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How to Create Step-by-Step Instructions That Are Easy to Follow

18 minutes
Step-by-step instructions

Have you ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture, only to end up with a pile of parts and a headache? Or maybe you’ve tried to follow a recipe, only to realize halfway through that you’ve missed a crucial step? We’ve all been there. In the kitchen, you can simply start over. But in a business setting, mistakes can have more serious consequences, including financial loss, reputational damage, and even physical harm to employees.

All of this can be avoided by providing employees with clear and concise instructions. In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of creating step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow, understand, and implement.


Benefits of Using Step-by-Step Instructions

How-to guides can be an invaluable tool for companies looking to streamline their operations. Here are the main benefits of incorporating them into your workflow.

1. Accuracy and consistency

When a complicated procedure is broken down into a series of clear and concise steps, employees are less likely to make mistakes or overlook important details. This can lead to fewer errors and improve the overall quality of the work.

In addition, if a particular task needs to be performed by several people, a how-to guide can help ensure that the procedure is performed at a consistent level by each employee with repeatable success.

2. Increased productivity

Employees spend tons of time searching for documents and information. In organizations where time is money, how-to guides can help save both. With process documentation, employees don’t need to wait for a colleague’s answer on how to complete a specific task. And by following clear, pre-designed instructions, employees can complete those tasks more efficiently, reducing the need for revisions or additional supervision.

3. Improved new employee onboarding experience

Companies can document the entire onboarding process to help new employees understand what they should do during their first few weeks, including all steps such as filling out paperwork, attending orientation, setting up equipment and software, and meeting with key stakeholders.

Standardized processes can also help new employees understand their roles and responsibilities more quickly and feel more confident in their new job.

Examples of Step-by-Step Instructions in Organizations

Step-by-step guides are the universal form of presenting important procedures or introducing new processes, so they can be used in any organization. Here are some of their many use cases.

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are routine processes that should be performed consistently each time. They include procedures for manufacturing, logistics, and administrative tasks, such as how to fill in forms or operate machinery.

These procedures can be complex, involving multiple steps or stages. So, without clear instructions, employees may struggle to remember the correct order of the steps or may perform the same task differently each time. By documenting SOPs, you can ensure that the entire workforce always has these instructions at hand and follows established processes correctly. 

Troubleshooting procedures

Troubleshooting instructions can help employees diagnose and resolve minor technical issues by themselves quickly and effectively. This can include procedures for identifying the root cause of a problem, running diagnostics, and implementing fixes. 

By having clear troubleshooting procedures in place, organizations can reduce the burden on the technical department, decrease downtime, and minimize the impact of technical issues on business processes.

Job-related procedures

How-to guides can be used to lead employees through specific, job-related procedures. For example, you can write guides for sales teams to help them refresh their knowledge of how to communicate with clients, while marketing specialists can leverage instructions to stay on track with SEO keyword research and implementation. As a result, employees can focus on the task at hand, rather than trying to figure out the process.

Safety procedures

You can outline safety procedures and protocols for various tasks within the organization, such as:

  • Handling hazardous materials
  • Operating heavy machinery or equipment
  • Responding to emergency situations
  • Carrying out safety inspections or audits
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Working in confined spaces or at heights

Clear instructions ensure that employees are aware of potential risks and know how to prevent accidents and injuries.

Customer onboarding

Instructions can be efficient support when you need to guide customers through the onboarding process, such as setting up an account or using a new product. They’re also essential after product updates: providing the release of new features, changes to functionality, or performance improvements that might require users to learn a new process or ways of using the product. 

By providing clear instructions, organizations can reduce customer frustration and improve their overall experience, which can lead to increased loyalty and revenue.

How to Create Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that you know how step-by-step directions can benefit your business, we’ll walk you through the entire process of documenting and standardizing any procedures.

