Instruction Sets

Screen shot 2011-09-01 at 5.11.20 PM.png
Image source: Flickr.

Instruction sets are common technical documents for many disciplines and occupations. Employees read instructions to learn how to assemble a product or complete a procedure. Supervisors write out company policies that oftentimes serve as instruction sets, and customers read instructions for using a product. The quality of a manual matters since companies and organizations stand to lose both profits and credibility.


The main goal of technical communicators when producing a user manual is to create ease. Your reader should have no trouble finding and understanding the information in the instructions and applying them to the equipment or procedure.

Keep your reader in mind when you write this assignment. Your objective will be to create a professional instruction set for Montréalités.




You will develop a set of instructions advising Montrealers on how to perform a specific task. 


  • Choose something you are very familiar with. 
  • Ideally, your audience should be someone who has never performed this task before.
  • Your audience should have a general understanding of the topic area.
  • Choose a task with an appropriate level of difficulty--neither too easy nor too hard to explain in the space allotted (10 steps).
  • The process should have discrete parts or steps that are fairly easy to name and refer to.


Here are some topics that you might want to choose for your project:


  • How to  Park Downtown Montreal
  • How to Find a Doctor
  • How to  Register your Car
  • How to Break a Lease 




 Rhetorical Situation    


Before you begin to write, consider the rhetorical situation for your instructions. Use the planning worksheet to help you determine the purpose, audience, context, and content for your instructions.  Note, people have unique ways of learning. Take the Vark Questionnaire to learn about your style of learning. Next, consider how your audience might best learn.



Example: Dad Asks Computer Questions -Current TV





Depending on the nature of your task, you may wish to include some or all of the following contents.


What your introduction should include:

  • An overview of the steps needed to complete the task
  • Definitions of terms or concepts they need to know before they proceed
  • Cautions or warnings that apply to the task as a whole
  • A sense of how long the task will take
  • Where they should perform the task  
  • List of materials or ingredients needed.
  • Diagrams, drawings, photographs, figures, or tables.
  • Include captions for each illustration or figure.
  • Label charts and diagrams clearly.
  • Make sure to give a sense of scale and orientation.
  • List of steps, in chronological order.


Additional Guidelines for Designing an Instruction Set

  • Make sure you use the imperative mood. ("Attach the red wire.")
  • Phrase each step clearly and concisely.
  • Provide "feedback" that informs the reader what will happen after they complete each step.
  • Include warnings or cautions before readers will encounter problems.
  • Break long lists into sections with appropriate sub-headings.
  • Make sure sub-headings and steps are phrased in parallel form.   
  • Include troubleshooting tips.
  • Provide a glossary of key terms and definitions.





Instructions are normally organized in a chronological order. Beyond that, here are some other guidelines:



What Your Design Should Include

  • A clear hierarchy of headings and subheadings.
  • Well-chosen fonts. For print documents, sans-serif fonts are usually best for headings; serif fonts are best for body text. (For online documents, the reverse is true.)
  • Numbered lists and bulleted lists, where appropriate.  Know the difference. Make sure bullets and numbering are consistently formatted. Do not number or bullet lists with fewer than two items.
  • An appropriate amount of white space--neither too much nor too little.
  • Effective use of alignment. Centered alignment may make it harder for users to skim headings and sub-headings; left alignment or indentations can be more effective for this.
  • Effective use of contrast. Too much contrast means that nothing stands out; too little makes it hard for users to find what they need. Consider emphasizing elements like headings, key words, and warnings.
  • Consistently used design features. Decide which fonts, font sizes, and forms of emphasis you will use and apply them consistently.
  • Length should be about 2 pages single-spaced.






End Note 


Leave a comment