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Technical Instructions: Purpose, Content & Structure

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  • 0:00 Technical Instructions
  • 0:54 Purpose
  • 2:16 Content & Structure
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Technical instructions, also called technical manuals, are an important feature to include with your technology product. In this lesson, we'll examine how the function, content, and structure of technical instructions all work together.

Technical Instructions

Franny is facing a big challenge. She's been hired to write the instructional manual for a bottle warmer that uses a computer interface to heat up the bottles to the proper temperature for babies. Mothers and fathers can control the bottle warmer from their phones, computers or from the touchscreen on the bottle warmer itself.

But Franny is worried. She's never written an instructional manual for something so high tech before. What should she write? And how should the instructions be formatted?

Technical instructions offer guidance to users on a specific technology product. In other words, they are just what they sound like: they are instructions for technology products. To help Franny compose her technical instruction manual, let's take a look at the purpose of technical instructions and how their content and structure work together.

Purpose

Franny needs to write the technical instructions for the new high-tech bottle warmer. But she's not sure where to start or what to do first.

The first thing that a writer must do when writing anything is to identify the purpose of the piece, or the reason for the piece. For Franny, her purpose might be that she needs to pay her bills and she's being paid to write the instructions, but that's not the kind of purpose that she needs to identify before writing. Instead, she needs to understand why the instructions are necessary.

Technical instructions are about problem-solving. They are a way to show people how to use a technical product, and they are also about highlighting possible problems that the user might encounter and how to deal with them.

For example, the bottle warmer has a 'quick heat' feature where a parent can press a button that causes the bottle to heat up faster than normal, in just a few seconds. But if the user presses that button before telling the bottle warmer the size of the bottle in the warmer, the product will short out and will not heat at all until it is reset. This can be a problem! In her instructions, Franny will want to make clear that the user must input the size of the bottle first and then press the quick heat button. She should also include instructions for how to reset the bottle warmer if it shorts out due to pressing the button first.

Content & Structure

Franny understands that she needs to focus her writing around problem-solving for the users of the bottle warmer. But what, exactly, does that mean? What information should she include in the technical instructions and how should she arrange that information?

In technical manuals, content and structure work together to make both the instructions and the product easy to use. Most technical manuals start with a title page and table of contents to orient the reader as to what they are reading and how it is organized.

After the table of contents, many technical manuals offer safety warnings and user's guide to the main functions of the product. For example, Franny will want to include brief instructions on how to use the bottle warmer in the user's guide section. In addition, she'll want to include safety warnings, like the fact that if the bottle is heated more than once, it can burn the baby or a reminder that the prongs should only be plugged into a safe, grounded plug. Otherwise, it can cause problems, including house fires.

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