The “you” attitude is an essential element in writing definitions, descriptions, and instructions. The writer must guess what information the audience already has and balance that against what is needed to accomplish the document’s purpose. Although writing instructions is the most advanced of these tasks, there is a secret weapon: usability testing. In this exercise, students write a set of instructions then exchange them with another group for testing.
- Examine the contents of the bag given to you. Spend approximately 10 minutes designing a structure of 20-40 pieces. Give this structure a name and take a picture of it.
- Write verbal instructions so that someone else can copy your design. Use words only, no graphics.
- Review your instructions according to the checklist in Markel, pp. 388-89.
- Dismantle your creation. Trade instructions and materials with another group.
- Each group recreates the original structure. Compare the finished project to the picture.
- Compare notes with the other group. Where were you confused? Was any information extraneous?
- Revise your instructions, then post them to the Discussion Board along with the picture, if possible.
From this activity, students said they learned that what's clear to one person is confusing to another; to watch for ambiguity; and to take nothing for granted.