On Tap for Today:
Let’s take a look at what you’re proposing.
- Briefly scan the document you currently have and see if it is a recognizable variant of the superstructure for proposals as described on p. 487 of Technical Communications.
- Does the document clearly articulate WHO is involved in the communication? Creators? Primary audience (not me)? Help the writers pinpoint a precise reader within an organization.
- Does the document clearly indicate WHAT will be studied? By writing questions on the document, suggest appropriate background or contextual information the “Problem” section may benefit from. Does the “Methods” section detail specific research methods? Suggest at least one more.
- Comment on how persuasive the writers are in their “Qualifications” section. Indicate whether you feel they adequately prove they are capable of performing the proposed research and/or implement a suggested solution.
- Comment on whether you feel the schedule strikes an appropriate balance between ambition and pragmatism or leans heavily towards one end of the spectrum or another.
- Are the criteria indicated applicable to the project proposed. Suggest criteria that the writers may not have considered for evaluating potential solutions.
Writing How-To Documents
What Makes Instruction Documents Good?
Knowing your audience or user group
In the case of your projects, it would likely be best to seek advice from the members who most fit the bill of your project’s likely user (i.e., the one who does not already know how to do the process but who might be interested in learning it).
Including an overview of procedures
Given the knowledge base we are contributing to (wikiHow), your overview will likely be most important as an opportunity to let a reader know if the tutorial is “right for them” – you should target their potential interest but also be open about the relative difficulty or ease of the project (consider, for example, the entry on How to Migrate to Open Source Software; for a negative example, see How To Cheat on a Test). Sections on such items as necessary materials (“Things You’ll Need” and/or “Ingredients”) and possible risks (“Warnings”) are integrated into wikiHow‘s format, so you can include that information in those places rather than in the overview.
Key strategies for composing usable steps in a how-to is include dividing each action into its own step, using chronological order, and putting your statements in the imperative (see the entry on How to Make a French Breakfast for imperative and non-imperative phrasings.)
Dividing instructions into not only individual steps, but also subsections dedicated to smaller segments of the overall process (“chunking”), will make them more attractive to a potential user and more valuable once they are using them. Due to the format of our knowledge base, you might also be able to incorporate existing tutorials into your how-to. (Consider the subdivision that takes place in the tutorial on How To Paint the Interior of a House)
Illustrations might be a necessary tool for your instruction set, or they might just be useful as “eye relief” or an attention-getting device. You might, for instance, need to use screen shots if you are relating a software process (cf. How to Remove Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications or How To Rip a DVD with DVD Decrypter). If you are providing instructions that contain multiple physical manipulations, particularly ones that are very precise or may be unfamiliar to your reader, you might need to provide an image for all or most steps (cf. How To Fold a Towel Monkey). For both of these cases, you may use some combination of the three categorical text-visual relationships your text describes: supplementary, complimentary, or redundant. If your how-to does not necessarily need illustrations to make instructions clear to your reader, you might provide one or more “background” visuals to make the document more visually appealing (cf. How to Save a Wet Cell Phone, How to Cheat a Polygraph Test, or How to Flirt).
Usability testing is one of your easiest and most valuable ways to gauge the success of your how-to before its submission. I would recommend recruiting friends and family to try out your instructions in order to iron out any kinks.
Homework for Thursday 10/2
Read: This post; Ch. 17 “Revising Your Drafts” in TC; and Macrorie “Cutting Wasted Words
Write: Final draft of Project Two, proposal memo due by 11:59 pm Thursday, October 2. Email a properly formatted word document to me and post a copy on a team member’s blog page devoted to Project Six documents.
Email a short (@ 150-300 words) memo detailing and defending your “rank-and-yank” ratings for Project Two. Include your group’s decision made on your team charter. Remember, do not include yourself in the rankings.
Homework for Tuesday, 10/7
Read: Ch. 14 “Creating Reader-Centered Graphics” and Ch. 16 “Designing Reader-Centered Pages and Documents” in TC.
Write: Submit a short memo (@200-300 words) detailing for what you intend to provide instructions. Indicate your topic, your interest in working on it, your qualifications for taking on the topic.
Quiz on Thursday 10/9 on ch. 14, 16, 17, 28 of TC
Ongoing: Final draft of Project Three is due by 11:59 on 10/21
Work on Project Six. Final draft is due 12/2