Example Instructions 4: How to Grow Potatoes
Annotations


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Audience note. Notice how the writer of these instructions defined the target audience: people who have had gardening experience but who have never raised potatoes. With this assumption, the writer is free from having to explain basic gardening techniques.

Titles. This title uses who/what/when/where/why/how phrasing (specifically, how-to phrasing) to indicate that instructions are included in this document. Modifying the word garden with home helps narrow the scope of the instructions: these instructions are not for commercial producers!

Introduction: motivation. These instructions start out with some efforts to build interest and motivation. You'll find this in numerous instructions where writers attempt to convey the importance and enjoyment potential of the task.

Introduction: procedure overview. These instructions also give you an overview of the process of the raising potatoes and a few general tips—another element that you'll often find in the introductions to instructions.

Overview. In any introduction, it's important to give readers an overview—a kind of roadmap—of what is about to be covered. these instructions provide that in the in-sentence numbered list. Notice that all five items in this in-sentence list use gerund (-ing) phrasing, making them parallel.

Equipment and supplies. Like many instructions, these include a list of the tools you need to perform the instructions as well as the supplies (the consumables). Notice that this writer spend considerable time discussing tillers

Second-level headings. Notice that these instructions have only second-level headings, highlighted in red. They are like the roman sections of an outline. (We don't use first-level headings because the document is relatively brief.) If you are familiar with traditional outlining, you'll notice that the heading Tools and Supplies is not parallel in phrasing with the headings that follow (which focus on the phases of the procedure). Probably the best way to fix this problem would be to change the phrasing to Gathering Tools and Supplies.

Numbered steps. In instructions, you present each step that the reader must take in a separately numbered-list item. Notice the format: a number, a period and then a space before the text; no parentheses. Notice that the "run-over" lines align to the text of the item, not the number. To get this format, use the numbered list formatting that comes with your software; don't manually create numbered lists.

Simple lists. A simple list is a bulleted list without the bullets. This writer decides to use simple lists for the tools and supplies because the emphasis provided by the bullets is just not necessary.

But don't forget the distinction between numbered lists and bulleted lists: numbers are for items in a required order; bullets are items in no required order. This rule is strong enough that reader will get confused if you number items that are not in any required order and vice versa. Notice that the tools and supplies use bulleted—they are in no necessary order.

Additional explanation. Notice that in every step, the writer provide addition discussion of how to perform the step. Typically, it is not enough merely to state what the reader must do: you may have to break it down into substeps, suggest alternatives, explain why the step must be done a certain way, and describe before and after states.

List lead-ins. Introduce every list you have in a document with a lead-in, which need not be a full sentence as some of the examples in these instructions show. Notice that the lead-in is punctuated with a colon.

Section overviews. Notice that these instructions include an overview of the contents of each section. Notice that in-sentence lists are used for each.

Imperative and second-person writing style . Notice how the individual steps here use the imperative style of phrasing (open this, aim that, click this, and so on). This is standard with instruction-writing. "You" (second person) is also commonly used. The idea is to get the reader's full attention. (Not all imperatives are shown in red in the example.)

Passive-voice writing style . But notice also how often the passive voice is used in these instructions. For some readers, this might be a problem. After all, if you read that "the garden must be weeded periodically," your first reaction may be "who me?" Take a look at the highlighted passive-voice constructions and consider which ones would be better in the active voice. (Not familiar with passive and active voice? The passive-voice construction "your potatoes should be carefully observed to determine if they are ready to be harvested" can be converted to active voice: "observe your potatoes to determine if they are ready for you harvest them...")

These instructions also use a gerund style that produces the same effect as the passive voice: for example, "Clearing the land of all debris and plants will improve growth of your potatoes" leaves out any mention of who has to do all that clearing!

Special notices. These instructions include several notes that call readers' attention to special points about raising potatoes and several warnings which call readers' attention to problems that could harm the potato plants or the harvested potatoes.

Illustrations. In these instructions, we just one illustration of a tiller and of potato. However beautiful the potato illustration may be, we need more. For example, it would be helpful to show a close up of a potato eye on the potato as well as cut from it. It would also be helpful to show what a row of fully grown potatoes looks as well as how the plants look when they have died down. And just to add some fun, it would be great to show a pile of harvested potatoes at the end of these instructions.

That completes the comments for this example.


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