The Secret to Creating Great Instructions

The Secret to Creating Great Instructions

“If all else fails, read the instructions!”

glassess-readingWe’ve all heard this old expression. We all know people who refuse to start with the instructions. However, for you, as the person giving the instructions it is important to be sure they’re complete. Especially if your customer is a newbie to your topic you don’t want to make too many assumptions about what she already knows.

I am reminded of an experience in my family a couple of years ago. One of my sisters found one of my grandmother’s recipes for a cake we had loved eating as children. There was only one problem with it. It contained the following information:

A list of ingredients

A pan size, temperature, and time

When Grandma P learned to cook and bake, everyone cooked from scratch. They knew that you started by creaming the butter and sugar until light … That you sifted all the dry ingredients together … That you alternated adding the dry and liquid ingredients until all were mixed in … That you beat the batter just enough but not too much … That you put the pans on the middle shelf in the oven so the top and bottom baked evenly … And that you could tell it was done by the way the top of each layer looked and how it bounced back just a little when you lightly touched the top in the middle.

My grandmother and her friends didn’t need to have any of these steps written out to make a light and delicious cake. They assumed everyone knew what to do. In fact, the addition of the pan size, temperature, and time was more than some of them would have expected.

My sisters and I had to dig out The Joy of Cooking and look for a similar cake baked from scratch and create our own set of instructions to go with the ingredients. Then we could bake the cake ourselves and share the recipe with our children.

If you are a health and nutrition coach in today’s world, don’t assume that all of your customers have made a green smoothie from scratch before. Let them know if it makes a difference or not what order you add ingredients to the blender.

If you measure by the handful, show a picture of your hand “full” of kale. Make a video of how you put a smoothie together and post it on YouTube. Put a link to the video in your print document. A person with a lot of experience can take a list of ingredients and create a smoothie without thinking about what is involved. Someone who is contemplating a major change to her eating and food prep practices may need more “hand holding” as she gets started.

If you aren’t a health and nutrition coach, think about some of the concepts you do teach to your clients and think about how you would present them to a newbie.

How to create great instructions

When you are adding instructions to a product, walk through the process, either literally or mentally. Write down every step you can think of as you go.

Ask several of your current or past clients to review the list to see if it is complete or if it is too detailed.  Refine your instructions and you’re ready to go. Be sure they are written in “everyday English” not “overly complex Chinese.”

Going back to the basic premise that a customer who has a positive experience comes back for more … And a confused customer runs for the hills … Be sure that your instructions hit the balance of being “just right.” The kind of instructions that guide your customer to your desired destination.


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