Simple instructions don’t always need images to make them more effective. For example recipes often don’t have images, and if they do they may often just have a picture of the finished item. However to make your instructions more effective it often helps to include one or more diagrams or other images.
How can images help?
Instructions are more effective if the number of words used can be kept fairly small. The old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is very relevant for writing instructions because using an image with labels can remove the need to write long descriptions. For example the labelled picture of a chain saw below would save many words in instructing how to find the “fuel filler cap” and fill the saw with fuel.
Including the picture and referring to it from the instructions saves writing a detailed description of the “fuel filler cap”, where to find it on the saw, and how to distinguish it from the “oil filler cap”.
It is possible to make instructions even more visual especially if you are writing a “how to” that involves a computer application. This can be done with numbered steps on screenshots as in this one for positioning and inserting an image in your blog.
Visuals are particularly helpful for anything that requires the user to:
- locate something on a piece of equipment or a toolbar – particularly one unfamiliar to them
- move something in a particular way
- see that changes that should result from their actions at each stage in a series of steps
The “techie” bit of making and adding visuals
My own preference for adding visuals to instructions is to use PhotoFiltre and Powerpoint as described in the Slideshare below. I create and save my labelled/annotated images, these can then be inserted directly into: blogposts, presentations or documents with the mimimum of effort.
I use this process because I find it:
- simple and quick to do;
- easy to edit later if needed
- provides me with portable visuals that I can use in other applications because they are saved as images
Audio-visual instructions are becoming more and more common using screencasts and/or video. However these have a major disadvantage in that it is difficult to refer back to one point somewhere in the middle of the instructions without having to replay the entire sequence to find the bit you want! Using audio-visuals is therefore best kept to VERY short activities such as this screencast on attaching files to emails.
There are many different ways of preparing visuals for inclusion in instructions. The one described above is the one I use because it works for me. Please comment on whether you think it will work for you – why or why not?