A field test is a method of direct observation-s- a method by which you can check the accuracy of your instructions. You ask someone who is unfamiliar with the process you are explaining to follow your instructions while you watch. If you have written the instructions correctly, the reader should be able to perform the entire activity without ever asking any questions. When you field test instructions, keep a record of all the places where the  reader either hesitates or asks you a question.One group of instructors recently had to write a set of instructions on how to use a computer -card catalog in a library. They planned the appropriate sequence, subdivided the process into steps, and designed uncrowded pages so that users could overcome their anxiety about using the computer catalog.. When they finished  the instructions, they field-tested te results. The test revealed a major fault in the instructions almost immediately. The first person to use the instructions spelled an author’s name wrong. The instructions gave no information on how to undo a spelling mistake. Once they were aware of it, the writers corrected the problem, this example illustrates how easy it is to overlook a small point that C,11 have a major impact on the effectiveness of the instructions.


To write a useful set of instructions, you must carefully plan,  test the document. Planning consists of several stages. You must decide whether your audience is at a beginning or intermediate level. You must identify the constraints, emotional or physical, in these situations. You must establish a chronological sequence by determining your end goals then analyze the tasks to be performed by working backwards You also want to tell your readers about any special conditions they should be aware of. You need to choose visual aids (usually drawings or photographs),and you must follow clear design principles so all the steps are easy to grasp. The introduction give the purpose of the instructions: the body contains  steps. each numbered for clarity. Effective writers field test and before releasing them to their intended audience.


 The model that follows is a set of instructions written for beginners. The introduction presents essential information to orient readers; the body contains
a clear sequence of steps and well-designed pages.


The purpose of these instructions is to show you how to make a standard-sized photocopy from a standard-sized original. The instructions assume that the copier is turned on and that you have inserted an Audi tron.


  1. Place the original face down in the feed tray located on the left side of the
    copier. The top of the page should face left.
  2. Make sure the Original Indicator, locate don the left side of the Communications
    Monitor, highlights LETTER as in Fig. 1.
  3. If it doesn’t highlight LETTER, lift the cover of the Special Effects Panel,
    located to the lea (If the Communications Monitor
  4. Press the Original Step.Select Key one or more times until the correct
    direction light appears and the word LETTER shows.
    Communications Monitor


  1. Write a set of instructions for a process you know well. If possible, pick a process that a beginning student in your major will have to perform; otherwise, choose something that you do at a’ job or as a hobby – waxing skis, developing film, ringing up a sale, taking inventory. After you have written the instructions, pair up with a classmate. Outside of class,
    field  lest each other’s instructions. Note every place that your classmate hesitates or asks a question, and revise your instructions accordingly  Use visual aids, and design your pages effectively. Analyze several manuals for using word-processing programs (manuals for Apple Macintosh software programs arc good choices, but any manual is fine, even the instructions that accompany small appliances, such as hand-held calculators). Compare them for page design, and for methods of introducing and handling individual steps, including cautions or explanations of results. Then compare one of the manuals with a technical manual for, say, an electrical generator or some other piece of equipment. Write a memo to a supervisor recommending one of these manuals as a model. Give clear reasons for you choice.


John Deere, Jn~ 430 Will mid Garden Tractor Operator’s Manual. OM-M87456 Issue
H4 Molina, IL:-jhon Deere, Inc., 1985.



A clear set of instructions has an introduction and a body. After you have drafted them, you will be more certain that your instructions are clear if you field test them.

Write an Effective Introduction
The introduction orients the reader to the instructions. Although short introductions. are the norm, you may’ want to include many different bits of  information, depending on your analysis of the audience’s knowledge level and of the demands of the process. You should always State the objective of the instructions for the reader.

Depending. on the audience, you may also

  • Define-the process.
  • Define important terms.
  • List any necessary tools, materials, or conditions.
  • Explain who needs to use the process.
  • Explain where or when to perform the process.


In the following introduction, note that the writer states the objective
(“these instructions will show you “) defines terms, lists materials,
explain conditions, and previews what will appear in the body.


