The Curse: Not Following Directions Is a Big Boo-Boo

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Lurethia McKenzie looked at the syllabus for information on the next course assignment.  It was to be a 1000-1200 word essay on a subject of her choosing, but there were two important “must dos:” she had to present a problem that was specific to her major or professional goal; and she needed to present a workable solution, but in a manner that would motivate her readers to accept the solution.  The assignment went on with other information, but she had read enough: this would be easy to do, Lurethia thought, for she was already in a profession where serious problems existed.  She turned in the assignment on its due date, feeling quite satisfied with her efforts: not only did she read it over twice but also had her best friend, an English major, look it over.  A few days later the essay was returned by her professor, and the first item Lurethia saw was the grade: D!! How could she possibly have received a D?!  Then she saw her professor’s initial summary, underlined: “Lurethia, you did not follow several of the directions.” Remember that “other information” Lurethia decided she didn’t need to read? They were additional directions that were “must” components of the assignment – and she didn’t include any.  Not following directions in a school assignment – or any task – can impale anyone’s desire for a “thumbs up” result.

For Lurethia, she missed these additional directions: the essay had to contain three credible sources, with properly placed and formatted APA in-text citations … there must be a References page … one paragraph must detail the research approach to find the sources … a Title Page must be present … an Abstract is required … the essay must be double-spaced.  The big question, of course, is why did Lurethia not read the entire assignment, and thus be aware of all directions?  Her oversight is not limited to Lurethia; not including all directions is one of the most common errors made by students, professionals – just about everyone. Beyond resulting in poor grades, the exclusion of complete directions can have the result of not being hired, being fired or demoted, costing company time delays and monies lost, and overall hits on reputations. 

Yet it is so easy to skip 100% of the directions, and the reasons can be one or more of several: in a time crunch, and thus just skimming the needed parts; being so excited by the subject that only the first few directions are read (as was the case with Lurethia);  the directions are divided into two locations, and only the first location is read (such as in a school assignment where there might the directions for the assignment, but with more specific requirements in a rubric); not taking advantage of any models or examples of the assignment or task; although unsure of one or more of the directions not asking for clarification or additional input from an instructor or supervisor. 

No one wants these, of course, so what can Lurethia and others do to ensure all directions are followed?   Ah, here’s the enjoyable answer: it’s easy! First, be sure to read each word of the directions, and this would include any additional directions that might be located elsewhere (such as that rubric). Also, an extremely helpful tool is to have a checklist of each direction in the assignment or task (typing these on a separate computer sheet; taking a screenshot of the directions, then pasting them on a computer page; printing out the directions, then keeping them handy while the job is tackled), then highlighting or crossing out each direction as it is completed. Too, be sure to ask for further input when one or more of the directions are not fully understood. Lastly, put your project aside for a while, then come back and compare it to the full set of directions: that extra time will allow you to have a new look at the directions, and perhaps discover one or more was left out or not completely followed. Certainly, there is one downside to reading and locating all directions: it takes a bit of time. Yet putting in the extra minutes will result in an end result that can’t be dinged because a direction was missing or misunderstood!

Receiving that “D” grade was bitter and disappointing for Lurethia, but the lesson she learned was valuable, not just for that one assignment but throughout her life: be sure all directions are followed, be sure all directions are understood. It is one thing for a person not to fully comprehend the subject matter of an assignment; this can easily be rectified through text, lecture, video, audio, and/or instructor/supervisor information.  Yet when the intended audience experiences the final product and discovers – either by knowing or being confused – that not all directions have been included it results in an immediate roll of the eyes and sideways shake of the head, for not following all directions is not an item to be taught, but rather a simple life lesson that should be assumed all will do. The hemidemisemiquavers of life are many, and nearly each has one or more set of directions that shout, “Hey – follow me; I am so, so important!” When not done another Lurethia suddenly pops up, and no one wants to have those depressing emotions surface.  Follow all directions:  doing so won’t result in world peace, but at least it can give one peace of mind!  

2 Responses

  1. Amanda J Miller says:

    I admit that I submitted an assignment, and the directions were not followed as I was simultaneously working on another assignment and confused the specifications for each. I have now decided I must only work on one assignment at a time.

  2. Kathleen Sobel says:

    Thank you for this article. It is relevant to my students as well. It just reinforces to me the importance of going over the assignment during the seminar and including every detail. Even though I go over every detail, students do not follow the instructions, particularly when it comes to APA formatting and references.

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