7. Constructing Text

Steps and Procedures

Steps (instructions) comprise procedures and are sequential. Decide what a reader needs to do first, next, and last. Write clearly and number the steps so that a reader understands exactly what to do. Verbs do most of the work in instructions. Use imperatives when writing steps, and reserve participles and gerunds for lists.

Screen captures do not substitute for steps.

Introducing Steps

Introduce steps with one of the following constructions, making sure that you create an effective context for the procedure:

Capitalizing and Punctuating Steps

Unlike lists, steps always should be complete sentences.

Writing Steps

Use steps whenever you instruct a reader to complete a task.

    If you assign a numeral "1" to a single-step procedure, a reader looks for "2" and may think you incorrectly omitted a second step. To avoid this, you can indicate a single-step procedure by replacing the "1" with a glyph, such as a solid triangle or an arrow before the step.

    For example, "Click the Open button." "Press the Standby switch to turn off the power."

    For example, show a reader the screen that is displayed after successful completion of the step, or describe the screen.

    An exception to this guideline is when you conclude a step with "and press Return," because that keystroke is a necessary component of the step. However, if all steps in a procedure conclude with "and press Return," you could inform a reader of this in the text that introduces the procedure, and eliminate the redundancy from the steps.

    For example, "check to make sure" is a redundancy that creeps into many steps. You don't need to tell the writer to "check," only to "make sure."

    When performing a task, readers may become frustrated if they have to frequently flip through pages or go to another document to find required information.

For example, a typical format for a procedure could be:

    To open the disk drive enclosure:

    1. Remove the Phillips-head screw from the center rear of the drive.

    2. Press in the tabs on the left and right sides of the enclosure.

      The tabs are near the air vents on the enclosure.

    3. Remove the acoustic foam that covers the disk drive.

      The foam has finger holes for you to use for quick removal.