Instructions to assemble a spinning wheel

I have only ever documented software.

One of my secret tech writer dreams is to write doco for tangible products. “Congratulations on the purchase of your whipper snipper” I’d write.

Recently I bought a portable spinning wheel that folds up and fits into a carry bag. It is called a Joy and it is aptly named – a marvel of design and engineering.

When the box arrived, I had to assemble the wheel. A very exciting prospect because I like building things and I like reading instructions.

I was keen to play every tech writer’s favourite game of picking the guide to pieces.


Imagine my disappointment when it was actually quite okay!

The critique

It was two column layout. Some of the content ran down the page, some of it across. A trifle confusing but not too bad.

The guide started with a graphic parts list (Ikea style), but should have also included a labelled diagram of the assembled wheel.


Spinning wheel parts have names that may be foreign to new users. Reading instructions like “Thread the flyer spindle into the top shaft…” and “Hold the whorl with one hand…” didn’t bother me, but would have been double-dutch to the new spinner.

Happy and sad faces were used to show the correct tension.


The re-write

One of the opportunities open to job-hunting tech writers is to take a poor example of writing, improve it and then send it back to the source.

I think I’ll take the high road on this one. I really like the Ashford company and their products. Although I could completely redesign their user guide, one could argue that there’s nothing really wrong with it since I managed to assemble the wheel with no problems.

Any anyway, I’d rather be spinning. Look how it folds up  – so cool!



Zentangle graphic instructions

A cool example of instructions without words:

photo 1

Zentangle is a meditative form of doodling. I recently got into it as a really quick way to relax. (Bonus: you end up with piece of artwork!)

In the Zentangle book I use, the instructions for the different doodle designs are represented in comic strip style.

Each new step is shown in red.

No words

The method of this instruction style is never explained in writing. The graphic is not preceded by the heading “Instructions”. The authors don’t say, “Each new bit of the doodle is shown in red”.

Here it is in context on the page:

photo 3

Elegant simplicity.

photo 2

Watch out for colour

Using colour is a risk I usually avoid as a tech writer. Not everyone can see colour, or they see colour differently.

I think these Zentangle instructions would lose some of their punch without the colour, but the clarity of the design means they would probably still work as instructions.

Could you use it?

I’d love to be able to incorporate this instruction style in tech writing. I could see it working with any sort of progressive task where each step builds on the previous step.

This technique might work as an alternative to numbered steps in a user guide for:

  • assembling a product
  • filling in a complex form
  • playing a game
  • using an app.