Step 1. Define the process you want to document

Not all processes are worth documenting, so the first thing you need to do is to define the most important procedures that, if they fail, could have a significant impact on your business operations. There are many ways to define which tasks require detailed instructions. For example, you can:

  • Interview team leaders. Conduct one-on-one interviews with team leaders — they know their team better than anyone else. Managers will be able to tell you which tasks lack a structured approach, and, therefore, are most prone to error or confusion among team members.
  • Review the results of employee performance evaluations. If you regularly assess employees’ performance, you might find that some tasks or procedures have been unsuccessfully executed by several employees. This may mean that the process for completing a task is unclear.
  • Review collaborative tools. Employees tend to ask their colleagues when they’re struggling at work. So, you can scroll through messages in general Slack chats or any other communication tool your company uses. You’d be surprised how much valuable insight you can gain from this.
  • Conduct a survey. Finally, you can survey the employees themselves to find out what difficulties each of them is facing. Then analyze their responses and identify the most common ones — these are the processes you need to focus on first.

Step 2. Set goals for your instructions

Ask yourself questions such as: What is the purpose of these instructions? What outcome do I want to achieve? By setting clear goals, you can easily determine what information is essential to include in your instructions and what can be left out. 

Tip: Whatever your goals are, make sure they are set according to the SMART methodology and are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Smart goals

For example, if you want to make your work environment safer, you could set this goal:

Achieve a 50% reduction in injuries related to operating the stamping press machinery within the next 12 months.

Or, if you want to give your customers more clarity on how to use your products, you could set this goal:

Reduce the number of customer calls to technical support by 30% by the end of the next quarter.

In addition, setting goals can help you measure the success of your instructions and identify areas for improvement in future iterations.

Step 3. Identify your audience

The key point to consider when identifying your target audience is their knowledge and expertise. This will determine the language of your future manual and will help you avoid unnecessary steps so it’s very clear to the end users. 

For example, if your instructions are aimed at new employees or specialists for whom this task is unrelated to their main job, you’ll probably avoid specialized terminology and provide contextual guidance. On the other hand, if your manual is intended to help senior specialists overcome obstacles, you’ll go into more detail and not bother explaining the basics.

You should also know whether your instruction is aimed at a specific team, such as a support team or R&D department, or whether it will be used by the entire organization. This will also help you build the narrative, define the steps, and make the instructions understandable to everyone.

Step 4. Select the right format

The format you choose will depend on your target audience, the process you are documenting, and the resources you have. Let’s look at some different types of detailed instructions you might want to create.

Text-based instructions

These are written numbered lists, usually accompanied by visual content: annotated screenshots, diagrams, or pictures. They can be presented in the form of online help pages, PDF documents, or paper-based manuals. Here is a piece of instruction on how to add a quiz to an online course created with iSpring Suite:

The example of text-based instructions

Text-based instructions are good for providing detailed explanations of some technical procedures and can be easily updated, distributed, and printed. However, they may not be ideal for visual learners or those with limited literacy. 

Video tutorials

How-to videos provide a visual demonstration of a process, which makes them ideal for documenting physical tasks such as assembling furniture, operating equipment, or helping with software adoption. There are countless video tutorials on YouTube, and here’s one of them explaining how to cook a tomahawk steak:​

Video tutorials are the best form of instruction for visual and auditory learners. They also provide a more engaging experience than text-based guides and can be shared and accessed online easily. However, videos can be time-consuming and expensive to produce. They can also be inaccessible to users with hearing or visual impairments.

Interactive simulations

These are online or computer-based simulations that allow users to practice and learn a process interactively. They are a good choice for kinesthetic learners and for explaining complex processes that require hands-on experience, such as practicing a surgical procedure or learning how to operate a complex machine.

For example, UPS, a global logistics company, created a virtual reality (VR) training program to help its drivers practice driving and identifying potential hazards on the road:​

Interactive simulations are highly engaging and good for training that requires real-time feedback. Yet, they can be expensive and time-consuming to create, and users may not have access to the technology or software needed to complete the simulation.

