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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Instructions’

Don’t Be The Teacher Known For Bad Instructions! Some Pointers.

Posted by learntobead on April 17, 2020

Eleven of us followed the instructions!@#%


I again find myself writing a set of instructions for a piece to appear in a bead magazine later this year. It can be such a frustrating process for ME — the writer. And that’s because I don’t want it to be a frustrating process for anyone else. This is not easy to do.

Because this is for a magazine, I have to considerably stream-line my instructions and diagrams. Often that means assuming the reader has some experience and understanding with certain techniques or certain materials. Sometimes this means leaving out some things which are thought to be “obvious”. And it means leaving out a lot of the “Why.”

With this particular project, I don’t have space to explain why I chose FireLine rather than regular beading thread, though this was a critical choice to the success of the piece. I don’t have space to explain why I use peanut beads the way I do, though this too is critical for success. You could not substitute another bead for the peanut beads because this particular shape plays an important structural role in the piece. But no one reading the instructions will know this.

There is no room allowed for explaining why I changed the right angle weave thread-path from the traditional approach. And I don’t have any space to detail all the inspirational factors and color theory choices which influenced my design. If someone knew these, they probably could do more than merely re-make my piece. They could make my piece their own.

Diagrams are often critical for understanding how to proceed. Hopefully not in this case, but with other magazine articles, the editors have taken five or more separate diagrams and combined them into one. Try following the thread paths and you get vertigo. You get a searing headache. You get Jackson Pollock’s version of bead weaving on a page.

It is difficult enough to write instructions without them getting edited down to 2 or 3 magazine pages.

But for the instructions I give to my students in my classes, I no longer worry about page-length. I use some of the narrative to “think aloud” so my students can see the selection criteria I use and the choices I make. I present each step three ways: (1) written out, (2) photograph of piece at that stage, and (3) a diagram.

Some pointers I’ve learned for writing, at least, better instructions:

1) People learn in different ways. Some can read the text. Some need to look at a series of progressive images. Others are great at following diagrams. You need to be good at all three.

2) Include pictures of critical points in the project’s progress. Also include a picture of the finished piece.

3) Know how to begin the process. Include more details, images and diagrams related to beginning the process.

4) Write the steps logically and in order.

5) Keep each Step “short and simple”, and manageable.

6) Do not over-assume about your reader’s ability.

7) More problems occur for the reader when moving from one step to the next step, than accomplishing each particular step itself.

8) Provide encouragement along the way.

9) Show milestones and ways for people to track their progress.

10) Anticipate problems that might occur, or where your reader might get lost.

11) Pretest your instructions.

12) Clearly list all materials and tools needed. If some materials might be difficult or too pricey for someone to acquire, list substitutes.

13) If there are more than 7–10 steps to do, then categorize and group the steps into sets that are no longer than 7–10 steps.

14) Provide informational warnings so that people will be able to figure out if they have done something incorrectly or have started down the wrong track.

Instructions are often some of the worst-written documents you can find. Like me, you have probably had many infuriating experiences with badly written instructions.

By the point in your career where you become comfortable creating your own projects, and writing your own instructions, you probably have a lot of what is called “assumptive knowledge.” These are the kinds of things you do over and over again, to the point where you no longer think about them. They don’t end up getting included in your instructions because of this phenomenon. But these “assumptive knowledge” steps are often the key things novice jewelry makers trip up on. They need to be spelled out.

The piece pictured was supposed to be a straight line of beadwork, to be connected into a consistently-sized tube. Our local bead group was making this piece, and 10 of 11 of us did it wrong. All our tubes started to look snake-like and crooked. These instructions jumped from Step 1 to Step 4, back to Step 2, then over to Step 9. They were full of contingencies — do Step 1 if such and such is happening, but Step 5 if something else is happening. Almost each step had its own set of footnotes. There were 25 Steps and only 2 diagrams summarizing all the steps, each illustrating about 15 separate thread paths.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Pearl Knotting Warren’s Way

Mini Lesson: Making Stretchy Bracelets

Mini Lesson: Making Adjustable Slip Knots With Thicker Cords

Mini Lesson: How To Crimp

Mini Lesson: Attaching End Caps, Cones, Crimp Ends

Mini Lesson: Brick Stitch

Mini Lesson: Flat Even Count Peyote

Mini Lesson: Ndebele Stitch

Mini Lesson: Petersburg Chain

Mini Lesson: Right Angle Weave

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

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