• Tammy Layman-Hall

10 Reasons I Adore Work Instructions

Good work instructions are worth taking a moment to appreciate.

This pandemic has had a few upsides. While COVID cleaning, I found my work instruction collection. Yes, I collect work instructions. Doesn't everyone? Still, when I taught Business & Technical Writing back in my corporate training days, I snagged DIY examples to share in class. Now, well, I really only snag the how-to's that inspire me.

Here's 10 Reasons why I adore work instructions:

  1. Numbered steps. There is a comfort to seeing a list of steps lined up down the page. You know what to do first. Then, second. Oh, it's like talking with an old friend.

  2. Cozy, familiar layouts. Also, well-written work instructions know that they are the plate on which the content sits. I'm mixing metaphors there, but you know. One look at those numbers lining up and you know its a how-to. Likewise, the template knows that it needs to fade into the background of the DIY steps. The template knows its job is to sport branding and approvals.

  3. Clear voice. Still, the command voice is comforting to read. There is a simplicity in being told in one word how to get what you desire. Yes, place the bolt in the slot is going to end with a flat-pack bookcase in the bedroom. Sign me up!

  4. Help when you are stuck. Yet, a good drawn illustration unsticks many confused readers. Still, a popular little plastic building brick is the benchmark on how to make visual work instructions. Step-by-step photos rock! Besides that, frustrated readers can reference an online video to see exactly how to hold the yarn when learning to crochet.

  5. They lay it all out for you. Ah, the material list at the start of the project. There is nothing quite like laying out all the bits and pieces you're going to assemble. Talk about new project smell! Chefs call this gathering and preparing ingredients before the recipe "Mise En Place". Yes, I can dedicate an entire post to the greatness of good material and ingredient lists. I may do just that, too.

  6. They can be read standing up. Yet, most of us read work instruction standing up. Younger readers tend to read them laying on the floor. We read directions in the most uncomfortable of spaces as a general rule. Sitting at a desk. Lying underneath a car. Balancing a child on a hip at a hot stove. You know, at the point that how-to's are going to make or break it. Good work instructions are short.

  7. Sometimes, you don't have to read. Still, lazy readers can glance at photos to move through the steps. New readers can follow step-by-step without the pressure of learning new vocabulary.

  8. You're part of a community. Besides that, DIY resources let other readers leave me notes. How-to's that have curated feedback forums let me share what I have learned doing the task as well as let me learn from others. These forums are gold when done well. They are a waste of time when they are not done well.

  9. They tell you how much time it is going to take. Work instructions let me know how much time I need to allow for the activity. Good work instructions let me know if I need to plan ahead or not. For example, do I need to take my butter out of the refrigerator to let it soften to room temperature or not?

  10. You get a win! If it goes well, I have what I want at the end of the steps. I'm hungry. Let's make chocolate chip cookies. I follow the steps. Bam! 11-12 minutes later, I have cookies.

Bonus 11. Free brain space! Good DIY gives you the freedom to think about other things. See, I know that I can repeat the task at a later date because the steps are written down. I don't have to remember. I can go back and look it up later.

In sum, work instructions deserve a moment of appreciation. Whether they are a well-written DIY or a tasty precision recipe. How-to's help us get through our days.

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