Visicalc is a software program used on an ISM personal computer to perform various accounting and incantation functions. Easy to operate, Visicalc can save its user time and paperwork. These instructions will show you how to fill out a cost of goods manufactured statement using Visicalc. The ISMs are located in Room 239 of the Tech Wing along the far wall. The user must reserve time on the computer. Reservation sheets are located outside of Room 239. These instructions tell you to push the enter key. This key is located at the right side of the keyboard with a bentarro w symbol.These instructions have five parts: materials needed, loading Visicalc, entering  the data, saving the data, andprinting the statement


All the materials that you need are available from the lab
attendant in Room 239, Tech Wing. Just ask .

  • Formatted 51/4 in. floppy disk
  • Applications for Cost and Managerial Disk

Write an Effective Body

The body consists of numbered steps arranged in chronological order. The numbered stews are the tasks that the reader must perform. To make each step clear, construct the steps carefully, place the information in the correct order, use imperative verbs, and do not omit articles (a, all, the) or prepositions.

Construct Steps

             To make each step clear, follow these guidelines:

  • Number each step.
  • Stare only one action per number (although the effect of “the action is
    often included in the step).
  • Explain unusual effects.
  • Give important rationale,
  • Refer to visual aids.
  • Make suggestions for avoiding or correcting  mistakes.

If safety cautions are necessary, place them before the instructions. An example of how to write the body is given below. Place Inform> ion in Useful Order If you have to present both the instruction and an explanatory comment, you must lidded in which order to place them. Generally, put the instruction first and then the explanation. however, the explanation is a safety warning. place ;[ first.

Light the match and.slowly bring it toward the top of the Bunsen burner.

Use Imperative Verbs The appropriate style for instructions is the imperative, or order-giving, form of the verb. Give the orders clearly so that there is no mistaking what you mean. Consider the difference in these two sentences: .

The first is a clear imperative statement; the second is not. The difference is the school children, which sends an ambiguous message: you “should” do it this way/but if you’re close, you’ll still be all right. Use the imperative .

Retain the Short Wends How to handle the “short” words (the articles – tile, a, and nil, – and prepositions, especially o is an issue in writing sets of instructions. Many people think their instructions will be clearer if they use as few words as possible. So they delete the short words, making the instructions sound like a telegram. Eliminating these words often makes the sentences harder to grasp because the distinction between  verbs, nouns, and adjectives is blurred.Unclear Sentence If paid, give patron envelope containing tickets.


Here is the body of the set of instructions, which follows the introduction appearing on p. 210.


Visicalc Spreadsheet

Entering The Data
This step will give you practice entering data in the “cells” of the spreadsheet. After you have gotten the feel of it, you can use your own spreadsheet.

Note: Use the arrow keys to move the cursor to the cell where you want to enter data Caution: Do not insert commas in the numbers you are entering. Enter the numbers exactly as they are given.


Keys to Move Cursor

  1. Move to cell G5 and type: 60000. Hit the enter key. Note: If you make a mistake, hit the enter key and type over.
  2. Moye to cell F7 and type: 40000. Hit the enter key.
  3. Move to cell F8 and type: 388800. Hit the enter key.
  4. Move to cell FII and type: 48000. Hit the enter key.
  5. Move to cell F15 and type: 800000. Hit the enter key.
  6. Move to cell F18 and type: 226000. Hit the enter ~ey.
  7. Move to cell G23 and .ype: 36000. Hit the enter key.

Saving The Data

  1. Remove the program disk from drive A.
  2. Insert the formatted personal disk into drive A in the same
    manner in which you inserted the first two disks.
  3. Type: ISSCOGMT. The first three characters (/SS) make
    up the command to save the data, and the last five (COGMT)
    make up the name of the file. You’Can choose any word
    you wish to name the file, up to eight characters.

Printing The Statement

  1. Make sure that the printer is on-line and ready by checking
    to see :~both lights are lit on the printer.
  2. Move the cursor to cell A1.
  3. Type: IPP.


To plan your instructions, you need to determine your audience, identify constraints, and select an organizational principle.

Understand the Goal of Instructions
Instructions enable readers to complete a project or to learn a  70 b complacent a project means to arrive at a definite end result:  a form or assemble a toy or make a garage on command. To learn a process means to master a process so that it can be

performed independently of the set of instructions. The reader can paddle a canoe log on to the computer, or adjust the camera. In effect, a set of instructions should become obsolete, either because the reader finishes the project or learns to perform the process without them.

Consider the Audience

When you analyze your audience, you estimate their knowledge level and any physical or emotional constraints they might have.

