I’ve been taking part in the How to Survive your PhD MOOC which is now in its final stages: We are now all peer marking each others’ assignments. The course is full of great learning materials for students and supervisors, and people like myself who support researchers, and I’ve learnt a lot.During this MOOC, I was tasked to create instructions for something you know how to do well, and although I’m good at writing instruction for team members on new tools (which I have done for the Piirus team). I thought it would be useful to give you a guide on “How to write instructions for others”. This can be great if you’re needing to write instructions on research processes or software to new and existing research collaborations. Creating and providing instructions can also be very beneficial to streamlining processes within a research team. Here are my best steps to successful instruction writing:
1. Decide what the task/tool is
2. Break your task down into concise steps
3. Describe how the steps relate to each other (check if you have them in a suitable order)
4. Include lots of images (or perhaps even a video)
5. Keep the instructions brief: edit out superfluous text
6. Include a glossary of terms or references/footnotes, for those who want to find out more
7. Point to examples of work done using the instructions
8. Test your instructions out on others who are new to the task
9. Review, reflect, update and refine your instructions: set a schedule for updating them
These are my recommended steps and I most heartily recommend testing your instructions out on ‘guinea pigs’: this usually helps you to identify places where you can develop and improve the instructions, or indeed identify where the tool might behave in a way that you did not anticipate!
There are some great “how to” resources already out there, and for some tools (especially social media ones) then it’s usually best to refer to the instructions provided by company who offer the tool, as they are in the best position to keep the instructions up to date.
When updating and refining your instructions you may like to delegate this task to a team member who often does the task or uses the tool, and you can even set a reminder on your calendar to update yourself and check that the instructions are still valid. Sometimes the task or tool may change over time, but through monitoring and review, you can ensure to keep your instructions up to date.
Do you often write instructions for other team members? What kind of instructions do you write? What would be in your basic list of instructions on how to write instructions?
Want to find some new team members? Join Piirus for free today, or update your profile, to get suggestions of researchers from around the world who you could work with.