Clear Work Instructions, an Eight Point Plan

When writing work instructions, you get points for clarity, not style.  Instead of waxing lyrical about the customer journey and decisive moments, just make your point.  Here are eight ways to do that:

Use a clear heading to explain the task

If you can’t explain the task succinctly what chance do people following the instructions have?

One task per paragraph

Mills and Boon might put several complex emotions and actions in a paragraph but when writing instructions limit the action to one point per paragraph.  When you have another task, instruction or issue, start a new paragraph.

Put any notes or warnings in the first sentence

Don’t let your readers follow the instructions blindly only to find out they have missed a crucial step or made a major blunder.  If somebody needs to hold the ladder, don’t point that out when the reader gets to the top.

Make it scan-able

Few, (if any), people read every word in an instruction manual.  Use headers and bullet points so that your audience can quickly scan and understand the salient points.

Write the whole thing down

Describe the operation from start to end.  If the order is important use a numbered list.  Tell the reader when the task is complete.  Don’t leave them thinking “now what?”

Answer the five basic questions

Who does what, where, when and how?

Keep a revision history

The point of writing work instructions is to get everybody to follow the same process.  Unless you want chaos to rule it is important to know which version everybody is using (dull but true).

Test them out

Get somebody who has never completed the task to follow the work.  Were they able to do what was intended?  If they couldn’t the problem is invariably with the writer, not the reader.


Work Instructions

Image by taberandrew


  1. You have a nice list of eight points about work instructions. Are you familiar with the Job Instruction Breakdown format that was developed as part of Training Within Industry? The structure points out that there are three kinds of information you need to provide: the important steps, key points (things you need to comply with to succeed on each step), and reasons (what are the consequences if you don’t follow the key points). It deals with your third point very elegantly, because the warnings and cautions are key points, and they get associated with the particular step that is affected, without bogging down the process of scanning the important steps. I love the impact this approach has, making it easier to document procedures (typically 50% less time), easier to teach, and faster to learn (typically 25% faster with a reduction in learning error).

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