How to Write an Instructional Essay
Instructional essays -- also called how-to or process-analysis essays -- tell the reader how to do something. A good instructional essay will cover all necessary steps to accomplish a task, learn a skill or understand an activity or process. The essay should clearly indicate what the reader will learn or accomplish. Choose a process you know well, keep the audience in mind, use straightforward language and don't skip steps when writing an instructional essay.
Select the Process
Instructors assign instructional essays to give students practice in communicating how to accomplish a task to others -- an essential skill for nearly all jobs. Therefore, choose a process that you know well. If you know how to change a tire, choose "How to Change a Tire" as your essay topic. Alternatively, if you have outdoor skills, choose "How to Catch and Cook a Fish" as the topic.
Do a Dry Run
Prewriting helps to improve all essays, and for instructional essays, physically performing the steps of the skill you are writing about is the best type of prewriting. If you've selected "Repairing a Bicycle Chain" as your essay topic, repair a real bicycle to refresh your memory. Write notes as you perform the steps required to remove, repair and replace the chain. For example, you might jot down: "First, remove the chain" and include detailed notes about the tools and specific steps you need to go through to remove the chain. Number the steps or create a bulleted list as an outline for your essay.
Write the Draft
Write an introductory paragraph telling the reader what he will accomplish by following your instructions. For example, if you are writing about "How to Knit a Scarf," write down three or four benefits of the finished scarf and include them in your introduction. Convert the steps you identified in your "dry run" into paragraphs. Use linking or transition words like "after," and "next." For example, in explaining how to knit a scarf, you would include information about the kind of yarn you would need, as well as how much. You would then explain how to start a particular stitch, and proceed from that step to knitting an entire pattern. Conclude the essay with the benefits you identified in the introduction.
Edit and Proofread
Read your completed draft and follow the steps to ensure you have not left out a step or put instructions out of order. Create a good title for the essay. For example, a good title about baking a chocolate cake could be "Even Non-Bakers Can Bake a Chocolate Cake." Reread your introduction and conclusion to ensure that they clearly identify the benefits the reader will receive if they follow your instructions, unifying your essay.
Amy Sterling Casil is an award-winning writer with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is a professional author and college writing teacher, and has published 20 nonfiction books for schools and libraries.