Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How To?

I'm reasonably intelligent and unlike most of the males in our species, I'm not averse to reading directions, maps, recipes, patterns or diagrams. If I want to learn something, I search for the appropriate information and I go for it. The first attempt might not be a success, but I'll stick with it until I've mastered it.

As long as the directions are complete!

After struggling with recipes, patterns, and directions in the past two or three weeks, I've reached the inescapable conclusion there should be a college course on process writing. You know...step one, step two, etc.

Writing directions requires an elementary talent--breaking down the process to the most basic steps. Most of the directions I've encountered in the last year or so skip some of the most important steps and then render the remaining steps in pure gobbledygook.

It's worse when the pattern/directions have strange exotic terms or acronyms that only apply to the job at hand. Such terms should be explained the first time you encounter them. I don't care if the term was explained back on page 16. Why must I go looking for it? For instance, WYB. Why not simply say WYB (With Yarn in Back) and go on about the business?

Now, I confess my brain does not process strings of random letters very well. A minor stroke will do that to you. But once I firmly attach a meaning to the random string, I do just fine. I recognize it for what it is and go on.

However, when steps are left entirely out, that's a different story. What am I supposed to do with part A? Where exactly is tab H supposed to be inserted?

The trouble is this--experts who write directions forget what it was like when they weren't experts. Teaching is much the same. A brilliant mathematician might have trouble teaching beginners because he doesn't mentally walk through the steps anymore. He doesn't need to. But his students end up lost because they aren't ready to make intuitive leaps.

At my last three jobs, I wrote process books for all the numerous tasks I was responsible for. After all, even I liked to take the occasional vacation or sick day. The process books were so complete, even a new employee could carry out the tasks--if they followed the steps as outlined.

We're not all ready to make intuitive leaps, hoping for the best, when we begin a new project. There's no such thing as too much information when you're reading directions. Explain everything. Really.


  1. I hate directions. Always seems to me as if something is missing. Or confusing.

  2. With knitting patterns, the acronyms should be explained in the pattern notes. But I know what you mean. I had to rip out a crocheted cardigan because the arm hole instructions were so inscrutable I couldn't decipher them.