Instructions Please – Tips on Writing them

Confused woman reading instructions

Sophie Dawson

Whatever for Dummies is a great series of books. They are simplified instructions on how to do just about anything. Although I don’t write for them I do have experience writing instructions. A writer never knows what opportunities will present themselves so being aware of what might be needed in any form of writing is useful. Here I’ve outlined things I’ve learned by trying to follow instructions and in writing my own patterns.

I’ve been a seamstress for more years than I care to tell you. I have, in the past and am in the process right now, written quilting patterns, as well as tried to follow many different patterns over the years. Some have been very good and others have been really, really bad. The list below is framed around writing quilting patterns but the concept for anything is pretty much the same.

Instructions for Writing Instructions.

  1. Include a list of all, absolutely all, required materials and tools. Please don’t do as some recipes do which is to include extra ingredients, such as salt, in the text of the instructions rather than the list. Your goal is to make sure the person can have everything collected when they start.
  2. Use clear photos and illustrations. Make them large enough so they are easily seen and understood by those who have eyesight issues. Remember, just because you are twenty-something, all those who use your pattern or instructions won’t be.
  3. Make text large enough for the same reason.
  4. Don’t use large blocks of text. Break it down into single steps as numbered lists or bullet points. Put illustrations or photos of the steps next to the text. Many people don’t follow written directions well. A picture can be worth 1000 words they won’t read.
  5. Include a key. This will help if you have several colors or parts. Labels of A, B, C, 1,2,3 mean nothing if there isn’t a key.
  6. Include the total number of each part or unit needed. In quilting the total number of blocks, squares, triangles, etc. with each step. This helps make sure the person doesn’t end up with too many or, more importantly, too few when they want to finish the project.
  7. Put all general instructions at the beginning of the instructions. Most people won’t read all of the directions first even if it says to. Having these at the end isn’t useful.
  8. Have your contact information included so people can contact you if they have problems.
  9. Encourage them to share a photo of the finished item. Consider posting the image on the website where your pattern is sold.
  10. Have your pattern or instructions made by some others before you release it. They’ll find any errors which you can correct. It’s beta testing just like for editing and proofing.

There are opportunities for writing instructions and technical manuals. Taking into consideration these tips will help if you want to enter that area of writing.


Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction. She lives with her husband and cat on a farm in western Illinois. She’s won multiple awards and gained many five star reviews on Amazon where her books are sold.

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