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Digital work instructions

How to make excellent digital work instructions.

The manufacturing industry is changing, and so is the way we work. Learn how digital work instructions can motivate your team, increase safety, and boost operational efficiency.

We’re in the middle of another industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is making the world of manufacturing faster, more digital, and more connected at an unprecedented rate.

Delivering knowledge to your workforce is essential. As jobs in the manufacturing industry become highly digitized and the global supply chain becomes more complex, it's more important than ever to effectively distribute digital work instructions.  

But first: what are digital work instructions? Digital work instructions explain the best way to complete a specific procedure. They translate procedures into a human-centered way of working that allows any employee on the shop floor to complete the task at hand. Employees can access the digital work instructions made in SwipeGuide through QR codes, NFC, or direct links.

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Why are digital work instructions important?

Traditional paper work instructions aren’t great. Lengthy, awkward, and hard to produce, a paper instruction manual frequently causes more problems than it solves.

In fact, close to 90% of paper instructions fail to provide a satisfactory solution for their users.

Good digital work instructions are crucial for a company since they explain the best way to complete a specific procedure in a standardized way. They translate procedure into a human-centered way of working that allows any employee on the shop floor to complete the task at hand safely and efficiently.

By providing your team with clear and to-the-point digital work instructions, you can expect:

  • continuously improved processes
  • increased operational efficiency and safety.
  • reduced machine changeover time and downtime
  • more effective training procedures
  • capture and share tribal knowledge
  • a more motivated workforce
  • see more benefits of digital work instructions here.

Ultimately, bad work instructions can cost your business billions.

Digital work instructions


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What do great digital work instructions look like?

Human errors account for 9 out of 10 incidents in the workplace. Good digital work instructions and standards could prevent these mistakes from happening. 

Structure and clarity are key in good work instructions:

  • User-centric and task-oriented
  • Effective and easy to understand
  • Effortless to author and publish
  • Available and instantly discoverable

Structure is the key to saving time in everything we do - and work instructions are no exception. In order to write digital work instructions (from the company's perspective) and understand the digital work instructions (from the end-user's perspective) we must give them a clear and logical structure. Based on academic research on instructional design and learnability, we've structured our platform in the following way:

Instruction hierarchy 2022

This model is a simple visual representation of the key components in our instructional approach:

  • Guide = the collection of instructions. 
  • Topic = the different categories in a guide. 
  • Instruction = a specific set of steps to perform a task.
  • Step = a single action within an instruction. 

Every SwipeGuide digital work instruction follows this same format. Having a consistent approach to structure allows our customers to reproduce quality work instructions with minimal effort.

A great digital work instruction consists of step-by-step information on how to perform a task. The digital work instruction should always follow a userfriendly format with visual information combined with short action-oriented snippets of text in each step.

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How can you make excellent digital work instructions?

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Focus on the user is key.

Make sure to check out our blog post for additional tips, tricks, and hacks for making effective digital work instructions

Making digital work instructions should include the following steps:

  1. Specify the goal of the work instruction.

  2. Design the steps to reach the goal.

  3. Add clear visuals to every step.

  4. Add a short snippet of action-oriented text to each step.

  5. Share the digital work instruction with your end-users (for example through QR codes, NFC or embed codes).

    + Bonus points: 
    collect feedback from your end-users to continuously improve your work instruction. 
a. Structure.

The basic element of every instruction is the "guide." It might be helpful to imagine the guide as the entire paper booklet for a product - from the first to the last page. It contains every topic, instruction, and step detailing how to effectively complete a set of different tasks in a factory or with a certain machine.

guide in digital work instructions


You can see the topics in a guide as well as the different categories or themes in one guide. For example, all instructions about cleaning machines in factory x can be collected under the topic "Cleaning." 



