The importance of work instructions shows in guiding employees in the quality areas of training, reference, problem-solving and continuous improvement. However, work instructions are not just another »thing your company needs«. The content should be carefully generated, following specific guidelines on how to write work instructions.
Writing clear and concise work instructions is crucial in the fast-pace, working environment, where time is money. They aim to help companies reach higher levels of work efficiency by saving time spent on completing the task. Well written work instructions ensure that employees, carrying out the tasks, easily follow the steps. This way, the work is done faster, the risk of errors minimised, and downtimes and delays reduced.
How to recognise or define good work instruction
To distinguish a well-written work instruction from an average one, one should have a look at its characteristics.
Clear and understandable
The content is easy to read and every employee gets a clear view of the task. Text is written in an active voice and without complex sentences, jargon, acronyms or unexplained technical terms.
Asking around the company for documents can quickly become a time-consuming nightmare. Good work instruction should be easily accessed by whoever needs it, saved either online or distributed around different departments.
It shall not lack credibility. Consulting with experts on the task is crucial when recognising or writing good work instruction. Let’s say Jim has been working as an operator on a production machine for the last couple of years. He knows more than Sally, a freshly employed assistant and can give you first-hand information.
Consistency is key. Good work instructions follow a single style in writing and presenting information, making it easier to read and understand.
Good work instructions are supported by visual elements where appropriate. Elements like photos and videos add value. However, they need to be adapted and understandable to the target audience, in our case, workers.
Written by the people that know
If you’re not familiar with the process, you’re not the person for the job of writing good work instruction. It’s not always a one-person job, creating instructions requires teamwork, where some know more than others, especially if the process is complicated.
Steps to a good work instruction
In case you wish to increase the work and time efficiency, here are some guidelines on how to write good work instruction.
Write a clear introduction
A good intro should familiarise the employees with the project and define the people, responsible for carrying out the task. Do not forget to mention the expected output of the task and form a clear title for the job.
Describe how to do the job
When describing how to do the job, use a combination of text and visuals, such as images, tables or flowcharts. Remember to break down each step into smaller parts. Make sure you add all relevant information about the job, including required materials or helpful references.
Talk to the experts
No good work instruction should go by without consulting the experts on the subject. Go through the instructions together and make sure they are accurate and up to date.
Format for easy reading
After writing down the steps, it is time to make your instructions user-friendly. Choose a format and stick with it. You can, for example, break the steps into numbered lists. Add images to better explain the process. Emphasise the important bits with text in bold or italic.
Simplify and edit
The rule is to make the text as clear and consistent as possible. Read it again and make sure it makes sense. If there are any confusions, simplify or rewrite the steps. Keep in mind that the sentences you use should be short and simple (up to 15 words), without difficult words or acronyms that may confuse the workers. You may also want to add references for further learning.
Ask a colleague to test it out
To double-check the precision of your work, why not test it out with a colleague. Ask them to perform the task without your help, relying only on the given instructions. Observe and later note down any misunderstanding. Make a list of what should be added/changed.
Save and share
After you’ve finalised the document, do not forget to share it with your team. Make an online copy to avoid losing it. Save in a folder or a document system with easy access by everyone who may need it.
It may sound difficult at the very beginning, but once you get hold of it, the process of how to write good work instruction is easy. Make sure to follow the guidelines and remember to always keep it as simple as possible. You will soon notice the differences in performance.