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Note: In an earlier version of this post, the download links for the relevant documents (included below) were broken. I’ve fixed that now, so folks should be able to download them as necessary. (Rick, 10/28/2022)

Those who know me know that I’m a nerd for both technology and the design and production of documents. While it’s not the first tool for every job, I have a deep love for Microsoft Word and have found that most people–but especially students–haven’t explored some of the “power user” features that it affords.

With that in mind, I crafted an in-class activity for my professional writing class this semester that forces them to engage many of the less obvious features of Word. It also asks them to explore the rhetoric of instruction design.

Activity Description

I’ve included the documents for the activity below, but the setup for the activity is the following:

  1. In the first part of the activity, students use a set of complete but not particularly well-designed or well-written instructions to transform raw text / content into a final document in Microsoft Word. Each point on the instructions calls their attention to and explains less familiar features of the platform.
  2. As they work, students will surely notice that the instructions themselves could be improved both in terms of content and design. After they’ve re-created the final document, then, they will rely on what they learned about Word in Step 1 to re-write and re-design the original instructions, making them more usable and clear.

I’ve found that this activity, which took up a single hour and fifteen-minute class period, was really well received by my students. It’s obviously relevant for Professional and Technical Writing Courses but could just as well be used in any class that requires knowledge of document preparation.

Teaching Notes

A few pointers for using this activity effectively:

  • This is important: Do the activity yourself first. Students will have difficulties and you’ll need to shuffle around help them figure them out as they arise, so you’ll need to understand each individual step.
  • In a Professional and / or Technical Writing Course, you should lead up to this activity with at least one or more class sessions on the principles of document design. I would also suggest one more sessions on instructions design and document usability, too.
  • These instructions are written for the desktop version of Microsoft Word. I asked my students who used the browser version to just download the application, but one student using Word on a tablet had some difficulty. Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to teach this activity in a computer lab, if at all possible.

I’m offering this up for anyone to use under the Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. All that means is that you’re free to use and adapt these materials for non-commercial purposes, but please give me credit as you do and release them using the same Creative Commons license.