How to Write Multi-Step Instructions

Instructor: Tara Turzi
This lesson will show you how to create clear, concise multi-step instructions. It will include tips and examples to write a sequence of steps your readers can easily follow.

Why Learn How to Write Instructions?

Knowing how to write easy to follow, multi-step instructions can be a valuable skill to have. You might want to share your favorite recipe for slime or your mom's chocolate chip cookies. You may need to tell a friend's parent how to get to your house to pick you up. Whatever the reason you are writing directions, it's important that they are clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Where to Start

First, determine what your end goal is. If you are writing directions for making slime, the goal is for your friend to be able to read your directions, follow them, and correctly make the slime. If you are providing a friend with directions, the end goal is for them to arrive at your house without getting lost. Know the end goal before you write anything so you can stay on track throughout your steps.

Planning the Steps

Once you know the end goal, make a brief scratch outline of the major steps your reader needs to follow.

In a slime recipe, that might look like this:

1. Gather ingredients

2. Mix in the right order

3. Add food coloring

4. Play

5. Storage

If you are giving directions, you might make a basic list of the street names and turns, before adding in extras like landmarks and how far to travel on each road.

Starting with an outline can help you to include the important steps needed, and eliminate any unnecessary steps that might be off track, before you start writing. It also helps to number the steps at this point so you know how many will be included in the final draft.

Writing the Steps

Now that you have a plan for what to write about, it's time to actually draft the steps. In a recipe, you will want to start with the list of ingredients. It's very helpful to include some information about those ingredients too. For example, if your slime recipe calls for glue, you may want to say a little about what types of glue are acceptable.

You could say this: 1 tube of glue

Or, you could say this: 5 oz tube of school glue

In the first example, your readers might use something like crazy glue, which would not make for very good slime, and a very uncomfortable experience! In the second example, it shows readers exactly what type of glue to buy and they will be able to create fun, sticky slime instead of a sticky situation!

In other types of instructions, you may not have ingredients, so you can get right to the action. Tell readers what to do in order, and be sure to follow the outline. It's okay to number the steps, but it isn't always necessary. In directions, for example, you will want to imagine the trip in your mind, and try to use words to take your readers on a trip to your house. It helps to include things like landmarks along the way. See how these two examples differ:

Go 3 miles and turn left at Jefferson St.

Go 3 miles until you see a gas station at the intersection of Main and Jefferson St. and turn left. If you get to Farmer's Bank, you have gone too far.

Do you see how the second set of directions includes more information to help the reader picture the landscape and make the turn? Consider that giving a street name is important, but sometimes they are difficult to see. Adding a landmark like a gas station will make your instructions easier to follow.

Sorting Out the Details

Once you have written out your steps, it's time to go back and revise. Revision includes adding details you may have missed, and removing those that you don't need. A great way to revise what you have written is to try to follow the instructions. Read them as if you are seeing them for the first time, and walk through the steps in your mind or in real life if you can. This can help you identify any places where the directions may go off track or important information has been left out.

Take a look at the following example from the slime instructions and see if you can identify any problems with the instructions:

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