What are mandatory instructions?

Mandatory instructions are not really that mandatory

    Do mandatory instructions exist, whether these would be mandatory online instructions, mandatory operating instructions or any other kind of working instructions? Actually, they do not. There is nothing ‘mandatory’ about instructions. The term ‘mandatory instruction’ has its merits though. One could interpret mandatory instructions as instructions that should meet certain criteria.

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    Manufacturers often use the term ‘mandatory instructions’ in order to tell their customers that their working instructions meet the highest standards. What, then, do mandatory online instructions or mandatory operation instructions in a manual look like? Whether online or in print, such instructions follow a number of guidelines.

    Be as short as possible

    Instructions should be as short as possible. In practice, this means using the imperative, such as “Close the door”. One could write the imperative as a request adding ‘Please’: “Please close the door.” But the latter should not be done. An instruction is something a user should do, not a request to do something. One can deny a request. An instructions is not a request, but a necessary step to achieve something.

    Separation for… scanning

    Separation between instructions is mandatory. It should be crystal-clear where an instruction ends and where the next instruction begins. After all, each and every instruction should be recognisable in order for a user to ‘scan’ it. Only this way, a user can return easily to the part of the task he is busy with.

    What kind of separation one could think of? A simple line between instructions would do. But also some extra blank white space between instructions is OK. A good advice is to use a table and place every instruction in an individual row.

    Subdivision for… scanning

    In order for a user to scan each instructions easily, a list of instructions should not be too long. When a list contains more than seven items, users tend to lose track. In such a case it is important to subdivide tasks. For example, one could divide the task ‘Starting your smartphone’ in the sub tasks ‘Checking the battery’ and ‘Turning your smartphone on’.

    Preferably, tasks should contain between three and seven ‘mandatory instructions’.

    Based on these three guidelines one could say that instructions have a ‘mandatory’ character. A manufacturer may have its own reasons to spreak of ‘mandatory instructions’. Strictly speaking, such instructions do not exist. But the term contributes to the quality awareness of any vendor. That is why one should not do away with the it.