Knowledge Level The audience  at one of two levels:

  • Absolute! beginners who know nothing about the process
  • Intermediates who understand the process but need a memory jog before they can function effectively

The reader’s knowledge level determines how much information you need to include. Think about, for instance. telling someone to turn on a computer. If yo.u tell beginners to “turn it on,” they will not be able to do so because they will not know to look in the back – the location of the power switch on most computers. So you will also have to tell them where to find the switch. An intermediate, however, knows that the switch is at the back all you have to say is “turn it on.”
The following two examples illustrate how the audience affects the set of instructions. The first example tells a beginner how to log on to a mainframe computer; the second example tells an intermediate how to perform
the same process. The first example is much longer, explaining the process in detail, the instructions guiding the reader through the entire process. The secOhd example does not guide at all; it simply lists the sequence of steps to jog-the reader’s memory.



  1. Flip on the power switch. It is on the back of the terminal to the left. Tell  beginners where to find switch
  2. Press  return key until ENTER CLASS appears on the screen.
    Note: The computer has a 20-second time limit on the five instructions to follow, so you must move ‘right along, or you will have to start the instructions over. Effect of action Special condition.
  3. Type in “3.” The VAX is a class 3 option,
  4. Press the return key. The computer will respond with GO.
  5. Press the return key once or twice until the computer prints out WELCOME TO THE UW-STOUT VAX 11/80. The computer will then print USERNAME: on the screen.  Type in TS 1112220304. This is the training session username. Ordinarily you must be enrolled in a class that uses the VAX to receive a user name; when the user name is matched with the proper password, you gain access to the files.
  6. Press the return key. The word PASSWORD will be printed out on the screen.
  7. Type in “A STUDENT.” this is the training session password. The computer will not print the password out on the screen as you type. If the password matches the user name and it will if you typed it correctly – the computer will print
  8. WELCOME TO VAXIVMS VERSION V4.2, and a $D + will appear. The $ is a prompt. D + signifies that you have successfully entered the system.


  1. Turn the-terminal on
  2. Hit Return
  3. Type 3, Return
  4. Type Return, Return
  5. Insert user name, Return
  6. Password

Identify Constraints The audience will have emotional and physical constraints in attempting to follow instructions. Many people have a good deal of anxiety about performing a task for the first time. They worry that the)’ will make mistakes and that those mistakes will cost them their labor, What if they tighten the wrench too hard? Will the bolt snap off? What if they hit the wrong key? Will they lose the entire contents of their disk? To this anxiety, you should include tips about what should take place  J given step, and what to do if something else does happen. Step 8 in the first example above explains that something unusual will happen: the password will  not appear on the screen. If this action’ is not explained,users might easily think that something has gone wrong or that they have performed the step incorrectly. The statement allays their fears. The physical constraints are usually the materials needed to perform  the process, but they might also be special environmental considerations. A Phillips screw cannot be tightened with a regular screwdriver; a three pound hammer cannot be swung in a restricted space; in a darkroom only  a red light can shine. Physical constraints also include safety  concerns. If touching a certain electrical connection can cause injury, you must make that very clear.

Select an Organizational Principle

Organize the set of instructions in chronological order. Decide which step comes first, which second, and so on; then present them in that order. To decide where in the sequence each step belongs, you must analyze the process: you must determine the end goal, name and explain the tasks to be performed, and analyze any special conditions that the user should know. (For an example, refer to F~gure 10.1 below.)

Determine the End Goal The end goal is whatever you want the reader to achieve, the “place” the user will be at the end of the process. Suppose that your topic is to tell someone .how to work a film projector. , This process could end at several points. The end goal might be, “moving images will appear on the screen.” Or the goal might be, “the film is returned to its canister and the machine left in proper condition for the next user.” The end goal you choose will affect the number of steps in your document. Different end goals will require you to provide different sets of instructions, with different sections

Analyze the Tasks For every set of instructions you write, you must analyze the  of tasks, or steps, that the user takes to get to the end goal. The”most effective method is to go backwards. If the end goal is 1

Determining the End Goal

to return the film to the canister, the question to ask is, “What step must the user perform immediately before putting the film into the canister?” The answer is that the film must be taken off the spool on the rewind arm.  If you continue to go backwards, the next question is,”How does the film get onto the rewind spool?” As you answer that question, another will be suggested, and then another – until you are back at the beginning, taking the film out of the canister.

