How to write an instruction manual

BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting a 30 minute show on this topic.

Engineer Mark Miodownik presents an instruction manual on how to write an instruction manual, exploring the history and the future of product guides and how they chart our changing relationship with technology.

He looks at how product guides have changed over the centuries, from the very first examples, written by James Watt on his new ‘copying’ machine, to the latest Ikea pictograms.

In the first half of the 20th century, manuals not only described how to use your television, but also how to fix it. Now, the first few pages of any TV manual contain stern health and safety warnings about the dangers of tinkering inside the TV.

Mark travels to Yeovil to visit Mr Haynes, of Haynes car and motorcycle manuals, to ask whether people still need a manual to fix their vehicle. As our products get more sophisticated, is the instruction manual becoming extinct?

One to catch I think, hopefully it’ll be available afterwards online as well.


  1. To Craig, I just found out about this and the show is no longer available for download 🙁

    Is there a way of you sending the downloaded file to me?

  2. It was an interesting programme on the history product guides and promised to explore the future of them. But did not offer any view of the future at all.

    I reckon there are three trends (the first identified by Mark Miodownik) will influence future instruction manuals.

    The three trends are as follows:
    1. Our on-going relationship with teccnology
    2. Competitive pressure between brand owners
    3. Users should demand better instructions

    I expand on each of these at

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