Instruction Manual

Written by Dr. T. Miles

Overview

Create a 5-7 page guide instructing a nonexpert in how to use the system you are writing about. Include a graphic aid and at least one reference from the last three years.

Background

Instructional manuals are one of the most common forms of writing in business and industry. These manuals have many purposes: they are often used to train new employees; they can function as operational policies and procedures; they help to ensure that workers follow safe procedures; and they can be used to document the expertise of a group of workers. What we'll be asking you to do will be based on chapters 7 and 8 of your textbook.

Obviously, there's not much point in writing a set of instructions for what most people know how to do (brushing your teeth), for a process whose steps can be illustrated pictorially (defrosting a refrigerator), or for standard "lab" processes whose instructions can be found in discipline-specific lab manuals or procedures (performing a slump test).

Topic Guidelines

  1. SELECT A TOPIC ABOUT WHICH YOU HAVE SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE AND FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE

    Successful topics will usually come from an internship in your major, from some hobby intensely pursued (e.g., rock climbing), or from a concentrated and unique experience (e.g., being a guide for "Outward Bound" or building houses for "Habitat for Humanity").

    You must choose a process that you know about FIRST-HAND. You cannot choose a process that you only know about from textbooks or lectures.

    You also have the option of choosing a topic about an established procedur that you know so well that you can imagine how it can be improved.

  2. SELECT A SIGNIFICANT TOPIC

    Don't choose a topic that's too simple or obvious, like greeting customers in a restaurant if you're the host. Such simplistic topics can almost never earn more than a C grade, no matter how well they're done, because they don't hold much reader interest.

  3. THINK ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE

    The audience for a set of instructions is always a person who is not as expert as you are, or he or she wouldn't need to read the instructions anyway. So be sure to fill in all the gaps in the process, gaps that you might take for granted.

  4. CHOOSE A PROCESS THAT HAS ASSUMPTIONS OR IMPLICATIONS THAT ARE USUALLY OVERLOOKED.

    For instance, you might write about one part of the process in which animal breeders use "genetic engineering" to produce "animal strains" that are more useful to humans (as with cows that give more milk, dogs that herd sheep, etc.) Now we are on the verge of being able to use the same techniques to select for, or against, certain human traits (for instance, in aborting fetuses that have a non-functioning immune system), and many people are concerned about using these techniques on humans, whereas they never voiced such concerns when the techniques were being applied to "lower" animals.

CHOOSING A GOOD TOPIC FOR THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL

  • Rely on your own expertise. Make sure you have first-hand experience of the process.

  • Don't write on something for which there is already a manual unless you can make a compelling case for improving the existing manual in major ways.

  • The following topics provide the potential base for a good document. Try to find one like these:

    Take a look at a student example:

    TOPICS TO AVOID

    The following topics are the kinds that give students trouble because they are either too general or too simplistic. The real problem with these kinds of topics is that, even though they are potentially challenging, most often they are reduced to the lowest common denominator, and the documents therefore are boring and simplistic. Try to avoid topics like the following:

    REMEMBER: The instruction manual is worth 25% of your grade. You want to be sure that you have a viable topic. Make sure you submit two topic ideas to your conference professor and get approval of one before you begin writing.

    HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR MANUAL

    Your final document should be 5-7 pages (single-spaced, with headings) and should include the following:

    EVALUATIVE CRITERIA FOR THE MANUAL

    The instruction manual builds on the skills you've already been developing in the first three assignments. You will once again need to use the audience awareness, organization principles, and document design skills that you used in the first two assignments; you will also draw on global and fine-tuning revision strategies from the editing assignment. An instruction manual also asks you to establish credibility in two ways: first hand knowledge and research.

    When we evaluate the instruction manual, we will be looking for evidence that you:

    1. Establish credibility in your introduction and conclusion:

      • Demonstrate first-hand knowledge and expertise;
      • Incorporate at least one outside source to strengthen credibility.

    2. Show an awareness of readers' needs in your decisions about organization and format

    3. Show an awareness of readers' needs in your decisions about tone, level of detail, explanations, and emphases

    4. Demonstrate your understanding of document design principles by incorporating at least one graphic to complement your written instructions.

    5. Demonstrate your skill at fine-tuning revisions:

      • Improving SENTENCE STYLE (pp. 134-137)
      • Improving WORD CHOICES (pp. 138-145)
      • Avoiding WORDINESS (pp. 145-46)
      • Avoiding PASSIVE VOICE when possible (pp. 137-138)
      • Avoiding SUBJECT-VERB disagreements and other grammatical errors (see pp. 433-434)
      • Using PUNCTUATION correctly (see pp. 434-438)
      • PROOFREADING carefully (p. 134 and pp. 448-449)

    Explain your strategies for reaching a specific audience and achieving specific purpose(s) in a clearly in a well-written cover memo addressed to your conference professor.

    We refer you to the basic criteria for an A, B, C, D, or F outlined in the syllabus.

    Questions? Contact your conference professor.

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