Writing Instructions: Fewer Words Mean Faster Understanding

We all have a friend who rambles on and on when giving instructions that could be described in one sentence. What we’ll forgive in a friend, however, we are unlikely to forgive in a user manual or other written procedure. We want to move quickly from instructions to actions. Complicated instructions are more likely to be misunderstood or ignored entirely.

The next time you write instructions, check your copy for these word-wasters:

(a) Putting everything in the future tense: “The equipment will turn on after a 4-second delay.” The meaning is perfectly clear in the present tense: “The equipment turns on after a 4-second delay.” One “will” makes little difference–a manual full of “will’s” can easily double in size.

(b) Beginning sentences with “it is” or “there are”: “There are two ways to shut down the equipment: manually or automatically.” Again, a rewrite saves words while keeping the meaning clear: “The equipment can be shut down either manually or automatically.”

(c) Adding unnecessary qualifiers: “The shutdown delay is in the range of 7 to 10 seconds.” Since “7 to 10” is already a range, the sentence can be simplified as: “The shutdown delay is 7 to 10 seconds.”

If you are having difficulty keeping your instructions within reasonable limits, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.