Writing step-by-step procedures in Word

By | March 14, 2016

You don’t need expensive software like Adobe Framework to create easy-to-read, professionally formatted step-by-step procedures. You don’t need a graphic program to do screen captures either.

Word and Paint can do it all. And Word and Paint, of course, are always available on a Windows machine.

Step one

Write the step by step procedures, apply autonumbering, and change the space before and after to 0 and 6 pt. Where appropriate include the result of an action.

Here’s an example:


Next, remove the numbering from any line that is a result of an action. To do this, click to the immediate left of the first word in the line and press Backspace.

Now, only actions are numbered:


Step two

Next, put in a dialog screenshot. Display the dialog box and press Alt+Print Screen. Put the insertion point where you want the screen shot (in this case, on the list after “The X dialog box displays”) and press Ctrl V. Double click the image and shrink the size using the Width control that automatically displays on the right side of the Format ribbon. Use a smaller dialog can be set to a two-inch width:


I usually add some space above and below the screen shot by changing the Space After setting of the text line above the screenshot to 12 pt, and the Space Before setting of the text line after it to 12 pt.

Add some additional instructions. Assuming the insertion point is hiding down at the lower right corner of the screen shot, press Enter to move below the image and keep going!


You’ll need to add numbers to the next lines, of course. Use the Format Painter icon copy the formatting of a line with numbering down to a line that needs numbering.

Sometimes I write all the step-by-step procedures and add the screenshots afterward:



If the screenshot needs a black frame to prevent its light coloured background from disappearing into the page, I paste it into Paint, crop as required, and use the rectangle tool to put a skinny black rectangle (no fill) around it. Then select all (Ctrl A) and copy (Ctrl C) and paste (Ctrl V) it into Word. Resize the screenshot if necessary:


Additional tips

  • Don’t fill the document with huge, full-sized screenshots. Crop your screenshots to show the key elements your readers need to focus on. Try to keep them narrower than five inches.
  • Try not to have more than 10 steps maximum in a procedure. If necessary break a long sequence into smaller chunks, e.g., “Step one”, “Step two”, “Step three” and so on.
  • Always show the result of an action, so the user gets feedback that they’re still in the sequence

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