122 Technical Writing: A Practical Guide for Engineers and Scientists
6.2 Technical Procedures
Technical procedures are descriptive documents that include step-by-step
instructions for assembling, processing, or organizing things. A procedures
document should contain the following (as applicable):
• Purpose of the procedure
• Safety information
• Preconditions—what must be true before the procedure is conducted
• Qualications of those who will conduct the procedure
• List of materials needed
• List of materials
• List of tools
• Step-by-step instructions
• Post conditions—what will be true if the procedure is followed
• Troubleshooting section
• List of frequently asked questions
The key to writing procedures manuals is to assume the reader is a
novice, or to document your assumptions about the previous knowledge
or experience needed. There is a special burden on the writer of tech-
nical procedures—even the smallest mistake can lead to catastrophe.
Therefore, you need to have both experienced and naïve colleagues test
your written procedures.
The wife of a former student recently published the delightful Unofcial
Harry Potter Cookbook, in which she gives recipes for foods mentioned in the
Harry Potter books [Bucholz 2010]. My student described to me the com-
prehensive recipe testing that his wife had conducted—preparing recipes
repeatedly and varying the ingredients slightly each time to simulate a
measurement error. She noted the sensitivity of the food to these errors and
adjusted the recipes accordingly. The author showed great diligence and care
in testing and revising her cookbook, setting a wonderful example of what
you should do in writing technical procedures.
Here are a few excerpts of technical procedures that I have written.
6.2.1 Vignette: PC Repair Book
When I was nishing my PhD, I decided to make some extra money by starting
a personal computer (PC) maintenance and repair business. After six months,
I had depleted most of my savings because I was not a savvy businessman,
but I did learn a great deal about PC maintenance and repair. I converted this
knowledge into a “how-to” book lled with technical procedures.