Devote special effort to producing lucid and well-organized instructions. Bad instructions are bad for business. Following these six commandments will
help avoid ambiguous instructions such as that found on a bottle top: ‘Pierce
with pin, then push off.’
(1) Remember the readers – Usually readers haven’t used the product before,
that’s why they’re reading the instructions.
(2) Favour a simple style of language – This often means using the command form
of the verb, known as the imperative:
'Switch on the computer' instead of 'The computer should be switched
(3) Split the information into chunks – Readers waste time and make mistakes
if the information they need is buried in long paragraphs.
(4) Use separate headed sections – Normally it is wise to split the instructions
into separate sections whose headings identify the purpose of each action.
(5) Use appropriate illustrations, labelling and captioning them well – Illustrations
are good at showing what things look like and their relative size. This can
save words and illuminate the words that remain.
(6) Commandment: Test with a panel of typical users – Give the draft instructions,
and any product associated with them, to a focus group of typical readers.
Watch them trying to use the instructions. Observe any false moves they make.
Discuss with them how they got on. Ask them about any misinterpretations.
Redraft the instructions in the light of what you find.