How to Give Directions

Everyone has or will give directions to someone at some point. Whether you’re telling someone how to get to your house or you’re instructing a stranger about how to get to a local museum, you should know how to give good directions. Giving directions, though, is more complicated than just telling someone how to get to a certain location. To give good directions, you’ve got to communicate effectively, pick the most appropriate route, and include relevant specific examples that will help the person stay on the path you’ve given them.

Method1Communicating Effectively

1
Speak slowly and clearly. When giving directions, don’t rush. Enunciate every word you say. Spend time to explain important factors like potential hazards or detours. If you don’t speak slowly and clearly, the person may get confused or may miss an important piece of information.[1]

2
Avoid using words, phrases, or names that only locals will know. Use the names of roads as they’re marked on street signs and road maps. Avoid using road names only used by locals. In addition, don’t refer to people’s homes as landmarks. Any examples you use should be ones that can be recognizable to someone from outside your community.[2]

3
Don’t assume the person knows anything about the area. Realize that the person doesn’t know the location of local landmarks, main roads, or even the names of roads. Because of this, you’ll need to provide all of the information they need to get to their destination.[3]

4
Ask the person if they have any questions. Say "do you have any questions about the route?" Asking will allow the person to clarify any part of the route they might not fully understand. In addition, it’ll allow them an opportunity to ask you for the location of any other places they may be interested in visiting.

5
Request that they repeat the directions to you. Suggest that the person summarizes the directions you’ve just given to them. This way, you’ll be able to make sure that they understood you completely. Then, if they did misunderstand or mishear you, you’ll be able to correct them.

6
Draw a map. If you’re having trouble verbally communicating directions, draw a map. A map will allow the person to visualize where they’re going. You’ll also be able to include details, such as the location of landmarks, on your map. In addition, the map will give the person something to hold on to so they don’t forget your directions.[4]



Method2Choosing What Directions to Give

1
Explain the route based on where the person is coming from. Before you start giving directions, you need to ask the person where exactly they’re coming from. This is important, as the specifics of your directions will depend on which way they are headed.[5]

2
Give the simplest route. While it may seem tempting to give someone directions to your favorite short cut, this could wind up doing more harm than good. Instead, give the simplest directions that are least likely to confuse the person. This way, you’ll minimize the chance that the person you’re giving directions to will get lost. When considering the simplest route:[6]
Favor routes with less turns.
Focus on routes where the person can stay on one road for a long time.
Pick routes that avoid confusing intersections, roundabouts, or bypasses.

3
Share the safest route. If there are several alternatives available and some of them are particularly dangerous, give the safest route. As someone who is not familiar with the area, the person you’re advising won’t know the dangers they’ll be driving through. Whether its treacherous terrain, narrow roads, or high crime neighborhoods, take threats to the person’s safety into account.[7]

4
Don’t suggest routes you haven’t taken. Focus only on routes that you are familiar with. Otherwise, you may wind up giving incorrect directions that could get the person lost. A good rule of thumb is to give directions for routes that you are most familiar with, rather than trying to describe a shortcut or another route you don't know as well.[8]

5
Warn the person about confusing parts of the route. If there is a particularly confusing part of route you’re providing, tell the person. In addition, tell them when (time or distance) to expect the confusing part of the route. Some points of confusion could include:
Roads that merge with little notice
Turns that are very slight
Roundabouts[9]





Method3Giving Specific Examples

1
Specify distance from point to point. Include units of distance in every step of your directions. For example, specify how many miles, kilometers, feet, or meters the person will stay on a specific road before turning or getting to their destination. If you don’t include units of distance, the person won’t know what to expect and may get lost.[10]
A rough estimate is better than not giving any sense of the distance from one point to another.

2
Explain how much time a segment of the trip or the entire trip will take. Specify the how much time the whole trip will take. In addition, specify how much time certain segments of the trip will take. This will give the person an idea of when they need to be ready to take a turn or merge onto a different road.[11]
Let the person know that if they’re traveling the speed limit, they should be able to arrive at their destination in a certain amount of time.
If they’ll have to make some turns, tell them how long they’ll be on specific roads before they should turn.

3
Tell the person your advising about important landmarks. Landmarks will give the person an idea of the progress they’re making. They’ll also let the person know if they’re still on the path you advised them to take. Finally, landmarks will draw attention to key parts of the route that they’re trying to follow. Some landmarks to point out include:[12]
Historic buildings, signs, or monuments.
Churches, synagogues, or other religious buildings.
Large businesses like a box store or car dealership.
Geographical/environmental features like hills or rivers.
Characteristics of the road like a bridge or a section where the road narrows or widens.

4
Specify whether something is on the left or right of the road. Don’t take for granted that the person knows what side of the road a turn, a landmark, or their destination will be on. To avoid getting the person lost, always specify which side of the street they need to either turn on or look for a landmark on.[13]

5
Refer to the cardinal directions. In addition to indicating whether something is on the right or the left, you should consider including cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) when you explain a route to someone. This is especially true since most vehicles today come equipped with a digital compass and many road signs indicate a direction.[14]

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