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.