In this assignment, you will write step-by-step instructions that explain how to perform a technical task.
After completing this assignment, you will have gained the following skills:
- Writing a documentation plan
- Researching technical processes and explaining them to specific audiences
- Writing clear steps that are the right size and in the imperative mood
- Differentiating steps from feedback statements
- Testing instructions to make sure the audience can follow them
- Following a style guide and writing for translation
Task to Document
You are free to write instructions for almost any technical task. "Technical" does not necessarily mean that the task has to be about computers or high-tech. You can choose any task that is sufficiently complex and that requires you to use precise and technical vocabulary. Make sure that the task has clearly sequential steps and is not a bunch of tips and tricks.
Recommendation: Choose a task that you know well enough to document or, even better, a task that you are learning or that someone can describe to you. If you document a new-to-you task, you can identify steps that might be confusing to non-experts.
Ideas: Installing a washer and dryer, tuning bicycle brakes, creating and populating a database, setting up a wifi network, building a telescope, deleting a Facebook account, building a raised gardening bed.
- Exclusion: Recipes and cooking instructions are excluded.
If you have questions about whether your topic idea will work for this assignment, just ask.
You can also choose the audience for this assignment. Make sure that your document plan describes the audience's motivations, skills, and context. Unless your audience is the general public, the introduction for your instructions should describe the audience so that readers can decide whether your instructions are for them.
Your Instructions assignment should be about 800 - 1500 words (this is a suggestion, not a hard requirement), have at least 10 appropriately sized steps (again, a suggestion, which might vary widely based on your use of sub-steps), and include the following elements:
- A descriptive title that uses a "How to..." or gerund format
- A short but informative introduction that provides context about the task and indicates the target audience
- If necessary, a list or explanation of prerequisites
- Numbered steps, written in imperative mood. If necessary, steps can be organized into top-level steps with sub-steps.
- As appropriate, feedback statements and cues to help your audience know that they are on the right track.
Images: You might find that images are critical for describing some steps. Feel free to include images. If you create them yourself, don't worry about your drawing ability. This is a writing class, not a drawing class, so you will not be graded on your artistic ability. If you use an image from someone else, make sure to cite your source.
Video: If you prefer to create an instructional video, you can! You will not be graded on your video production skills or acting skills, but you will need to turn in a written script with your video that clearly organizes the elements described above. Videos are a particularly good choice for tasks that involve manipulating physical objects.