By: Lauren Beth Kelly
While instructions could seem boring, they’re integral to helping people understand new concepts and tasks. Have you ever tried to build IKEA furniture? Cook a new dish? Drive to a place you’ve never been before? The success of all of these undertakings was largely thanks to the instructions that accompanied them.
A list of instructions is a step-by-step explanation of a given procedure. Instructions are written using a logical and sequential order with individual actions, or tasks.
When writing instructions, you would them to be easy to follow, and it should be clear when one step ends and another begins. The best way to do this is to include a numbered vertical list to allow your readers to easily follow the sequence of tasks in your instructions. Try to limit each action to a single sentence, as excessive tasks can be overwhelming. If possible, divide a lengthy item into two or more different numbered tasks.
Many instructions also include tasks that can be written differently depending on who will be using your instructions. So, be mindful of your audience by using details appropriate to their skill level. For example, a professional recipe may address readers who already have a good knowledge of culinary terminology and cooking methods. On the other hand, a less experienced audience could require more universal language in which technical terms should be limited and defined.
Instructions should first include an introduction before listing the step-by-step actions to complete the task. Along with providing your reader with any important background information, an introduction indicates to your audience what the result will be when the instructions are completed.
Following your introduction, be sure to include a list of tools or supplies that are needed to complete the instructions. For example, if you’re writing a recipe, list out all cookware and ingredients your readers will need to complete the recipe.
In general, instructions are written in the second-person and in the active voice. Start each instruction with an action verb that tells the reader to do something. Be direct and speak in an imperative tone. And be sure to put the most important item in each sentence at the beginning.
Throughout your instructions, include clear headings, such as “Materials” or “Getting Started.” For more complex instructions, you can also use subheadings.
To enhance the appearance of your instructions to make them easier to understand, use white space and graphics like charts or diagrams. For example, if you’re composing directions, a map can help your audience visualize things by including details such as landmarks.
Conclude your instructions by telling your reader how to proceed once the instructions are completed. For example, for recipe instructions, you might include a photo of the finished dish.
Lastly, when scanning your document for any typos and other errors, make sure you haven’t omitted any important information. It can be easy to skip through details, especially if you’re already familiar with your instructions. So, be sure to test them out before you submit them to your intended audience.