Written by Dr. T. Miles
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.
- Two topics to your conference professor--VIA E-MAIL--anytime
between Thursday, Sept. 25 and Tuesday, Sept. 30, at noon.
- Rough draft due VIA E-MAIL by Thursday, Oct. 9, at noon.
- Final print version due to professor's mailbox in 231 Stansbury
on or before Thursday, Oct.23, at noon.
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).
- SELECT A TOPIC ABOUT WHICH YOU HAVE SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE AND
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- CHOOSE A PROCESS THAT HAS ASSUMPTIONS OR IMPLICATIONS THAT ARE USUALLY
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
CHOOSING A GOOD TOPIC FOR THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL
Rely on your own expertise. Make sure you have first-hand experience of
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.
find one like these:
Take a look at a student example:
- trapping gypsy moths
- making maple syrup
- doing directional timber felling
- coping with early-onset diabetes
- learning to play chords on the guitar
- writing an HTML résumé
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
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:
- washing and waxing a car
- working out at the gym
- losing weight
- doing a slump test
- cutting down a small tree with a chain saw
- the four As of advertising
- setting up a salt-water tank
- rescuing people off a dock
- washing clothes
- planning a euro-rail trip
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:
- COVER PAGE--Title, your name, the date, your conference professor's name.
- INTRODUCTION (one page). Describe the importance of the process and
capture your readers' interest. (You may want to cite a source on your
topic in this section.)
- STEPS AND EXPLANATIONS (three pages, minimum). Give the STEP in the
command form of the verb (the "imperative mood") and then give an
EXPLANATION following the step. The steps should be numbered and should
be written in the "command" form. Include at least one graphic aid. (See
pp. 182-183, 204-205.)
For example, if you were writing an instructional manual about learning to
play chords on an acoustic guitar, you might have a "step" and an
"explanation" that looked something like this:
- STEP 4. PRESS DOWN HARD ON THE STRINGS TO MAKE THE
CHORD SOUND RIGHT.
EXPLANATION: Even though you may have your fingers in the right
places, if you don't press down quite hard, the strings may "twang"
when you strum the chord. This twang is a secondary vibration
caused by the string that you're depressing not being depressed
exactly, or by the string next to it vibrating. If the string
vibrates noisily when you strum the chord, move your finger around
on the string, further or closer to the fret. You have to experiment
in order to find the exactly right position for each finger.
Sometimes you need to roll your finger right up to the fret to stop
the vibration. You'll have to experiment with finger placement for
each string in each chord. Be sure not to let any finger touch the
string next to the one the finger is depressing. Be patient and keep
trying. It takes a while to get it right.
- CONCLUSION (one or two pages). Nonexpert readers need a conclusion to
explain the process as a whole, its context, its implications, its
advantages or limitations. This section might be a good place to
incorporate your outside source(s).
- REFERENCE LIST: To enrich your explanations, consult a book or other
reference material in the field. Be sure to cite the source properly.
For such citation, follow the documentation guidelines in the textbook
(Chapter 9). All sources should have appeared within the last three years.
If you need help finding sources, check out "Research Help" on the ENGL 208 web page. The highlighted link to "Research Help" will bring up a screen with several web-based
search engines and, further down, links to the WVU libraries and other
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:
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.
- Establish credibility in your introduction and conclusion:
- Demonstrate first-hand knowledge and expertise;
- Incorporate at least one outside source to strengthen credibility.
- Show an awareness of readers' needs in your decisions about organization and format
- Show an awareness of readers' needs in your decisions about tone, level of detail, explanations, and emphases
- Demonstrate your understanding of document design principles by incorporating at least one graphic to complement your written instructions.
- 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)
We refer you to the basic criteria for an A, B, C, D, or F outlined in
Questions? Contact your conference professor.
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