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Instructional Design Industry 4.0 Work Instructions

How to Write a Good Instruction Manual: Creating Digital Work Instructions

16 min read - published on March 12, 2018


Here's how to increase operational efficiency and reduce cost. Check out our proven design method for creating great step-by-step work instructions.

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 work instructions.    

By providing your end-users with clear and to-the-point work instructions, you can expect increased operational efficiency, reduced downtime, and more effective training procedures.

SwipeGuide is a digital work instruction software that enables companies to create visual and step-by-step digital work instructions - hassle-free. Our goal is to save both you and your end-users valuable time and money.

So, let’s talk about how to write and structure a great work instruction.


Structure and clarity are key in instructions.

Structure is the key to saving time in basically everything - and the domain of work instructions is no exception. In order to write a work instruction, from the company’s perspective, and understand work instructions, from the end-user’s perspective, there has to be a clear and to-the-point structure. Based on academic research on instructional design and learnability, we have structured our platform into the following parts:


Instruction hierarchy


Every SwipeGuide work instruction follows this same, basic format. Having a consistent approach to structure allows our customers to reproduce quality work instructions with minimal effort. This model is a handy visual representation of the key components of our instructional approach:

  • Guide
  • Topic
  • Instruction
  • Step

Let’s have a look at these components in greater detail:



The basic element of every instruction is the “guide.” You can see the guide as the entire paper booklet of a product, from first to the last page. It contains every topic, instruction, and step of how to use a specific product.  



A guide consists of several different instructions. The Multipacker OCME work instruction consists of a number of separate instructions, demonstrated above, including:

  • Prepare the Machine

  • Prepare divider

  • Safety first

These instructions each contain a certain number of steps.



“Steps” are the detailed descriptions of instructions. They show the user the step-by-step process of performing a given task. There is a clear goal in every instruction, and the description of the goal should therefore always be task-oriented and to the point. Let’s take the instruction “Prepare the machine” in the Multipacker OCME work instruction as an example.


Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 13.54.36


The user follows these steps by swiping through the instructions on a mobile device or desktop. A step should consist of a clear visual (static image or short gif) supported by a clear task-centered sentence. For the highest level of learnability and clarity, the tasks should be described in active present tense (install, press, click, follow). You should also avoid long wordy sentences and we recommend to break 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.

Additional information about the steps can be split up into four icons, that are based on the theory of information mapping:

1. Warning:

Regarding safety and things to know before usage, etc.

instruction warning

2. Tip:

More detailed description with extra information on how to perform the step, eg.

instruction tip
3. Alternative route:

A possible different way to perform the same task, eg. We've included an example from a popular consumer product below.


instruction alternative route

4. Fixes:

Things that often go wrong and how to fix them, eg.

When you’re done with your work instruction, you can share it with your end-users via a QR code embedded on a website with an iframe code, or a direct link.


instruction fix



So, how can you write a great work instruction? 

  • Structure your work instructions in a clear, step-by-step instruction hierarchy
    (guide - topic - instruction - step).

  • Use an active tone of voice when writing instructions.

  • Keep it short and to the point.

  • Use a clear visual to illustrate the step.

  • Split up a task in several different sub-tasks.

  • Separate all additional information in icons.
    (warnings - tips - alternative routes - error fixes)
  • Share it with your end-users digitally.

published March 12, 2018


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