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Teaching Instructional Articles: How to Write Instructions

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 1/17/2012

Academic writing has very little application outside of the classroom. Exit the ivory tower and teach something useful. Knowing how to write instructions for instructional writing will benefit students for a lifetime.

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    How to Write Instructions Introduction

    Writing lesson plans often focus on academic writing. Everyday writing, however, is far more useful. As part of your writing curriculum, include assignments that requires students to write instructions. Begin by teaching students how to write instructions, the most important of instructional writing methods.

    An instructional writer must know his or her subject thoroughly, use appropriate and consistent word choice, use the active voice, use the imperative mood, include formatting clues, and limit first person usage. Most importantly, the writer needs to be clear and concise.

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    Beginning with a Purpose and Audience

    Remember as you teach how to write instructions and instructional writing methods that the purpose is to inform.

    • The introduction should be very brief and should provide enough background information for the reader to determine whether or not the article will satisfy his or her need. The introduction is the only appropriate place for creativity.
    • Keep it simple. Your reader doesn’t care about how much you know, where you learned your information, who your paternal grandfather dated in the 8th grade, or what color underwear you have on. They are reading your article for a specific reason. Avoid vague words or technical jargon. If a technical term must be used, be sure to define it the first time you use it.
    • Remember your audience. If the reader were an expert, he or she wouldn’t need your instructions. No matter how clear you think you are, somebody will misinterpret the directions. Pictures are helpful.
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    Instructional Writing Methods: The Body

    When learning or teaching how to write instructions, remember the purpose is to give instructions.

    • The most important section of an instructional article is the instructions. Your article should follow a natural progression of steps, broken into small parts for easy comprehension. Numbered and bulleted lists along with strategic spacing make articles easier to understand. If the order of steps does not matter, use bullets. If the order does matter, use numbers
    • Show clearly who does what if multiple parties are involved. Begin each instruction with an imperative verb. Don’t mix background information with instructional tasks. Be specific on what the reader should do after completing each task.
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    Instructional Writing Methods: Revise and Test

    Make sure instructions are clear!

    • Conduct an experiment before completing your final draft: find volunteers to read your instructions and implement them; observe; take note of any problem; revise and repeat until satisfied with the results.
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