Writing Procedural Instructions

You’ve probably heard (and I’ll probably say it more than once): the person doing the talking is the person doing the learning. One of my favourite teaching moments in 2011 was an email I got from a student. He wanted to clarify the written instructions he’d received. The instructions said (something to the effect of): place the block into any region. The email asked, “Where’s the ‘any’ region?” I knew it wasn’t a joke. The instructions were a mismatch of very precise procedural information and do-what-you-think-is-best prose.

It taught me a valuable lesson: in procedural writing always give precise and explicit instructions. In your student guide, your exercises should be chunked out. Here’s an example of the format I like to use.

  1. Informational heading.
  2. Terse description of the activity that’s about to be completed.
  3. Description of the context when this activity can be used on-the-job.
  4. The procedure itself. Use very precise, step-by-step instructions here. Enumerate the steps. If you need more than 5-10 steps, consider breaking the procedure into smaller components.
  5. Summary of the activity completed including a test that can be used to see if the steps were properly completed.
  6. Alternate ways the activity can be applied on-the-job.

For example (and using Drupal-speak):

Place Your Block

In this activity you will place the newly created Block into your theme’s layout. This activity must be completed for your block to appear on the site.

  1. Navigate to Admin > Structure > Blocks.
  2. In the list of blocks, locate your new block (labelled: View: Recent Posts). it will be located near the bottom under the heading Disabled.
  3. Using the cross hairs beside the block name, drag the block up to the region Sidebar second. You may also use the drop down menu of region names to place the block.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save.

Your new block will now appear on all pages in the region Sidebar first. Test your work by closing the overlay and confirming the block is present.

Using these same steps you can place any block into any region of your site. A block can only be placed into one region at a time. If you want the block to appear in multiple places, you will need to create one new block for each region you want to place it into.