How to write easy-to-follow technical instructions

This is a set of instructions I spent 20 minutes writing and three hours revising last night.  I will discuss the writing process below the fold.

I’ve set up a campaign to get attention for Sam’s movie. Here is what you can do to help. It is easy and will take 5 minutes.

If 100 people support it, a message I have created will be posted on all their pages at once Nov 27 at 1 p.m. Thousands of people could see it.

Steps:

1. Click  this link to Thunderclap.

2. When the “Rolling with Kings” page comes up, find the red “Support with Facebook” button. The page has information about the movie in case you want to read about it before you decide whether to support it.

3. Once you click “Support with Facebook,” you will have the option of entering a message, but you can leave it blank and just click “Support” if you like.

4. You may be asked to enter your username and password. Thunderclap does not save this information. You are only granting permission to post my message once.

That’s it, it’s easy as pie.

The movie is interesting. The group it is about do a lot of work for childrens’ charities and disaster victims. Feel free to share these instructions with anyone who might like to participate.

The quoted message is 215 words and it contains one hyperlink. It is a message I wrote to send to people I know via social media. Most of them know me well enough to regard me as trustworthy. The problem with the message was making it both brief enough and informative enough to actually be useful.

When I look at this version as a technical writer, I still see it as too long, but all the information is essential. The original draft of this was about 375 words, and that was way too long.

When I look at it as a persuasive writer, I feel as though it needs to contain more information, but I have plenty more to link people to if they say they want it. The Thunderclap page itself contains the exact text of the message to be sent out, the story of the movie, a personal message from me about why I set up the Thunderclap, links to charities the Elvi work with, and a link to the Indiegogo page where the trailer and fundraising campaign are posted.

Diana and I have been struggling to communicate this message in a useful way all week, and my experience writing software instructions may have saved us. Our problem was, we were writing for people we know. We were wanting to tell them how cool the movie is, and tell them that the fundraising deadline is running out in a week, along with the instructions.

The steps  in the Thunderclap process, and the fact that it only takes a couple of minutes to support, were getting lost. People might have been interested, but we weren’t being to-the-point-enough about the ease of participation or the steps to follow.

I still don’t know if we succeeded, but I think this is very nearly the best I can do. If you want to see how far we’ve come with this, take a look at this post I published Tuesday, which is 406 words long and forces readers to click a link to get the step-by-step instructions.

So, here is how to write easy instructions:

  • Include only the information that is required to complete the process and give people some idea of how much time and effort is involved.
  • Use short sentences and stay away from jargon.
  • Once you have the process laid out, keep cutting until you can’t cut anything else without losing information that people need to know to make it work.
  • Then, have a second person look at it and see if they can find any way to shorten it further.
  • If there is an element of persuasion mixed in with the instructions, be sure and have the detailed version available in case people ask for more information.
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2 thoughts on “How to write easy-to-follow technical instructions

  1. Pingback: Everything we’ve written so far about the “Rolling with Kings” Thunderclap | Sourcerer

  2. Pingback: There will be thunder. Thanks to all our peeps. | Part Time Monster

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