Don’t Sacrifice Clarity for Good Flow

I was reading a set of instructions, and my writing senses were tingling. The instructions started similar to, “While doing Action X, do Action Y.” I have a pretty good guess on why it was phrased this way. 

It flows well. It implies Action X must be done and transitions well to the next step. But when giving instructions, there’s no room for subtlety. State clearly, “Do Action X.”

Steve Krug wrote a book about web usability titled “Don’t Make Me Think.” It’s a fun read, and I think of it when I see instructions that don’t clearly state what to do. This isn’t calling people stupid or lazy. Today, people are bombarded by more messages than any previous generations. To just get through the day, we are constantly filtering out information we don’t need.

When I’m looking at a set of instructions, I’m scanning for action verbs: do, execute, combine, gather, etc. Any phrases before that will probably get ignored.

And based on anecdotal evidence, that’s what was happening for the activity which had these instructions. Learners weren’t doing Action X, so I rewrote it in simple terms. “Do Action X.” 

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About RGV Learner

I’m from the RGV, which is short for Rio Grande Valley, the four counties located in the southern tip of Texas. I’m also a lifelong learner. That’s what led to the website name RGV Learner. Before working in instructional design, I worked in the communications field, including television production, website and social media management, and news. Looking to contact me? Click here.