How NOT to Write Instructions

GiletPattThe picture to the right shows a portion of the instructions for a knitting pattern.  This is how it reads:

Wow.  What a mouthful.  It is a run on sentence, and, as is, leaves a lot of room for error and misreading.   Well, it is an excellent example of now NOT to write instructions.

patterninstructionsThe picture to the left shows the same portion with my pencil marks.  The horizontal lines mark the sentences as I made my way through the instructions.  The horizontal marks indicate rows.  As I transcribed each part, I made vertical  marks through the words.

Here is the transcription:

CO 47
(Nb: When slipping stitch, slip as if to purl.)

Row 1:    K
Row 2:    K
Row 3:    K26, turn.
Row 4:   YO, slip 1, K25, turn
Row 5:    K34 (be sure to K YO tog w/1st stitch), turn
Row 6:    YO, slip 1, K33, turn
Row 7:    K42 (be sure to K YO tog w/1st stitch), turn
Row 8:    YO, slip 1, K41, turn
Row 9:    K
Row 10:  K

Repeat rows 3-10 seven more times.

Much clearer!  Now I have three more sections to transcribe.  Thankfully this is a small project, otherwise I would jettison the pattern.

I would say shame on the author of  the pattern for such user-unfriendly instructions, but as this is part of a knitting magazine, it is the responsibility of the magazine publisher to set out strict guidelines on pattern instructions.

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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37 Responses to How NOT to Write Instructions

  1. Terrific! I’m not that proactive or sure of myself. Plus, I’m working off a pattern book from the early 80’s. I think with the history and photos of the patterns, it would be valuable to any knitter’s library. I don’t know if the publisher’s would feel its worth.

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  2. In this case, I have completely rewritten the instructions. Then I wrote the author (a company, not an individual) of the pattern, informed them their instructions were horrid and that I had completely rewritten them. I wanted to know if I had permission to post my rewrite on my blog. I actually received an immediate response that I had sent it to the Canadian branch, and they were forwarding my email to the home office in France.

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  3. Argh! I feel your frustration. I prefer to sit, knit out the gauge swatch, and go. I don’t have time to waste. When the project turns out perfect tho, sometimes the work is worth the warm fuzzies. That and the fact that other knitters probably won’t be knitting the same thing. 🙂

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  4. After 2-1/2 weeks, I am just about finished with a project that should have taken me a weekend. Why? Horrid instructions.

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  5. And sadly we still have to do this from time-to-time with MODERN patterns. 😦

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  6. Oh no doubt! I’m learning so much more about the use of twisting stitches to emphasize patterned features. Figuring out what the author was doing took a while tho. I have some patterns from the 50’s and 60’s, but I haven’t tried them yet.

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  7. textileshed says:

    I have recently discovered 1940’s knitting patterns – boy! I write them all out BEFORE I cast on anything! But there is really something to be learned in the shapes they used then, so… it’s all a learning curve…

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  8. Is it graceful or helpful? No. But I would venture that the main selling point of a knitting magazine is the actual pictures of the knits, with much less emphasis on the patterns. As such, it is not something you can take up valuable real estate with. For knitters, I wouldn’t mind having only 15 pages of pictures and 40 of well spaced patterns. However, the cost for printing would be astronomical and passed on to the consumer. Since printing is such a competitive business with a smaller profit margin, magazines really can’t waste the space, especially as that space is not attractive for ads and most advertisers don’t want to be in the position.

    Verena was one of my favorite knit magazines. They couldn’t handle the cost anymore and tried to take a hybrid approach using a few patterns in the magazine itself and redirecting you to online patterns for an additional charge. I’d wager the online patterns were easier to read, but this is a great example of how the cost structure got pushed to readers. It’s a tough industry. Sad for us, but thems the brakes.

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  9. That’s bizarre. I wouldn’t be buying that magazine again!

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  10. Curls & Q says:

    Q – You’ll have to post a pic of the finished project! Too bad it won’t show all of the sweat that went into it. 😎

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  11. Yes, it’s modern. Yet though I’ve scoured the magazine, I can’t find a publishing date! Given some of the pattern, it seems fairly recent. That said, the website on the contact address is no more. Many of the patterns as shown in the photographs are very nice, but instructions … The pattern I am working on keeps getting worse as I make my way through. Yet I think the finished product (slightly revised) will be really adorable for a little girl. I will have spent a LOT of time rewriting and correcting everything and I would love to post the pattern for others to use but I am sure there would be copyright problems. 😦

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  12. Curls & Q says:

    Q – I’ve seen some of the old patterns in the turn of last century Needlework magazines written this way. Some one actually wrote a modern pattern like that? Shame on them! Is that the project we’ve emailed about?

