Instructions are usual in the world of work. Examples are fire drills, grievance procedures, and instructions for using equipment.
Here are some guidelines to help you to write clear instructions:
- Prefix the instructions with a clear heading that summarises the task.
- Show clearly who does what. If a process involves more than one person, write a different procedure for each person.
- Start each instruction with a verb that tells the reader to do something. Examples: "Open the valve…", "Press the emergency button…", "Tell your supervisor…"
- Use a numbered list when the order is important. Use a bulleted list (like this list) when the order is not important (for example, when the reader can choose between different options).
- Put notes and warnings at the start of the instructions, or before the list item to which they refer.
- Specify conditions before the primary part of the instructions. For example, at step 5 of some stocktaking instructions, do not write, "Before you start the stocktake, make sure that…" (This type of problem frequently occurs.)
- Do not mix instructions with conceptual information. Give the necessary background information before the instructions.
- Write for your audience and use a level of detail that is suitable to their skill level.
- Avoid lists of more than approximately ten steps. If possible, divide a long list of instructions into two or more different tasks.
- Specify what the reader does when the task is complete. If a reader asks, "Now what?", the instructions are not complete.
For more help with instructions, attend the technical author training for software developers.