Technical Writing Is Narrative

Instruction manuals are user journeys where a hero fights to get things done and transform the world

Luca Vettor
3 min readAug 1, 2022
Photo by Stillness InMotion on Unsplash

There is a point of contact between technical writing and narrative. It is the will of the users who are in front of anything — a mobile phone, an iron, a car — that needs an instruction manual to be properly used.

On the other hand, it happens to disdain the instruction manuals as boring writings. In fact, who does like reading the instruction manuals? Apart from a few strange people, nobody.

Why? Because, even assuming they are excellent writings, the narrative of the instruction manuals is often hidden behind the tricky experience of it.

Consider that an instruction manual has double faces:

  • On the one hand, it enables actions that the user would otherwise be unable to complete. This is the positive face.
  • On the other hand, by reading an instruction manual, users are made to do extra effort, in addition to the task to be performed based on it.

While putting the two faces together, the whole picture arises: the need for an instruction manual slows down the users’ will. They would like to quickly complete the task, but the instruction manual takes additional time! That is the reason why nobody likes reading them. Instruction manuals are both facilitation and impediment, and, emotionally, the impediment’s perception prevails.

Users know that they get things done thanks to the instruction manuals. This is rational. Yet, users also feel that they get things done despite the instruction manuals. This is emotional and prevails.

But there is something more: the emotional perception of technical writing unveils its narrative: emotions are creators of stories.

Stories have a hero. So, let's get acquainted with the hero, which is the user, and his battlefield, which is the instruction manual.

The hero

Heroes have a mission to get done. For users, as heroes, the mission is to get done a task that is complicated enough to require an instruction manual.

Users are convinced that they have all right to effortless get the task done. Full stop. So, studying a piece of writing as a condition to get the task done is an affront.

In the beginning, users do not understand their enemy. They only know that there is a battle to fight. Someone or something has trampled on their rights! That is the foe!

The fight

All heroes are good and have a bad enemy.

Users soon discover that the lack of knowledge is the enemy and that they cannot easily win it.

So, with resignation, they open the instruction booklet and start fighting on this battlefield.

There is no obvious winner for that battle. The lack of knowledge is a formidable adversary, and many users are not in a position to safely cross the battlefield and gain enough knowledge.

Only users who do not give up win. It deals with will and discipline which lead to the ability to transform things.

Anything technical is the will of transformation

Getting things done means transforming things. And that’s philosophy:

Just as the will to transform things, no practical or theoretical human activity is possible unless it is developed within the appearance of becoming other of the world. (Emanuele Severino, La morte e la terra, 2011) [My translation from Italian]

The instruction manual, like an alchemist’s book, leads the user to dominate things within the appearance of becoming other of the world. No doubt that all user manuals lead users from the state where they have something to do, to the state where they have that something done: that is the becoming other of the world.


The belief in the possibility of transforming things grounds the writing of manuals that instruct on this possibility.

Users become heroes, and the instruction manual becomes the battlefield where they fight against the lack of knowledge.

Next time you read an instruction manual, remember this post!



Luca Vettor

My 24 years in the IT industry and physics degree flow into my mission: simplify what appears complex.