How to write effective how-to articles and blog posts26 Dec 2016 | by Scott Nesbitt
Writing how-to pieces is a great way to quickly add posts to your blog. And they can help your readers learn something new or solve a problem they’re having.
That said, writing a good how-to article or blog post isn’t as easy as it seems. There are a number of factors you need to take into account, and you need to put a bit of planning and thinking into the task.
Let’s take a look at one way to write effective how-to articles and blog posts.
Keep it short
Just as no one likes thick, heavy manuals, no one likes long, rambling, or convoluted how-to articles. Most readers turn to these types of articles and blog psots to quickly solve a problem or to learn something.
Because of that, you need to focus on one thing and one thing only. Instead of, say, explaining how to cook a three-course meal, you should explain how to prepare a particular dish.
Try to keep your article or post between 600 and 800 words. Five hundred words or less is preferable, but you can go a bit longer if you’re writing in an entertaining way.
Come up with a good structure
What makes a how-to article or blog post effective isn’t just what and how you write. Its effectiveness also depends on how you pull it together. That means giving your article or post a good structure.
You’ll need to:
- Break down the task you want to cover
- Consider what your starting point is
- Plan how you’ll transition between steps
- Understand how you’ll pull everything together at the end
As well, you need to decide whether or not to include images or video or both.
A structure I often use starts off by outlining the problem that I want to solve with a how-to (often, based on something I’ve needed to do), then moves into getting set up, then breaks down each portion of the task. Then, when I reach the end, I have an example of the final product or solution that’s followed by a short paragraph that wraps the article or post up.
Do your research and do your practice
Often, writers pull together how-to articles or blog posts about things that they either don’t know about or that they’re doing in a different way than they usually do. In these cases, they’re writing about what they don’t know. Sure, it helps if you’re an expert when writing a how-to, but what comes from the keyboard of a knowledgeable amateur can be just as effective.
To pull something like that off, you need to do research. Sometimes a lot of research. Learn about your subject, then take that research and put it into practice. Not just once, but several times. Pay attention to each step in the process. Keep an eye out for anything that trips you up. This is important, because if it trips you up then it will trip your readers up, too.
During this phase, take plenty of notes — about how to perform the tasks, about the problems you ran into, and about how you solved those problems.
You have your topic. You have some experience with. You have your notes. It’s time to pull that all together into an article or blog post.
It’s at this point that focus really comes into play. If the article or post starts running longer than the 600 to 800 words I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, and you can’t cut it down, consider splitting it into two or three shorter parts.
(Yes, I know this blog post runs close to 900 words. There are exceptions to the rule!)
Try to avoid telling a story. Most people who read how-to articles or posts want to get to the meat as quickly as possible. Having written that, feel free to quickly outline a scenario (possibly from your own experience) that introduces what you’ll be covering or the problem you’re solving in the article or post. That, rather than what could be a contrived narrative, will draw readers in.
Pass the article on to someone else
That someone should have little or no knowledge of what you’ve written about. They’ll approach what you’ve written with fresh eyes, and can pick up on anything you’ve missed or left out because you thought it might be redundant or unneeded.
Passing a work in progress on to someone else for review and critique can be a humbling experience. But if it’s the right person who offers the right critique, their feedback will help improve the article.
Writing an effective how-to article or blog post is a little more involved that it might seem on the surface. By doing that work, though, you can help and teach your readers. And isn’t that one of the goals of writing for an audience?Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.