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Evaluating Technical Instructions

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  • 00:00 Preventing Bad Instructions
  • 00:44 Following Guidelines
  • 1:45 Evaluating Instructions
  • 2:17 Usability & Effectiveness
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Making sure that the instructions that go with a product are usable is often just as important as making sure that the product itself is usable! In this lesson, we learn how to evaluate technical instructions.

Preventing Bad Instructions

How many times have you set out to follow a recipe, only to have to start over again? For whatever reason, the directions to make those brownies or that casserole were just bad. In fact, you may have had the same thing happen when you were a student in a science lab. The description said to just add the baking soda to the vinegar, but it clearly was supposed to be the other way around, to prevent a mess.

Needless to say, preventing bad instructions from creeping into technical writing is an important job, whether you are writing a cook book, or going over a lab procedure for a discovery that could win you a Nobel Prize. In this lesson, we'll look at steps we can take to make sure that instructions in technical writing are written as clearly and concisely as possible.

Following Guidelines

First things first, let's take a look at some very basic guidelines for writing well. Just because technical writing isn't as pretty as creative writing doesn't mean that it doesn't have to follow the rules. In fact, it's all the more reason to do so. Obviously, check for spelling and grammar errors. Also check for accuracy, as well. Just because most people don't know the difference between sulfate and sulfide, doesn't mean that they are the same thing.

Also, make sure that the style of the writing matches up with the expectations of the audience. If you are writing something to a bunch of rocket scientists then you don't have to define liquid oxygen. If, however, you are writing a brief memo to a press secretary on the workings of a rocket, including a definition of the use of liquid oxygen would probably be a good idea.

Finally, take a look at the tone of the document. The best forms of technical writing often just disappear, letting people take the facts as they need them. The words can come across as condescending. Make sure you're not the latter.

Evaluating Instructions

Now that we've followed those basic guidelines, let's actually evaluate the instructions. Often this could just mean reading through them to make sure that they make logical sense. Other times we could have someone who didn't write them read them, just to make sure that there aren't any steps left out. However, for procedures that merit it, you may want to encourage others to spend a bit of time recreating whatever it is that the document is about. In any event, you want the reader to be able to get from the beginning to the end of the piece without confusion and with the desired outcome.

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