Writing Instructions 01
If you are asked to write instructions to make a cup of tea, you might start by saying "Pour fresh cold water into a kettle; heat the water."

Writing Instructions 01

Writing instructions can help someone carry out a task they are not familiar with, or have never done before.

Have you ever tried to put something together only with visual instructions and diagrams? It's not always easy. Do you think you could draw a diagram showing someone how to make a cup of tea without using any words at all? Possibly, but it would certainly be even more difficult than drawing a diagram demonstrating how to put together a set of shelves.

What are the qualities of a good set of instructions? They need to be in sequential order. They should be written clearly, using precise vocabulary. Instructions usually include imperative verbs and adverbs which indicate how to undertake the actions (i.e. "stir vigorously"). Instructions should include numbers, timings and measurements where appropriate. It's also helpful for the reader for words such as "first", "second", "next", "finally", etc., to be used to show in which order exactly the instructions should be followed (numbering the list helps, too).

This English quiz is all about writing and speaking to inform. See if you are able to give a set of instructions to a learner who is making a cup of tea for visitors in response to the following questions.

What shall I do first?
Boil the kettle
Pour fresh cold water into a kettle; heat the water
Pour hot water into a kettle
Pour some cold water
The first stage is to fill the kettle
What shall I do next?
Find some items
Find tea, teapot, cups, spoons, milk and sugar
Heat the water
Pour some more fresh cold water
Rather than instructing someone to find "items", it is important to list those items
I have found everything. What next?
Drink the tea
Drink the water
Wander off while you wait for the water to boil
Warm the teapot using hot water
Warming the teapot is an important stage!
I've done that. What now?
Put milk in the tea pot
Put sugar in the tea pot
Put two tea bags or two spoonfuls of tea in the tea pot
Put water in the tea pot
Instructions need to be specific so that the reader may follow them
I've put tea in the pot, now what?
Add milk
Pour on boiling water, stir and leave to stand for 3 minutes
Pour on cold water, stir and leave to stand for 3 minutes
Stir it
Instructions also need to be accurate. Cold water wouldn't make good tea!
Is it ready now?
Nearly ready. Add milk
Nearly ready. Give the tea a final stir
No. Wait for another 5 minutes
Yes. Drink it
Some people like VERY strong tea and might choose to wait another five minutes!
Shall I pour it out now?
No. Wait for another 5 minutes
Not yet
Pour (or strain) the tea carefully into the cups
Yes. Drink the tea
Adverbs like "carefully" are useful in instructions
Do I need to add anything to the tea?
Nothing. The tea is ready
Add milk if you know that your visitors drink white tea
Coffee perhaps
You could add some cake
Add milk if you know that your visitors drink white tea. "You could add some cake" would be an acceptable instruction if you were aiming for informality or humour
What about sugar?
Add sugar or provide it in a bowl; provide a spoon
I don't know where to find the sugar
Isn't the tea already sweetened
We don’t have any sugar
Instructions begin with imperative verbs such as "add" and "provide"
And now?
Ask your visitors to make their own tea
Ask your visitors to serve you the tea
Have a rest and talk to your visitors
Serve the tea to your visitors; drink when cool enough
"Serve" and "drink" are imperative verbs. "Have a rest and talk to your visitors" would be acceptable if you were aiming for a light or humorous tone in your instructions


Author:  Sue Daish

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