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Instructions on Instructions

posted: 9.24.13 by Traci Gardner

To introduce a writing assignment on instructions this week, I asked students to analyze a rather generic set of writing instructions on the WikiHow site. The prompt I posted for the in-class activity was simple:

Review the WikiHow instructions on how to write instructions. Compare what you read on the WikiHow site to the information covered in the textbook. Answer the following questions:

  1. Are these instructions easy for the audience to use? Why or Why not?
  2. Identify the effective and the ineffective elements of instructions.
  3. What makes the look and design effective or ineffective for the audience?
  4. What advice or feedback would you share with the author?

I thought I was being clever by choosing instructions that focused on how to write instructions for this in-class activity. Little did I know the foolhardy choice I was making.

Students began firing questions at me immediately, “Which instructions are you referring to in your instructions?” I was in the middle of calling the roll, which added to the confusion. I think my polished and professional response was “Um, what?”

“This is worse than Inception,” another student complained. “You have instructions asking us to look at instructions on writing instructions and you want us to tell you if they follow the instructions.”

He then made this mind- blown gestureAdmittedly, after that, I was a little lost too. Naturally, we worked out the confusion before long, amidst a lot of laughter. Students ultimately did a thorough analysis of the WikiHow instructions, and I learned that I need to be a little less clever and a lot more specific when I write the prompts I want them to respond to.

[Photo: IKEA image by dullhunk, on FlickrJon Stewart image from KnowYourMeme]

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