The Quick and Easy Guide to
Instructions & Procedures

Both instructions and procedures, sometimes called technical documentation, describe a specific task in sequential steps. Usually, instructions are written in the imperative or command voice, while procedures are written in the neutral third person. Either way, the reader is looking for directions on how to do something. A complete set of instructions and procedures is called a document set. Often, this includes installation, operation and troubleshooting documentation.

Writing Instructions and Procedures

Often, content is not the challenge in writing instructions. As the writer, you may know the procedure or will usually be able to research the procedure well enough to cover the required information. The challenge is to develop a set of written instructions that is clear and easy for any reader to use. There are some techniques that will help you write effective instructions:

Picking the Format that Fits the Audience

There are many different formats used in instruction sets. Each of these targets a particular audience with a specific level of task-related expertise. If you have done good audience analysis, you will be able to pick the appropriate format to ensure effectiveness.


Documentation: Audience: Format: 
User Manual Novice Step-by-step
Reference Manual Experienced Indexed/Alpha
Tutorial Novice Mini-lessons
Quick Reference Guide Experienced Indexed/Alpha
On-line Documentation Novice/Experienced Tree Structures (Topics)
Procedural Guide Novice/Experienced Step-by-step
Policy Manual Novice/Experienced Categories

You may have noticed that novice readers, not surprisingly, need to be led through the complete procedure. Experienced readers expect to refer to the documentation only as needed, picking topics that fit an immediate need. Some documents target both novice and experienced readers, who will each use the documents differently. Finally, regardless of audience, all technical documentation has contractual or legal elements, so complete and accurate information is needed in all formats.

WARNING: Writing Hazard Statements

Safety information is often required in instruction sets to protect people, property or both. To write a clear, effective warning, do the following: Hazard statements may use different terms to warn readers. Note, Caution, Warning and Danger each have implied levels of hazard. Note and Caution typically refer to information about property or use. Warning and Danger refer to personal safety hazards. But not all readers understand the differences. As the writer, ask yourself if the readers clearly understand the danger and how to avoid it.

Written By: George Knox © 2017
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