be. Use ANSI signs if applicable.
Include appropriate labels for levels of safety. Danger –likelihood of serious injury or death Warning –potential for minor/moderate injury Caution –potential for equipment damage Note –suggestion for how to best perform the task
Some things you must know about safety info… There is no universal language or definition for safety terms. Because of liability issues, companies will not (and should not) ask you to write safety instructions unless you’re an experienced, professional technical communicator.
Organize the steps. Separate the steps into logical chunks. Number (or letter) each step in chronological order. Separate steps from tips and feedback statements.
Provide the right amount of info for each step.
Apply good design principles. Use relevant fonts, colors, and graphics. Use plenty of headings. Make the sections of your instructions visually distinct. Separate and label info that isn’t directly part of the steps.
Write your text carefully. Use present tense and imperative mode. Don’t omit articles (a, an, the) to save space. Include every step. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
What’s wrong with this? 1.Take out two slices of bread 2.Spread the peanut butter on the bread 3.I like mine with marshmallows and Fritos 4.The knife needs to be washed 5.Put the lid back on the peanut butter
Is this better? Why? 1.Take out two slices of bread. 2.Take out a clean knife. 3.Spread the peanut butter on the bread. 4.Wash the knife and place the lid back on the peanut butter. Note: I like to add marshmallows and Fritos to my peanut butter sandwiches
Write an informative conclusion. Tell readers what to expect after following the instructions. Suggest other uses and options if appropriate. –“Your food will be hot, but not as brown as if heated in the oven rather than the microwave. A few minutes of standing time will complete the cooking cycle and distribute the heat uniformly.”
Here’s a quick recap: Write to a specific audience. Keep your instructions simple. Start with an introduction. Use a visual hierarchy. Don’t skip “obvious” steps. Conclude with a summary or description. And, one more time, just so we’re clear on this…