How To Write Clear Instructions

Writing instructions is part of many professions. From emails to memos to formal documented procedures, they’re among the types of writing you can bet that majority of people will encounter at one time or another.

The trick to writing good instruction materials is to make it as clear as possible. Of course, that’s easier said than done. With a little work and some careful attention, though, you can produce instructions that detail the step-by-step in a manner that the intended readers can understand. Here are some guidelines:

1. Use a clear, straightforward heading. The reader should know what the instructions are for as soon as they see that.
2. Make a point of naming actors for each step. If one step requires two or more people, give each one separate instructions.
3. Start your instruction with a verb (e.g. “Open the door” or “Push the red button”).
4. Use either numbered or bulleted lists. The former, when the sequence is important; the latter, when it is not.
5. If you have precautions, prerequisites or notes for an instruction, list them before the specific step. Never on the same line and definitely not after.
6. Do not add conceptual information to the instruction steps. Put them in a separate section (or a separate document).
7. Keep instructions to ten lines or less. If it’s not possible, try breaking down the task into two, dividing the steps between them.
8. Like all types of writing materials, instruction pieces are best composed using a qualified writing software. If possible, use one that’s geared specifically for the industry you’re in, so it can check the use of terms and words according to general aptitude levels in your field.