Website Writing Guide

Web writing and presentation style

Presenting instructions

The Web is an ideal vehicle for providing instructions, such as applying for a licence or paying online for a product. By employing hyperlinks you can provide the essential instructions while also providing detailed explanations for those who need them.

Instructions are nearly always a sequence of tasks that explains how to achieve a particular goal. However, writing instructions is more demanding than most forms of Web copy writing because just one awkward or ambiguous phrase can undo the whole process leading to a frustrated user and potentially lost revenue and time for the website owner.

Instructions on providing written instructions!
  1. Determine the aims and intended audiences and note their needs.
  2. Compose a heading that clearly states what the instructions cover, such as
    ‘How to obtain a Learner’s Permit’.
  3. Identify each step or stage in the process and number them or name them Step 1, Step 2 etc. See, Writing for Google for an example of presenting step-by-step instructions.
  4. For each step, identify the essential information and any explanatory content that should accompany it on the page or via a hyperlink to a separate page. (You can see that these instructions employ both techniques of providing further information.)
  5. Determine if the steps should all appear on the one Web page or if they need to be split across pages - see the section Scrolling and page length. If they are to be split across pages, determine the method of allowing the user to move through the steps and to back-track.
  6. Write the directions keeping in mind the preference for writing in the active voice and plain English. Consider whether a video, animation or series of images would enhance the written instructions.
  7. Test the instructions with colleagues to ensure the validity and accuracy of the process and with intended users to ensure that the instructions make sense.

Avoid using the familiar `you’ when writing instructions. It can often lead to flowery language and long sentences. For example:

  • To obtain a learner’s permit, first obtain a driving manual from any Transport Office.
  • If you want to obtain a learner’s permit, you must first obtain a driving manual from your local Transport Office.


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