Devote Special Effort

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 on'

(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.

Related Links:

Keep Sentences Short.
Use words your readers are likely to understand.
Use only as many words as you really need.
Prefer the active voice.
Use the clearest, liveliest verb to express your thoughts.
Use Vertical Lists to make complex materil understandable.
Keep Electronic Text Communication simple.
Put your points positively when you can.
Reduce cross-references to the minimum.
Try to avoid sexist usage.
Avoidable English Errors are so many.
Avoid fusty first sentences and formula finishes.
Put accurate punctuation at the heart of your writing.
Avoid being enslaved by seven writing myths.
Plan Before You Write.
Organize your material in a simple way.
Consider different ways of setting out your information.
Devote special effort to producing lucid instructions.
Use clear layout to present your plain words.

Plain English Index

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