Instructions: How to Write Guides for Busy, Grouchy People

how to write practical report

People hate reading instructions. and will only glance at them when they are hopelessly lost. By then, they will already be frustrated and behind schedule. For this reason, you should organize your instructions carefully, phrase them clearly, and make them as brief as you possibly can.

This document introduces five basic principles about writing instructions. Any professional writing textbook will have a long section on writing instructions and manuals, but the basics are as follows:

Put the Lime in the Cocoanut.

1. Know your audience.

Most college assignments are written for an ideal reader — an expert whose job includes scrutinizing and pondering everything that you write.

Don’t expect your audience to read your document as carefully as you or your English teacher would. People in the real world read instructions when they are impatient, fatigued, or even terrified .

Your writing must be clear enough that readers can understand with minimal effort. This does not mean using baby language or avoiding complex details; it does mean using vocabulary appropriate to your audience, and including details that your readers need to perform the immediate task. (How do you know whether you have included enough detail? Conduct a usability test .)

2. Provide a brief introduction.


your readers determine, even before opening the brochure or downloading the web page, whether this document will help them do whatever it is they want to do.

State in plain language, what task your document describes: “Installing and Operating the Canon BJ-200ex Bubble Jet Printer.”

In a few sentences, state the purpose of the document; who should read it, and under what circumstances. If it will help your reader, you might also explain what your document does not do.

Practically speaking, most users will skip the introduction and go right to the first numbered step. (Don’t put anything vital in the intro!)

If you wish, you may place extended background information in a subordinate position (a marginal note, a sidebar, or a completely different document) that does not interfere with the user’s access to the list of required actions.

Note: Technical support documents are no place for marketing slogans — the reader has already got the product, and is probably annoyed with it at the moment.

3. Write each step as a command.

Use the the imperative mood — that is, phrase each step as if your reader has just asked, “What should I do next?” Answer by giving a direct command: “Add two cups of flour.”


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