Name and Explain the Tasks Once you have decided on the sequence of tasks, you should name each task and explain any sub task that accompanies it. If one of the tasks is to “thread the film through the machine,” tell the user how to do that. Some projectors are easy to thread, but others require a number of sub steps – levers opened, loops made a certain size. How much you say will depend on the audience’s knowledge level

Analyze Conditions You must also analyze any special conditions that the user must know about. For instance, the projector can project only if the bulb is functioning. What if a user has to replace a burned-out bulb? You should foresee this problem and explain how to change the bulb and what size to use. Safety considerations are very important: warn the user not to touch a hot bulb and to turn off the machine before working on it. Example ‘of Process Analysis The following set of instructions is the result of a careful analysis of the sequence of steps. The writer clearly names the end goal (to heat-fix the smear), clearly states the sub tasks (in four steps), and accounts for special conditions (explains why not to heat too long. Notice that the following section is written for a beginner: the writer outlines the steps and sub steps, and uses a visual aid. If this section were rewritten for an intermediate, the writer would only need to say, . “Heat-fix the’ smear.”

After the smear has air-dried, heat-fix it so that the E. coli bacterial cells adhere to the glass slide. Using only the right edges of the glass slide, pick up the glass slide.

  1. In a rapid circular motion, pass the glass slide through the
    bunsen burner flame. Repeat this motion three times (see Figure 1). The bottom of the slide should become very warm but not hot. If the cells are heated too much, they will change their normal shape.
  2. Place the heat-fixed smear on a clean paper towel.
  3. Turn the bunsen burner off by pushing the handle of the
    gas terminal away from you.

Choose Visual Aids

Provide as many visual aids as you can. A visual aid can quickly clarify and reinforce the prose explanation. Drawings and photographs are the most effective visual aids for instructions. In most situations you can probably provide a drawing more easily than a photograph. If you have a scanner, you may want to incorporate photographs into your instructions.

Guidelines for Choosing Visual Aids Here are a few guidelines for visual aids:

  • Use callout – letters or words to indicate key parts. Draw a line or arrow from each call out to the part. Note the words “Play” and
  • Record” in the visual aid below.
  • The drawing or photograph should show the object or illustrate the
  • Place the’ visual aid as close as possible to the  discussion.
  • Make each visual aid large enough. Do not skimp on size.
  • Beneath each visual aid,  and a title. Refer to each visual aid clearly in the text.

Effect of a Visual Aid Consider the difference in clarity between : these two instructions.

All Words Words and Visual Aid Push the Play and Record buttons. The Play button is the large black button at the right end of the row of controls; it has an arrow pointing to the right.  The Record button is a square orange button to the left of the Play button.


Control Panel
The Difference between Photographs Drawings A photograph shows the object realistically, often with extraneous details; a drawing can show the object more selectively. In  the photograph shows all the objects in a particular  section of the tractor’s motor. Notice  letter call outs. A drawing ~on eliminate  the surrounding detail, allowing the  reader to focus on the object out the instruction.

Follow the Usual Form for Instructions

The usual form for a set of  applies to both design features and to overall text. organization. For a clear design, use white space, varied margins, underlined or boldface heads. and clear visuals. Follow these guidelines: Place a highlighted head (underlined or boldfaced) at the beginning”  of each section .

  • Number each step.


Photograph of a Lawn and Garden Tractor


Disconnect battery ground cable (-) before servicing if
starting engine could possibly injure operator.


Drawing of a Lawn and Garden Tractor
Source: 430 Lawn and Garden Tractor Operator’s Manual. Reprinted by permission
of John Deere, lne.

  • Start the second and following lines of each step under the first letter of the first word.
  • Use margins to indicate “relative weight”: show substeps by indenting
    to the right in outline style (see the heat-fixing example on pp. 205-
  • Use white space above and below each step. Do not cramp the text.

A well-designed set of instructions is easy  read and thus allows the , reader to concentrate on the step to be completed. The usual form for organizing the text is discussed in the next section.

Sets of Instructions

Sets of Instructions


Sets of instructions appear everywhere. Magazines and books explain how to canoe, how to prepare income taxes, how to take effective photographs; consumer manuals explain how to assemble stereo systems, how to program VCRs, how to make purchased items work. On the job you will write instructions: to explain how to enveloper  many processes and how to run machines.Careful planning and writing will produce clear instructions that ‘guide readers through the task at hand, This chapter explains how to plan and write a set of useful instructions.