Technical Writing Exercise – How to Make Toast

One kind of project that a tech writer is often given is to explain a process. It can be anything from a short how-to product description to a major document that details the operation of a complicated machine.

A couple of interesting examples that come to mind from my own experience are a video for technicians on how to use the Rotunda Fuel Injector Tester/Cleaner and an installation and service manual for the KWAUN 4600 Copier. Both required extensive research to determine exactly how the machines worked followed by careful consideration of the best ways to lay out the processes.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with this type of work (and sometimes even if you do), it’s possible to fall into a number traps when it comes to providing a clear, concise, and complete description of a process.

You have to consider:

– who your target audience is

– what they already know about the subject

– what, if any, experience they’ve had with the process

– what, if any, experience they’ve had with similar processes

– what you’ll need to explain either in words, illustrations, or both

Your job is to explain how to make a piece of toast.

The exercise in divided into 2 parts. They involve the same process, but each is directed to a different audience. It’ll be good practice to work out the exact steps involved in this seemingly simple process. You’ll also have to alter your content and approach depending on your target audience.

Toaster Details:

The toaster is an ordinary, two-slice, home kitchen toaster. It has a slide to push down to start the toasting process. There’s a “light to dark” dial from 0 to 10. It has a separate button for toasting only one side for bagels and English muffins.

Exercise – Part One

Write a step-by-step process for turning a single piece of bread into a piece of dark toast.

The audience is 18- to 25-year olds who live in cities of populations of over 10,000. These cities are located west of the Mississippi and north of Kentucky.

Exercise – Part Two

Write a step-by-step process for turning a single piece of bread into a piece of dark toast.

The audience is 18- to 25 year olds who have lived their whole lives on an island in the South Pacific with a population of under 500. They are aware of but not familiar with electricity and indoor plumbing.

After you’ve written your two processes, check the solutions below to see how your work compares. Look for what you missed or what you thought of that the solutions missed.

Solutions

The task was to write a brief process on how to make a piece of toast using an ordinary toaster. Your target audience was two very different groups of people.

Part One – Solution

It’s reasonable to expect that the first group, the young Americans, are pretty knowledgeable about making toast even if, for some reason, they’ve never done it. That tells you that you can start at a pretty high level of experience and familiarity with bread and toasters. What you need to do is balance what they already know with what you need to tell them.

The basic steps in making a piece of toast for this group would look something like this:

1. Take a slice of bread [Graphic A: hand holding a slice of bread]

2. Put it into one of the slots in the top of the toaster [Graphic B: bread being inserted into a slot in the top of the toaster]

3. Set the “light to dark dial” scale from 0 to 10 depending on how toasted you want the bread to be [Graphic C: illustration of the scale with an arrow pointing at one of the numbers]

4. Press the slide all the way down [Graphic D: fingers pressing slide down with arrow indicating direction]

5. When the toast is done, it will pop up automatically [Graphic E: slice of toast sitting in the toaster slot]

Part Two – Solution

The second target audience, the young people from the South Pacific island, presents an entirely different challenge. You wouldn’t make the same assumptions of experience and familiarity. In fact, you have to assume that these people might be totally unfamiliar with the whole concept of making toast.

You need to start at a much more basic level.

The basic steps in making a piece of toast for this group would look something like this:

[Graphic A: Illustration of a toaster with the various components called out]

1. A toaster is an electrical appliance that must be plugged into a 120v electrical outlet [Graphic B: illustration of the power cord of the toaster plugged into an outlet with plug and outlet called out]

2. Bread comes in many shapes and sizes [Graphic C: a number of illustrations of representative shapes and sizes of bread]

3. To begin, select a single slice of bread that will fit into the toast slot [see Graphic D: toast slot]

4. The slice of bread should not touch either end of the slot and should be thinner than the width of the slot [Graphic E: illustration of bread slice in the slot]

Note: If the slice of bread is to thick or too wide, it could stick in the slot or be burned by the heating elements.

5. Set the “light to dark dial” scale from 0 to 10 depending on how toasted you want the bread to be [Graphic F: illustration of the scale with an arrow pointing at one of the numbers]

Note: The toast will be darker (more toasted) the higher the number you select on the scale.

6. Press the slide on the front of the toaster down as far as it will go [Graphic G: fingers pressing slide down with arrow indicating direction] and let go of it

Note: While in operation, the toaster will become hot. Do not touch the toaster while it is in operation.

7. When the bread is done toasting, the slice will pop up automatically [Graphic H: slice of toast sitting in the toaster slot]

It’s obvious that the approach and content is very different for the two groups.

Generally speaking, the steps in the process must:

– be in a logical order

– provide information that tells what to do next

– provide information that tells what to expect when a step is completed

– provide graphics and illustrations that support the text

As a tech writer, you can’t assume that everyone knows the same things or knows as much as you do about a process. You must consider not only what the audience knows, but also what you can do to make their grasp of the process firm.

Source by Bryan S. Adar

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