Tips for writing effective work instructions

If you’ve ever had to write instructions for a how-to, you know how difficult it can be to be clear, concise, and follow a logical order. If you’ve never had to do that, consider yourself lucky and read on! Here are some tips for writing clear, concise, logical and effective work instructions.

A man behind desk making notes to write work instructions

Write clear work instructions

There are three essential words in the English language that are absolutely crucial to writing clear instructions: Urgent. Tasks. Non-negotiable. It’s easy to write a dull, boring, unhelpful instruction, but if you can simply write in an urgent or imperative voice (which are basic verbs that mean something important) it’ll be clear to anyone reading it that they need to do what you say. Write Tasks You don’t need to write complete instructions for every task. Some people just need a rough idea of the next thing they need to do, and if you’re not sure about that then write “try to insert this line here”, “follow these steps”, or simply “clean these two stains”. If you’re not sure what you need to write, leave a note to yourself.

Effective work instructions are concise

Probably the biggest complaint I hear from teachers is when they have to take time out of their class to go over directions or what not. It gets boring fast. We all know the best way to give directions is to provide one-line summaries for what to do in the instructions. It sounds so straightforward, but here’s the thing – we all know what to do. We know how it works. We just don’t want to repeat what we did. When you know how something works, it’s easier to tell someone else how to do it. So it helps to write instructions that explain how to do what you know, and not how to do something you don’t know how to do.

Write logical instructions

Stating the obvious isn’t a skill we tend to see promoted in literature. Yet, it’s something that is taught by some of the best writers: You can break this rule of being logical by trying to tackle one question at a time. The easiest way to do that is by identifying the specific elements in your content that must be there, and then dedicating the appropriate space for them. If your content was something like the How to Jumpstart Your Writing With Effective Instructions, it would look something like this: First, there is a What section. This consists of the preface that introduces the reader to the topic. This is the intro to what is going to be said within this article. Second, there is a How section.

Include a ‘time check’

According to, in a survey of 2,000 people who work in the service industry, 59% said they would be less likely to buy from a business that uses unclear instructions. And according to Michael P. Grabner, a professor of communication at Drake University in Iowa, the “best” written instructions are concise, clear, and logical. Good instructions should contain only those elements that pertain to the task at hand. They should be concise and should not require extensive reading to complete. In other words, if you need to read a step-by-step guide to install a remote control, the instructions should not require you to read everything there is to know about music theory first.