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  13. The pattern in question came from a knitting magazine. 😦 Perhaps not all knitting magazines have tech editors, though that makes no sense to me. The pattern in question got worse, so now I’m actually drawing it out to figure out how it should have been written. And it was supposed to be a fast work up!

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  14. Eep! That is a prime example of why tech editing is so awesome – even if I ever thought something like that was comprehensible, my tech editor would never let something like that go to publishing.

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  15. I know that that happens to some chart readers. I find the visual picture useful because the picture sort of sets in my mind and I don’t have to rely on it much. (I guess i’m a bit weird! 🙂

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  16. I am so flattered! I am glad you find the series useful. Currently I am rewriting the pattern-from-hell … I have ripped out my knitting so many times … today I spent an hour actually DRAWING out the instructions so I could see where there were missing instructions. 😦 I can’t wait to see the Aussiegurumi!!!!

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  17. aww thank you. You are really helping me with my pattern making. I am going to dedicate my first Aussiegurumi to YOU! (yes you) kisses from Aussie land. XX

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  18. I lose my place on charts unfortunately. Or end up cross-eyed! 😦

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  19. oh my goodness…I got lost at the 3rd row of the instructions! Good job for breaking it down!! Much easier to understand the way you have it transcribed 🙂

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  20. Yikes and yikes!

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  21. Ideally … 🙂

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  22. I am knitting from the pattern I mentioned in my blog – only b/c my granddaughter begged me to make it from her. I hope it will turn out nicely too!

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  23. Pearl says:

    Thanks for this! I see no reason why a knitting pattern shouldn’t be an elegant piece of technical writing, organized, terse, and brief. In fact, they should be as elegant as the items they produce 🙂

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  24. ethgran says:

    In the professional science world a writer sends their work to be proofed by at least two scientists in the same field – my husband is a taxonomist in entomology. I’m working on a beautiful sweater for my granddaughter and had to completely redesign it to make it work. I am just using the picture and the lace pattern parts and consider the rest as suggestions. In order to make it fit my 9 year old, I had to use the number of stitches for the 2 year old and the length of the 10 year old. Granted the width is supposed to be wide and I have narrowed it some but not that much! Still, it is turning out nicely.

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  25. I must have knit, ripped out and re-knit three times before I chucked the sample and rewrote the pattern!

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  26. I think most often it’s the pattern unless it’s a good pattern but a new crafter. 🙂

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  27. Ugh, I have an old Aran book like that. (Maybe we have the same one.) Great ideas for working through those sorts of patterns. Thanks for sharing!

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  28. A woman after my own heart – well, except for the part that I prefer graphs when at all possible. 🙂

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  29. I do prefer a row by row pattern rather than a verbose essay that I need to translate, I can never keep or find my place in those patterns. 🙂

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  30. I am currently working on an Aran sweater pattern from a book printed in 1980. It took writing each row on a notecard, highlighting each line, figuring out which section belonged on what line and knitting it over several times, just to figure out the pattern. I understand your point.

    I love the websites that allow you to submit corrections. Every designer should have a test knitter, as well. You want people to be able to knit your patterns, otherwise, what’s the point of making them?

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  31. whatzitknitz says:

    my head often swims when I am reading instructions. I find I need to get it on the needles to see where the sts are going. and sometimes I have to rely on the pictures of the object to tell me what to do. I always thought that was the dyslexia but maybe it’s not me — IT’S them ; )

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  32. Bekka Poo says:

    That is dedication! I’m sure you got dizzy reading that, because I know I did.

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  33. That is too bad, as well as unprofessional! Constructive criticism can help the recipient make a better widget. You will note that in my blogs I never use the name of a designer if I am writing anything critical. I do not want my comments to be taken out of context, misread etc. and I don’t like the idea of contributing toward “flaming” anybody. We all make mistakes, some times without thought, other times because we simply didn’t know something. Your comment is on target.

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  34. And who’s writing it!

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  35. Raven says:

    I bought some piece of furniture, I forget now what it was, but instruction 1 was “put all the pieces together.” Well, dang! Is that all? There were like 2 more steps, like tighten the screws and put the caps on…
    Sometimes you have to wonder what they are thinking!

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  36. Tamsie Hughes says:

    What frustrates me is that some designers can be so defensive about corrections or suggestions. Everything I write at work is edited and corrected, so it’s a normal part of life for me. With some designers, every suggestion triggers a big Internet Drama, which is unfortunate.

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