Piecing it together…

One of the projects that is almost out the door is an instruction set I’m working on for how to make a chainmail belt.

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I have also been talking to people who are working (or want to work) on putting out some sewing and knitting patterns. I can promise you that as much thought and work needs to go into a pattern or instruction set as is needed for any other project (you know… If you want your instructions to be understandable instead of rage inducing…)

But there are differences between writing a pattern or instruction set and some of the other writing we talk about here…

Doing and writing

One of the things I’ve really noticed in the process or writing instructions is that it is a good idea to actually make or do whatever yours supposed to be writing about while you’re writing the instructions. This can be slow and awkward. You keep having to set one thing down to do the other. However, this is often one of the best ways to avoid forgetting those little details that crop up while you’re working. Doing and writing in a parallel mode helps you think more about what you’re actually doing, so that you can write your instructions correctly.

There are times you need to write things up later, but this really can lead to memory problems and missing details. If you absolutely can’t write while doing, you might think about video or audio recording, or some other form of in vivo documentation to help you.

A picture is worth a thousand words

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” photographers tell me this all the time. As one with a few hundred thousand words under his belt I can say that this is one of the situations that they’re actually right about. Pictures, graphs and charts can show information more clearly and concisely than a verbal description; but only if you’ve put some thought into your pictures, graphs and charts! If you want to see the full spectrum of good and bad visual information head over to You Tube and watch some ‘instructional’ videos after you finish reading this post…

Often it won’t be enough to “snap a few pics” that you can insert into your instructions.  You need to think about what you’re showing, and from what angle, and with what kind of lighting and contrast. You might even want to get into some picture editing software and add some labels and text…

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Your pictures really do need to be as thought out as the rest of your instructions. And even then you’re not done!

Play testing!

It is virtually always a good idea to have someone else read what you write before you call it done (trust me, some of us have learned the hard way…). When you’re writing instructions or a pattern, it might not be enough to just have someone read over what you wrote. For patterns and instructions you might just want someone to actually try to do what you’re writing about.

In this case you can’t do it all yourself! You already know how to do what you’re writing about and you may well miss errors and confusing points that will be obvious to someone else trying to follow your instructions.

I know someone out there want’s to skip this step, but… Nope, you need to let someone else try to follow your instructions and then give you feedback. (note: fear of feedback shouldn’t be an excuse that stops you. If you’re seriously afraid of what people will say, then either you or your instructions aren’t ready yet…)

Instructions are a teaching tool. They are worthy of genuine thought and effort (and, based on how many knitting patterns my wife buys, they are sometimes fairly profitable…). In fact if you want to do them right you should give them as much attention (or more) than you would give any other writing project.

You also have to understand how your instruction projects are unique.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Back to the long and the short of it!

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