Writing Tips

Instructive writing

Instructive writing is written or spoken directions for carrying out a procedure or performing a task.

Use Imperative Mood

Instructions are usually written using the imperative verb. The imperative is formed by using the verb (the ‘action’ or ‘doing’ word) but without ‘to’ or any noun or pronoun in front of it. For example, ‘You need to mix the ingredients’ > ‘Mix the ingredients’. This type of instructions, used mostly in manuals, warning or recipes, does not say WHO has to follow the instructions. Imperative instructions are often written as a numbered or bullet list. Using linking words help to create a sequence. For instance: Firstly, Secondly, Then, Finally.

“Good instructions are unambiguous, understandable, complete, consistent, and efficient.”

Use of Modals to turn an order into a request

Modal auxiliary verbs can make orders and instructions sound more polite. For instance, ‘Could you do this?’ rather than ‘Do it’. Note that you should also include the second-person point of view: you, your, and yours and ‘let’s’ or ‘please’ if you want to sound more polite.  In addition, the imperative should include the verb, but with ‘to’. For instance: Remember to, Be careful not to, Try to, Try not to, You need to, It’s important to, It helps to, Be sure to, Always, Never.

We use have to / must / should + infinitive to talk about obligation, things that are necessary to do, or to give advice about things that are a good idea to do.

  • must for more personal opinions about what it is necessary to do. (Formal writing)
  • have to for what somebody in authority has said it is necessary to do. (Speaking)
  • mustn’t: you do not have a choice.
  • have not to: you have a choice.

Use an introductory phrase to soften the order in English

  • Would you mind possibly… (+ ing) (Most indirect)
  • Would you mind possibly moving your car? It’s parked right in front of mine.
  • I was hoping you could … (+ infinitive without to)
  • I was hoping you could spare me a few minutes this morning.
  • Do you think you could … (+ infinitive without to)
  • Do you think you could do this photocopying for me?
  • If you have a couple of minutes spare…
  • If you have a couple of minutes spare, the office needs tidying up.
  • I’d like you to…
  • I’d like you to file this correspondence for me.
  • I want you to…
  • I want you to finish this by tomorrow.

Content Structure.

Remember to include at least one of the below. If you are giving instructions is because you know what has to be done or avoid.

  1. What is necessary. ‘You have to’ ‘You must’ ‘ You should’ ‘You need to’
  2. What is wrong. ‘You mustn’t’ ‘You should’t’
  3. What is not necessary. ‘You (don’t) need to…’


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