The Role of Visuals in Technical Instructions

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  • 0:01 Technical Instructions
  • 0:42 The Purpose of Visuals
  • 2:12 Process for Visuals
  • 4:45 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.

Visual aids offer many benefits to technical instructions, but they are often overlooked by writers. In this lesson, we'll examine visuals in more detail, including what they are, the advantages of using them, and how to use them.

Technical Instructions

Courtney is a writer for a company that makes lots of technology products, like software and computers and tablets. Whenever the company comes out with a new product, or a new version of an existing product, it's Courtney's job to write an instructional manual for it.

Technical instructions are communications about how to use a technology product. For example, when Courtney's company came out with a new tablet last year, he wrote a user's guide that included instructions on how to get the tablet set up and running.

Courtney is a good writer, but he feels like his instructions might be missing something important. To help Courtney out, let's look at a key, but often overlooked, element in technical instructions: visuals.

The Purpose of Visuals

Courtney is very good at writing technical instructions. He can distill complex, technological information into simple words that anyone can understand. But he's never been very good at putting visuals in his manuals.

Visuals, also called visual aids, are pictorial representations of information. Pictures, charts, graphs, and tables are some examples of visuals that Courtney could use in his instructions.

Courtney has heard that visual aids could be helpful in his technical instructions, but he's not sure exactly why. What, exactly, do visual aids do?

Visuals can help clarify, explain, or support an idea. For example, when Courtney wrote about setting up the new tablet, it could have been helpful to include some screenshots of what the set up would look like. That way, the reader could see what to expect, as well as read Courtney's description of what to expect and do.

In addition, visuals can serve a motivating purpose for readers. That is, they can motivate the reader to pay attention. Imagine a page with lots of technical instructions written on it. The entire page is a block of text with lots of technological jargon and instruction. That can seem very intimidating and off-putting!

In contrast, when that same text is broken up with images, it looks less intimidating. As a result, readers are more likely to be motivated to read the instructions.

Process for Visuals

Courtney is convinced now that visuals are an important part of his technical instructions. But what does he need to do in order to add visual aids to his manuals?

There's a simple process that Courtney can follow to add visuals to technical instructions. It is:

1. Determine where to include visuals.

The first thing Courtney needs to do is to decide where in the document to include visuals. A good way to do this is to figure out what elements of his instructions lend themselves to visual aids easily. Processes and information on how things work are good examples of places where visuals could easily be added. For example, when Courtney describes how to set up the tablet, that is a process that could benefit from screenshots or other visuals.

2. Choose the visual that best represents the material.

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