Step-by-Step (Saturday Writing Essential)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on May 1, 2010 0 Comments

When I managed a technical writing group I had a standard test I administered to applicants. Here is the setup for that test.

You are trying, without much luck, to sell your car. You’re only asking $4,000 and can’t understand why nobody wants it. Finally, someone approaches you and, before you can name your price, announces he wants to buy it for $5,000!

But there is a catch (obviously).

He has never in his life changed one of the round, rubber things. He doesn’t have an ounce of technical knowledge in his body (can’t even remember the name of those six-sided things holding on the round, rubber things). He thinks a trunk is something you pack for a long trip.

So, he is willing to pay $5,000 CASH for the car if you will provide a set of instructions on how to change a tire. (Isn’t that the right name for the round, rubber thing?)

Write a comprehensive set of instructions for changing a tire ON YOUR CAR. Select a format which is easy to follow and helps guide the reader through the procedure. Make it as short or long as necessary to cover the necessary information.

It was surprising how many professional technical writers could not do this properly. One forgot to mention that you had to remove the jack from the trunk. One said jack up the car without having you put the jack in place first.

When you’re giving a set of instructions, you have to cover every step in the proper sequence and, if you’ve never done it before, it’s harder than it sounds.

* * *

For the test above I included some dos and don’ts in the instructions and, for grins and giggles, I’ll show you a few of them so you can have an idea how old this test is.


This assignment is due 43 hours from right now.  (HINT:  Check the clock so you know when it’s due.)


Use any reference source you wish.

Make as many drafts as you need.

Keep all notes and drafts.

Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Use a typewriter or word processor to prepare the assignment.


The assignment cannot be handwritten nor can you use the services of a secretary, word processing operator, or typist.

* * *

We had, at that time, no computers and all the technical writers wrote everything longhand on legal pads and then turned it in to our word processing operators to be typed. Somewhat different than today, huh?


This Week’s Challenge:

Let’s see if you’ll make a good technical writer. Write a set of step-by-step instructions on how to do something. What? Anything you want, but I’d ask that you include at least five steps. If you’re stalled for ideas, I stuck in a few down below.

This one lends itself more to prose, but I can see how you could put the steps in a poem. If you’re artistic enough — go for it.



Use my exam above and write a set of instructions for changing a tire.

How about someone detailing how to post an article or photo on Gather.

I can’t wrap packages worth a darn, please give me instructions on how to do it.

Want a challenge? Tell me how to change a light bulb.

Something close to my heart: tell me how to clean a rifle.

Hmm, I just got a new cast-iron skillet. How do I season it?



Great submissions this week. Because these writers took the time to write something, I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to read them — you’ll be rewarded by some really great reading.

A Bit About Nothing – Satwe, Week of April 24 by Elsie Duggan

Believe in the Big Forever (Saturday Writing Essential) by Ruthi C.

Her Laugh – – Saturday Writing Essential by Michael Fishman

Lottery Fever (Saturday Writing Essential) by Len Maxwell

Pickles (Saturday Writing Essential) by dreya y.

Purely Suffer – Ghandi’s ideas of nonviolence in my poem by Carol Keefer

The Little Tadpole (Saturday Writing Essential) by Karen R.

Why I Won’t Discuss Politics on Gather – (Saturday Writing Essential) by Louise P.


The Rules:

  • Write a set of step-by-step instructions detailing how to do something (prose or poetry). There must be at least five steps in whatever procedure you’re explaining.
  • There is a limit of three submissions from each member per day. If you’re extremely prolific, spread out your work and post only three submissions per day.
  • Post to Gather Writing Essential.
  • Tag your submission with SatWE.
  • Include (Saturday Writing Essential) as part of your title.
  • I ask that you make your submission(s) by next Friday afternoon.

Good Writing!

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