17 – Instructions

Writing Instructions

Suzan Last; David McMurrey; and James Francis, Jr.

One of the most common and important uses of technical writing is to provide instructions—those step-by-step explanations of how to assemble, operate, repair, or do routine maintenance on something. Although they may seem intuitive and simple to write, instructions are some of the most challenging documents a technical writer will ever compose. This chapter will show you what professionals consider the best techniques in providing instructions.

An effective set of instruction requires the following:

  • Clear, precise, and simple writing
  • A thorough understanding of the procedure in all its technical detail
  • The ability to put yourself in the place of the person trying to use your instructions
  • The ability to visualize the procedure in detail and to capture that awareness in writing
  • Willingness to test your instructions based on the needs of your audience

A standard set of instructions looks like (typically, but not always):

  • A small pamphlet or booklet in size
  • White pages with black text for simplicity
  • Section headings and subheadings to breakdown the instruction process
  • Illustrations for the reader to follow along
  • Short, concise sentences/phrases for clarity
  • Repeated content in different languages for accessibility
  • Contact information for additional help
  • A URL for access to a digital copy of the instructions

This text was derived from

Last, Suzan, with contributors Candice Neveu and Monika Smith. Technical Writing Essentials: Introduction to Professional Communications in Technical Fields. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria, 2019. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Writing Instructions by Suzan Last; David McMurrey; and James Francis, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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