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Directive vs. Instruction: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 16, 2023
A directive is a broad order or mandate often guiding strategy or policy; an instruction is a specific step or guideline on how to perform a task.

Key Differences

A directive typically comes from a higher authority and serves as an official or formal order, providing general guidance on a policy, principle, or strategy. For instance, a government might issue a directive on public health measures. On the other hand, an instruction is more detailed and focuses on the "how-to" aspects, guiding the recipient step-by-step in a specific task or procedure, like a recipe providing instructions for baking a cake.
When an organization wishes to implement a new policy, it often begins with a directive to inform its members about the overarching goal or change. This directive might not include detailed steps but will offer a general direction. In contrast, an instruction follows this by breaking down the directive into actionable steps, ensuring that the members know precisely what is required of them.
In legal and bureaucratic settings, a directive often has a binding nature, mandating that certain actions be taken or prohibiting specific activities. For example, a company might have a directive against workplace harassment. In comparison, instructions are often seen in manuals, guides, and handbooks, explaining processes and procedures to ensure correct execution.
While directive and instruction both imply guidance of some sort, their scope and specificity differ. A directive is about providing a direction, often broad, while an instruction focuses on the finer details, ensuring that a task is executed correctly and efficiently.

Comparison Chart


Broad order or mandate
Specific step or guideline


General guidance
Detailed guidance

Typical Source

Higher authority
Manuals, recipes, guides

Binding Nature

Often binding in legal or bureaucratic settings
Not necessarily binding, but expected to be followed for accuracy

Example Scenario

Implementing a new policy
Assembling a piece of furniture

Directive and Instruction Definitions


A communication that conveys a broad goal or strategy.
The department received a new directive for improving customer relations.


A direction or order.
He gave clear instructions to arrive before 9 am.


A principle or policy that guides decisions.
The company's environmental directive emphasizes sustainability.


The act or practice of instructing or teaching.
Instruction in schools has evolved over the years.


An instrument or document setting out policy or strategy.
The health directive outlined measures to prevent the spread of the disease.


Detailed information on how to do something.
The furniture came with an instruction manual.


An official or authoritative order.
The president issued a directive to reduce carbon emissions.


Education or teaching on a particular subject.
She took piano instruction for ten years.


An order or instruction, especially one issued by an authority.


A statement of required behavior.
The coach provided instruction on proper form.


Serving to direct, indicate, or guide.


The act, practice, or profession of instructing
Math instruction.


That which directs; serving to direct, indicate, or guide.


Imparted knowledge
We sought further instruction in a more advanced class.


(grammar) Relating to the directive case.


An imparted or acquired item of knowledge
The judge gave the jury an instruction in how the law defines an accomplice.


An instruction or guideline that indicates how to perform an action or reach a goal.


Often instructions An authoritative direction to be obeyed; an order
Had instructions to be home by midnight.


(programming) A construct in source code that indicates how it should be processed but is not necessarily part of the program to be run.


Instructions Detailed directions about how to do something
Read the instructions for assembly.


An authoritative decision from an official body, which may or may not have binding force.


(Computers) A sequence of bits that tells a central processing unit to perform a particular operation and can contain data to be used in the operation.


(European Union law) A form of legislative act addressed to the member states. The directive binds the member state to reach certain objectives in their national legislation.


(uncountable) The act of instructing, teaching, or furnishing with information or knowledge.
Students receive instruction in the arts and sciences.
Instruction will be provided on how to handle difficult customers.


(grammar) The directive case.


(countable) An instance of the information or knowledge so furnished.


Having power to direct; tending to direct, guide, or govern; showing the way.
The precepts directive of our practice in relation to God.


(countable) An order or command.


Able to be directed; manageable.
Swords and bowsDirective by the limbs.


(computing) A single operation of a processor defined by an instruction set architecture.


A pronouncement encouraging or banning some activity;
The boss loves to send us directives


A set of directions provided by a manufacturer for the users of a product or service.


Showing the way by conducting or leading; imposing direction on;
Felt his mother's directing arm around him
The directional role of science on industrial progress


The act of instructing, teaching, or furnishing with knowledge; information.


An indication or sign showing the course or path to be taken.
Her facial expression was a clear directive to leave her alone.


That which instructs, or with which one is instructed; the intelligence or information imparted


A segment of coded data that is interpreted by a computer as a command to perform an operation or series of operations. The term instruction is applied to both the electronic form of the data as represented in and executed by the computer, and to any line of written computer code which is interpreted as one instruction by a compiler. A computer program is comprised of one or more instructions.


A message describing how something is to be done;
He gave directions faster than she could follow them


The activities of educating or instructing or teaching; activities that impart knowledge or skill;
He received no formal education
Our instruction was carefully programmed
Good teaching is seldom rewarded


The profession of a teacher;
He prepared for teaching while still in college
Pedagogy is recognized as an important profession


(computer science) a line of code written as part of a computer program


Are instructions only written?

No, instructions can be written, verbal, or demonstrated.

What's the main difference between a directive and instruction?

A directive provides broad guidance, while an instruction gives specific steps.

Can a directive be informal?

While often formal, directives can be informal, depending on context.

What's an example of a common instruction?

A recipe's steps or assembly guidelines for a product are instructions.

Where might one find a directive?

Directives can be found in government orders, company policies, or organizational guidelines.

Can a directive be detailed?

While directives are generally broad, they can include details depending on their purpose.

Is a tutorial a form of instruction?

Yes, a tutorial provides step-by-step instructions on a subject.

How do directives and instructions relate in a workplace setting?

A directive might set a policy, and instructions would detail how to implement it.

Which comes first, a directive or instruction?

Typically, a directive comes first, providing the general guidance followed by specific instructions.

Is following an instruction mandatory?

Instructions are guidelines; not following them might lead to mistakes but isn't always mandatory.

Do all directives have legal consequences?

Not all; while some directives are legally binding, others might be organizational or informal.

Can you give a directive without following up with instructions?

Yes, but without instructions, recipients might be unsure about how to implement the directive.

Who typically issues directives?

Higher authorities like governments, organizational leaders, or management issue directives.

Are classroom lessons considered instructions?

Yes, they instruct students on specific subjects or skills.

Do all products come with instructions?

Most products, especially if assembly or specific usage is needed, come with instructions.

Why are directives important in an organization?

They provide a direction, ensuring alignment in goals and strategies.

Can instructions be broad?

Instructions are typically specific, but they can be broadened based on the context.

What happens if a directive conflicts with another?

It would need resolution, possibly requiring revision or clarification of one or both directives.

Can a directive change over time?

Yes, directives can be revised or replaced based on changing circumstances or needs.

Is a teacher's lesson plan a set of instructions?

Yes, it provides a step-by-step guide for conducting a lesson.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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