Computer programmers write instructions for a living. But programming languages are simple and unambiguous, and computer processors interpret them more reliably than human beings interpret natural language instructions. Writing instructions for human execution, then, requires skills that programmers may not automatically possess.
Build some object using Tinkertoys, Lego, or some other system with more than one type of component that can be combined in more than one way. (Note that some small Lego kits do have just one "correct" assembly; such kits would not be suitable for this assignment.) You may also use orginary, common objects found at home (such as paper, pencils, carboard, paperclips, tape, etc.) to make your object. You must be able to bring to class all the pieces necessary for assembling your object. Your object should consist of 20-30 pieces. You will write a manual that explains how to build your object, and some of your classmates will try to build your object using only the manual for guidance. This means you should tailor your instructions toward an audience of typical university undergraduates. You will do the same following a fellow classmate's instruction.
There is no required length for this manual; take as much space as you need to get the job done, and no more. Similar assignments in the past have typically been four to five pages long. The focus of this assignment is prose, not pictures. You must do your job without any illustrations. This also means that when you bring your components to class, you must be sure not to bring them in a package that shows the final product.
10/11 (object assembly day): Bring to class the disassembled components of your object and three copies of a good draft of your manual. You will build each other's objects in class, which we expect will generate suggestions for improvements to your manual.
10/18 Final written manual is due.
Here is an example set of instructions for reference.
Here is a useful webpage on general guidelines for writing instructions.
You may find it helpful to start your manual with a list of the components, describing and defining them so you can refer to them later. (Note how this mirrors the organization of many computer programs.)
Some objects are best described in terms of modules, giving the instructions for assembling each module separately, then explaining how to assemble the modules into the whole object. (Note again the close analogy with software!)
Organizational guides to the reader, such as section headings and a table of contents, may also help the user of your manual follow the instructions more easily. But include these only if they're truly helpful; anything can be overdone, and it's certainly possible to write a clear manual with paragraphs of prose and nothing more. (Interestingly, students in most Humanities writing classes are forbidden from using organizational aids like these, on the rationale that they make the writing job too easy by letting the writer avoid coming up with clear prose to mark the transitions between parts of the document.)