Online courses

Another way to deliver detailed instructions is through online courses. They typically include various content, such as text, images, infographics, videos, and quizzes. See what an online course that shows easy steps to get started working remotely might look like:

Online courses tend to be colorful, which makes them very engaging and enjoyable. In addition, as they include a variety of content types, they can meet the needs of a wide range of learners, such as those who relate more to auditory, visual, or kinesthetic modalities.

Step 5. Choose a tool 

Once you’ve made all the preparations, it’s time to choose software to help you bring your vision to life. Depending on the format of your future tutorial, you might prefer different tools — anywhere from a simple one, such as Google Docs, to advanced video production software.

Tip: When choosing software to create how-to instructions, consider the following:

  • Features. Does the tool have the functionality you need to create the type of instruction you want? Necessary features may include screen recording, video editing, creating infographics, or knowledge checks.
  • Ease of use. Is the tool user-friendly enough? Look for software with an intuitive interface that doesn’t require extensive training.
  • Collaboration. Does the tool allow multiple users to work on the same project? Is it easy to share and review content with others?

If you want to try different instruction formats, you should keep in mind that subscribing to multiple tools can be costly. Instead, you can opt for universal software like the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit. This is an all-in-one solution that allows you to create any type of instruction under one roof, whether it’s an instructional video, a short interactive page, or a comprehensive online course.

And the best part? You don’t need to be a tech wizard to use it. The tool is PowerPoint-based, so you won’t spend an hour learning its interface.

The iSpring Suite tab in PowerPoint

Instructional videos

iSpring Suite has a built-in video studio that allows you to create clear, professional-looking instructional videos and screencasts. You can capture the screen only or combine it with audio or your webcam video.

Video Recorder in iSpring Suite

After recording, you can edit your tutorial: change the speed, delete unwanted fragments, remove background noise, and add smooth transitions. Plus, the tool automatically highlights what you’re doing: typing, using keyboard shortcuts, or simply moving the cursor. 

This is the best solution if you need to explain to your employees how to use a corporate portal and task tracker, for example.

Concise interactive modules

When you need to create a brief manual super quickly, you probably don’t have enough time to create a video. But relying on plain, uninspiring text may not be the most effective way to get your message across either. This is where small interactive modules can be a lifesaver.

With iSpring Suite, you can break down a complex process into smaller, more manageable pieces that are visually appealing and easy to understand. The tool offers 14 interaction templates to demonstrate steps, procedures, or cyclic processes in a more engaging way. For example, you can use Steps interaction to show how to use Zoom video conferencing software:

Steps interaction

Interactive pages

One more good thing about iSpring Suite is that its advanced subscription comes with a collaborative space. It allows you to write page-like instructions and collaborate on them with your colleagues right in the browser.

To write a bite-sized tutorial, you can type or paste a pre-written text — the tool keeps the original formatting intact. Then, you can enhance your instruction with images, YouTube videos, and knowledge checks. See what you can create in a matter of minutes:

Page-like instruction

Slide-based instructions

With iSpring Suite, you can also create comprehensive slide-based training modules with text, images, and videos as easily as you build a PowerPoint presentation. Or, if you already have a PPT presentation, you can convert it to an online format and share it on the Web with just a few clicks.

If you’re looking for a way to not only provide your employees with instructions but also ensure that they have a solid understanding of the process and are able to apply it in their work, you can add quizzes to your slides.

iSpring Suite offers 14 different question templates, ranging from basic multiple-choice and true or false questions to more advanced matching and drag-and-drop activities. You can also provide feedback for incorrect answers so employees will understand what aspect of the instruction they need to review. Here’s an example of a multiple-choice quiz that will help you determine if employees understand how to handle workplace safety issues and emergency situations:

A multiple-choice quiz

To ensure reliable results, you can set time limits for answering questions, apply branching, and shuffle questions. You can also provide feedback for incorrect answers so employees will understand which aspect of the instruction they need to review.

Step 6. Publish and distribute your instruction

Once you’ve created the how-to guides, it’s time to distribute them. Cloud storage, email, and social media may not provide the functionality needed to navigate documents or monitor how employees are using these instructions. That’s why many companies rely on a Learning Management System (LMS) for knowledge sharing. 

