An instruction manual is really a recipe — for putting together a tricycle (for my daughter’s third birthday, I got a tricycle in a box, but I read the manual wrong, found left-over nuts&bolts when I was “done” but couldn’t put them in, and the whole thing wobbled!), or building a computer, or training a new employee how to use the company email. In fact, there are all kinds of instruction manuals, each one directed toward specific audiences and specific purposes… and specific rhetorical situations (check out this list! They seem simple enough, but, as I learned with the tricycle, good instructions are hard to come by!

They all generally boil down to one thing: step by step directions rendered in alphabetic text or images or a combination of both, or these days even as interactive texts. And getting those steps right — enough detail, orderly layout, audience-friendly — is what we’ll be playing with in this assignment.

For the summer — since we don’t have a lot of time but this is such a crucial skill for anybody in a technical field (or non technical field for that matter) — you’re going to create what I’m calling a mini instruction manual — something fun and sort-of easy to do, and a place to let you play with some tools you may end up using on the job at some point, specifically Canva.

The assignment: You will create a short instruction manual designed to teach someone how to do something you know how to do well. The instruction manual will include graphics as well as text. It will also be accompanied by a brief introductory memo explaining the target audience and the process you went through to get it made.

Here’s the way to go about it (yes, this is an instruction manual!):

  1. Think of something you do really really well. For me, I can make biscuits from scratch when I’m half asleep. Maybe you can knit, or tune a car, zip through a weight-training circuit, build circuit boards, re-pot plants or grow vegetables from seed, install a piece of software, build a kid’s Lego house… anything.
  2. Do that thing and write down each step as you do it.
  3. Take accompanying pictures to visually demonstrate the process. If you can bribe somebody to do that, it’ll be both a fun thing to do together and a time-saver.
  4. Decide who your target audience is (kids, computer engineers, your best friend, etc.)
  5. Create your manual. I say “manual” but it can be an infographic manual, a video manual, an interactive manual, a booklet manual. We’ll look at some examples and some programs to help you create your manual.
  6. Give your manual to someone and have them do what you’re teaching them. We may upload them to the Google Drive and everybody can choose one to do.
  7. When you build/do the thing, keep notes about what happens: what works, what’s confusing, what just crashed and burned.
  8. Write up your notes and leave them for the creator of the manual.
  9. Once you get feedback from whoever you gave your manual to, revise it, write the memo explaining who the audience was meant to be, what you did to create the manual, what your reviewer told you, and how you changed it. 
  10. Upload both the revised manual and the memo to the Google Drive.

By the way, if you know how to do something interactive and want to take the time, go for it!

There are a bazillion templates for instruction manuals: most are boring and awful and are made for technical on-the-job-training situations. You could do better inserting images into a Word doc! Or even PowerPoint or Google Slides.

But even better than the same-old/same-old, try creating an infographic manual (yes, that’s a thing — check out the links below). I’d suggest using Canva to create one. Already beautifully designed, their templates are ready for you to add text and upload images. 

Here are some of the links I showed you in the video: