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Technical Writing Exercise: How to Make Toast

One type of project that is often given to a technology writer is explaining a process. It can be anything from a short practical product description to an important document detailing 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 cleaner / tester 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 design the processes.

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

You have to consider:

– who is your target audience

– what they already know about the topic

– what experience, if any, have they had with the process

– what experience, if any, have they had with similar processes

– what you will need to explain in words, pictures, or both

Your job is to explain how to make a toast.

The exercise is divided into 2 parts. They involve the same process, but each is aimed at a different audience. It will be good practice to determine the exact steps involved in this seemingly simple process. You will also have to modify your content and focus based on your target audience.

Toaster details:

The toaster is a common two-slice home kitchen toaster. It has a slide to push down to start the toasting process. There is a “light to dark” dial from 0 to 10. It has a separate button to toast 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 dark toast.

The audience is 18 to 25 years old who live in cities with 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 dark toast.

The audience is 18 to 25 years old who have lived their entire lives on an island in the South Pacific with a population of less than 500. They know but are not familiar with indoor electrical and plumbing.

Once you’ve written your two processes, check the solutions below to see how your work compares. Look for what was missed or what you thought solutions were missing.

Solutions

The task was to write a short process on how to make toast with a common toaster. His target audience was two very different groups of people.

Part one: solution

It is reasonable to expect that the first group, young Americans, will be very knowledgeable about how to make toast even if, for some reason, they have never done it. That tells you that you can start with a fairly 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 for making toast for this group would look like this:

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

2. Place it in one of the slots on 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 toasty 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 [Graphic D: fingers pressing slide down with arrow indicating direction]

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

Part two: solution

The second target audience, the youth of the South Pacific Island, presents an entirely different challenge. I would not make the same assumptions of experience and familiarity. In fact, you must assume that these people may not be familiar with the concept of making toast.

You need to start at a much more basic level.

The basic steps for making toast for this group would look 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 120 V 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 in 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 too thick or too wide, it could stick in the slot or get burned by the heating elements.

5. Set the scale of the “light to dark dial” from 0 to 10, depending on how browned 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 possible [Graphic G: fingers pressing slide down with arrow indicating direction] and let it go

Note: While in operation, the toaster will heat up. Do not touch the toaster while it is running.

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

It is obvious that the focus and content are very different for the two groups.

Generally speaking, the process steps should:

– be in a logical order

– provide information indicating what to do next

– provide information indicating what to expect when a step is completed

– provide graphics and illustrations that support the text

As a technology writer, you can’t assume that everyone knows the same things or knows as much about a process as you do. You should consider not only what the audience knows, but also what you can do to make your understanding of the process sound.

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