For example, the iSpring Learn LMS comes with a knowledge base — a central location where you can keep all the tutorials related to a specific topic or area. You can upload any type of instruction to the knowledge base, from text files and presentations to videos and links to web pages, and create folders to organize information by department, topic, or other criteria. Plus, you can add new instructions at any time effortlessly. All this makes it easier for employees to find the information when they need it.

Knowledge base in iSpring Learn

If you want to make sure your employees not only have access to all the instructions but that they also study them in a timely manner, you can do that too. Simply add your step-by-step instructions to an online course, set learning deadlines, and assign it to a specific employee or the entire department. The system will automatically remind learners to complete the course by the deadline and provide you with detailed reports on their performance.

iSpring Learn

In addition to delivering standalone guides, you can combine multiple instructions into a single path called a learning track. This allows you to create a sequence of content required for their specific job roles or to streamline the onboarding process. Learning tracks help avoid overwhelming employees with too many tutorials. Instead, they allow companies to organize all materials into a straightforward easy-to-follow guide:

Learning track in iSpring Learn

What a Step-by-Step Instructions Template Should Include

Developing a consistent template for step-by-step directions can have significant benefits for both writer and reader. When documenting processes in the same way each time, employees can better understand them and follow along with ease. In addition, a consistent template can help ensure that all the details aren’t left out of the instructions. 

Regardless of the format you choose, you can use this structure to create your own step-by-step instruction template in MS Word or Excel:

1. Title

The title is the first thing the reader sees, so it should be brief and descriptive enough to give the reader a clear idea of what they will be learning or doing. Avoid vague or overly complicated titles that might confuse the reader or discourage them from proceeding further.

Effective and ineffective titles

2. Introduction

The introduction should give the reader a clear understanding of the purpose of the instructions and what they can expect to learn or accomplish. It should be brief but informative, highlighting any important background information, prerequisites, or requirements to complete the process.

3. Steps 

To make instructions that are easy to follow, break down the process into clear and specific steps, using bullet points and numbered lists if you create text-based guides. Each step should be concise and include only one action. Make sure that the steps are listed in a logical and intuitive order, so that the reader can easily follow along and complete the task without getting lost or confused.

4. Visual aids 

To make instructions clearer and illustrate more complex steps, add visual aids. Enhance your instructions with images, diagrams, screenshots, GIFs, and videos to demonstrate a process that may be difficult to explain in words alone. 

5. Tips and warnings 

Include any additional tips or warnings that may be helpful for the reader to complete the process successfully, such as safety warnings, best practices, or time-saving techniques.

6. Additional resources

If there are any additional resources or references that may be helpful for the reader, such as related articles, tutorials, or support forums, include links or recommendations that they can use to explore further.

FAQ on Step-by-Step Instructions

Here you’ll find the most common questions about step-by-step instructions.

1. What is a step-by-step guide?

A step-by-step instruction is a set of sequential directions that guide a user through a process or task with the aim of achieving a specific goal or outcome.

2. Where can I use step-by-step instructions?

They can be used in any industry where there is a need to guide users through a process or task, or improve the productivity of workers. Step-by-step instructions are particularly useful in settings where there is a high degree of complexity, variability, or risk involved.

3. How detailed should step-by-step instructions be?

The level of detail and the number of steps involved in a step-by-step guide depends on the complexity of the task or process being outlined as well as the knowledge and experience of your intended audience. It may be helpful to test the step-by-step instructions with a small group of users and revise them as needed based on their feedback.

To Wrap Up

Step-by-step guides are a great way to share knowledge effectively and improve employee productivity, especially if you plan to scale your business. We hope our article will help you create meaningful tutorials and document any process in your organization.

If you’re ready to get started, download the free 14-day trial of iSpring Suite course creation tool and see how to make step-by-step instructions with ease. 

And, to find out more about what the iSpring Learn LMS can offer, sign up for a live personalized demo!

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