Instructions are the broader and more basic ideas in the instructional design process. Instructions do not necessarily need to follow a strict chronological order. However, they should cover every element in the most logical progression, from start to finish. In this example, we'll use an existing instruction manual for an industrial machine called the Multipacker OCME. This is a piece of complex equipment used for packing bottles and cans in the beverage manufacturing industry. The goal of the instruction is to successfully prepare the machine for use. The following instructions cover the basic processes needed to accomplish the following goals:

  • Prepare the Machine
  • Prepare Divider

These instructions each contain a certain number of steps.

instruction in digital work


Steps are your opportunity to be more focused and specific. They are part of the larger instruction and provide the information needed to complete it.

While steps are narrower and much more focused than the instructions they describe, they should never be complex in their language and composition. 

If you define the steps within a particular instruction, always focus on the same goal: transition the process from its initial state to its desired state. 



step in digital work instructions


The instruction we've used as an example represents a very simple goal: prepare the machine for use. It has an initial state, several intermediate states, and a desired end-state.

The steps you define will accomplish this goal. They need to bring the machine from its initial state (unprepared) to its desired state (prepared) in a series of steps. It might read something like this:

  1. Check the machine to see which recipe you need
  2. Take the car to your workspace
  3. Take out the spacers you need
  4. Turn the lock to the left to loosen the spacers
  5. Take the current spacers out of the machine

Each step is very simple, yet very focused. The steps above complete the task in a series of concise actions. 

Following the steps in a digital Instruction is an easy and highly effective way to make sure that users accomplish a goal while learning at their own pace. However, we know that an effective structure for your content yields the best results - in this case real learning and error-free work.

Read the section below to find out how to create the best content possible for your digital work instructions.

make excellent digital work



b. Content.

We live and work in a visual context, and this is important to remember when creating effective work instructions. Images are processed by our brains much faster - sixty thousand times faster - than text. Clear visuals are simply the most efficient way to deliver important ideas.

Images also have much less ambiguity than text. An image makes it clear what a situation entails, and what needs to be done. When we combine the efficiency and clarity of visuals with simple text, it is a very powerful way to work and communicate.

But not all visuals are created equal. Visuals are critical to the success of your digital work instructions. However, if they are unclear or poorly executed, they can create more problems than they solve.

Read our blog here for some simple tips to help you make the most out of your visuals .

visuals work instructions




For the highest level of learnability and clarity, tasks should be described in the active present tense (install, press, click, follow). You should also avoid long sentences, and we recommend breaking down tasks into two or more sub-tasks when the user needs to perform several actions. A maximum of 10-12 steps is recommended for your instructions to be effective. When you want users to memorize a task, you should limit yourself to a maximum of 5-7 steps. 

  • Keep the language as simple as possible. Ideally, any text in your instructions should perform at a third-grade level. 
  • Always use action-oriented language. This adds authority to your instructions and ensures consistency.
  • Format all verbs in the present tense.
  • Each instruction should include only one action, thus only one verb.
  • Keep noun clusters to a minimum of three words.
  • Keep sentences to a maximum of 20 words.
  • Paragraphs should contain a maximum of 6 sentences.
  • Avoid jargon: rephrase obscure industry terminology into simple English wherever possible.
  • Remember, all text will need to scale to mobile and wearable devices.


writing work instructions




It’s important to remember that your end-user will be a human performing work in a potentially dangerous environment. Sometimes, additional information must be added to ensure a safe and effective work environment.

That’s where the practice of Information Mapping comes in handy. 

A good digital instruction platform provides a way to include any extra, essential information in a way that is unobtrusive. This can be done with a clickable icon or something similar.

We've outlined the various forms of information mapping that we use when creating digital work instructions in the SwipeGuide platform:


  • Warning: Regarding safety and things to know before usage.
  • Tip: More detailed description with additional information on how to perform the step.
  • Alternative route: A possible different way to perform the same task.
  • Fixes: Things that often go wrong and how to fix them.

safety warning tip in digital work


Start creating better work instructions.