Eight Steps to Writing a Procedure
"Most technical writing comes down to documenting procedures. Many technical documents are complex, yet most are collections of relatively simple procedures. The art in technical writing is breaking everything into [easily digestible] steps...Procedures are everywhere. Cookbook recipes are procedures. So are model-making how-tos...Mowing the lawn? That can be defined in a procedure. Changing the seal on your toilet? You want a procedure to tell you how to do that. Driving to a previously unvisited destination? Driving directions are a procedure. The world needs well-written procedures. Writing good procedures is not difficult, if you know how...Define the procedure you are going to write down...Most procedures are badly written because they are poorly defined...Start by framing exactly what you want the procedure to do...Create a list of everything you need to complete the procedure...You may not necessarily include the full list in your procedure, but you need to know what it includes...Jot down everything you do. Record the flow of things. Note tools used and when. Note dependencies – things that have to be done before something else. Also note what stuff does not have to be done in any particular order. Take pictures or screenshots as you go...Start at the beginning. Continue to the end. Sort the dependencies, so tasks which must be completed before a later task can be finished are done first. Fit the independent tasks – the ones which must be completed, but not in any particular order – so they do not interrupt the flow...Examine your outline. See where you can optimize the sequence of steps. Are there places where you are looping back and repeating work unnecessarily? Is the flow logical? Do the steps outlined require unnecessary effort?...Rearrange the steps to minimize movement and effort...Take the steps you outlined and put them on paper. A picture really is worth [1,000] words in providing clarity; add images as necessary to explain the process...Test the procedure. Give it to someone completely unfamiliar with the process outlined in the procedure and have them follow the instructions. Do not help the person. Once they use the procedure, get their feedback. Find what was confusing and unclear...Take the feedback...and fix any deficiencies found...Find another set of sucker-testers to test the revised procedure. Redo until exhaustion sets in, deadlines are reached, or you converge on a solution – write something which works the first time someone goes through it...Actually writing the procedure seems like a minor part of the whole process. That is because the secret to writing a procedure is the preparation done before writing it...[I]t is like laying the foundation for a building. If the foundation is bad, the building will be inadequate, no matter how much effort goes into the rest of the construction."
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