How To Write
Product Instructions

©Copyright  2003-2006
By Suzan St Maur

Make sure your instructions are written for your audience, not your organization.

People who buy products need to know how to assemble/install/use the product as easily as possible. And because many people are technodorks like me, instructions need to be understood by the lowest common denominator.

Logically, then, you might think the best person to write instructions for technodorks like me is someone who knows every last detail about the product, how it was made, how it works, what it does, and what its inside leg measurement is.

In other words, an expert. This could not be further from the truth.

Instructions should never
be written by experts

Key tips for well-written instructions:

** Approach it with logic and common sense
** Don't assume any prior knowledge on reader's part
** Start right at the beginning of the process
** Use simple, plain language in short sentences
** Use "active voice," not "passive voice" (e.g. "take the lid off now" rather than "the lid should be taken off at this point
** Keep each step separate, no matter how simple you think it is
** If you use illustrations, make sure they're clear and uncomplicated
** If using translations, get each language version 'reality checked' by a native speaker

Finally, you need to test the instructions on people who are genuinely typical of the target audience. And that means, preferably, people outside your organization. Someone in the next office may not have tried assembling the item before, but is still likely to have some prior knowledge.

Keep an open mind

Still following along the same lines, for any product to be used by ordinary folks in the street, try also to get the instructions written by someone from a totally unrelated department or even from outside your organization. No matter how thoroughly you know your product, a fresh outsider's view will often pick up on ways to improve the instructions--or even to improve the product itself.

There is nothing that will blacken the name of your product and your company faster than a customer like me not being able to put your product together easily. Although customers like me will get over it after taking a cold shower and asking the brainy next-door neighbor to interpret the instructions, we'll probably remember all those bad things next time we're shopping for the sort of products you sell. And we'll buy your competitor's instead.

the end

Bio:  Canadian-born Suzan St Maur is an international business writer and author based in the United Kingdom. In addition to her consultancy work for clients in Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia, she contributes articles to more than 150 business websites and publications worldwide, and has written twelve published books on business writing, marketing, publishing and humor. Check out all her current books here.

To subscribe to her free biweekly business writing tips eZine, TIPZ from SUZE, click here.

© Suzan St Maur 2003 - 2006

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