Never Assume Knowledge When Writing Procedures

The Problem
When writing procedures, a surefire way to create confusion is to assume that your readers can complete multi-step activities without explicit instructions. When you make this assumption, you risk creating confusion, frustration, and inaction. You’ll also burden other employees, subject matter experts, and/or help desk workers with unnecessary questions. This defeats the purpose of writing procedures.

Consider the following example:
Writing procedures that illustrate the problem of assuming knowledge
Notice how the last step in this sequence is really a whole bunch of steps. When you consolidate steps, readers tend to become paralyzed with confusion and are therefore unable to continue

The key word here is assume. If you know that everyone who will ever follow the procedure can complete a multi-step activity, e.g., every reader is a skilled Access database programmer, you can then consolidate steps. Procedure writers often make unfounded assumptions about the knowledge of their audience.

The Solution
When in doubt, assume that your readers need explicit instructions to complete multi-step activities. Though you’ll invest additional effort on the front-end, your procedure will offer greater long term productivity gains.

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