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5 Tips for Creating a Truly Valuable Tutorial

The notions of pillar and evergreen content aren’t exactly news to bloggers—we know that’s where we have some of our best shots of nurturing rapport and loyalty, and building repeat readership. It follows, then, that we should hone our pillar-content-writing skills.

Today I wanted to look at a key type of pillar content: tutorials. Many blogs post tutorial content in some form or other, even if it’s not labeled as such. We recently published a tutorial on Facebook albums here at ProBlogger, and if your blog is one that gives advice, you’ve probably penned a tutorial or two in your time.

The next time you’re writing a tute, apply these tips and see if they make a difference to the quality and value of your pillar content.

1. Set the tutorial’s deliverables.

Setting the tutorial’s deliverables isn’t about working out what you want to say: it’s about working out what your audience wants to know. So you think a tutorial on pruning basics will be good pillar content for your gardening blog? Great. Your starting point should be your readers: what do they know about pruning? What types of plants are they pruning? Do they have any experience with pruning? What kinds of content will help them: diagrams, videos, or descriptions?

Approach your tutorial from the perspective of your blog’s users and you’ll be able to easily—and accurately—identify what the tutorial’s deliverables should be. For example, you might focus this tutorial on fruit-tree pruning for novices—people who have never pruned a fruit tree in their lives. Your deliverables, or goals, are that by the end of the tute, your readers feel confident to go outside and prune a fruit tree in their garden. They’ll know what tools they need, and they’ll know exactly what they need to do to prune the tree for maximum productivity next season.

2. Structure the content.

Next, plot out your tutorial roughly. You might start by listing the key concepts users will need to understand, and planning out a logical flow of content that introduces those concepts, then builds on them with practical application-related information.

What you’ll end up with is likely a series of steps. Make these into headings and subheadings within your tutorial. Make them numbered headings if they all have a place in the logical flow of the information, and if you like, attach a word like “step” or “stage” or task” to each one. Make your subheadings as prescriptive and unambiguous as possible, and create for each a statement that indicates clearly what information will fall in each section. For our pruning tutorial, the first heading might be, “Step 1: Prepare Your Pruning Tools.”

Also consider the types of content you’ll use to communicate with your users. You might use images to illustrate some points, and videos to show others. Identify where you’ll need specific information types at this point, before you begin writing, since this is probably the time when you’re at your most objective about what methods of presentation will work best for your tutorial’s audience—and make your pillar content truly invaluable.

3. Use word flags consistently.

Every topic has its own language. Sometimes, that language can degenerate into jargon, but it’s fair to say that if you’re teaching readers something through a tutorial, there’s probably some topic-specific language they’ll need to understand. For the pruning tute, that language might include words like:

  • secateurs, saw, shears
  • bud, spur, leader
  • challis, cordon
  • espalier, train, pleach

As you write the tutorial, be prepared to introduce each term as you need to within the logical flow of information you planned. You might decide to italicize the first instance of each word, then provide its definition immediately afterward. Do this consistently, and your readers will understand that every time they see an italicized term, it’s something they need to learn. They’ll also know to expect a definition. The italics will make it easy for them to find the definition again if they forget it later in the tutorial; the definitions must be provided consistently to make your italicizing worthwhile, and your tutorial clear.

This way, your topic-specific terms become word flags for readers: once they read your definition of pleaching, and understand what that is, they’ll more quickly comprehend the information in your tutorial—and the rest of your blog—that builds on this concept. So don’t go interchanging the word “pleaching” with “training” or “shaping”. That negates the value of your word flags, and undermines the comprehensibility of the content itself. Once you’ve explained a topic-specific term, use it accurately and consistently everywhere.

4. Explain images and downloads.

When you planned the tutorial, you worked out the places where different types of content might best be used to make particular points. For example, a picture of secateurs will probably communicate more clearly to our would-be pruning buffs than would a wordy description of the tool.

Whenever you include a type of content that’s different from the primary content type your tutorial employs, explain it clearly. Don’t include images, sound files, PDFs, or other downloads without explanation—and make those explanations detailed and as clear as you can. If this kind of extra information creates confusion, you’ll lose those very readers you’re trying to help.

5. Show how you delivered on your promises.

Remember the old essay-writing advice: tell them what you’ll say, say it, then tell them what you said? That advice applies very strongly to tutorials. Your tute’s subheadings clearly identified what users would learn in each section of the content. Its introduction should set out exactly what the user will learn from the tutorial, and its conclusion should show how the tutorial delivered on those promises.

Your introduction might explain what readers will learn—what need the information addresses or problem it solves—in broad terms, seeing as they may not have the necessary topic-specific language to get into detail just yet.

The ideal conclusion goes much further, though: it reiterates the actual flow of the information you presented and shows how that addresses the need or problem you identified in the tutorial’s introduction. It basically explains to the reader how your tutorial solves their problem—and justifies for them the reasons why this pillar content is valuable, and worth bookmarking, sharing, commenting on, and favoriting.

I think these are the basic prerequisites of a great tutorial. What others can you add?

About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Pete Carr says:

    Hi Georgina,
    I do quite a lot of video tutorials. I really enjoy them. One problem I have is when I view back through them I try to see it from the point of view of somebody that doesn’t know what I know ie, would I be able to follow the steps easily or would I get totally confused. This is something I have been working on, hopefully going in the right direction.
    Thanks for your excellent post. Thrown up some good points to consider.
    Pete

  2. Claudia says:

    This is great, I would add that tutorials are also flexible I have written many and find that once they are deployed and people start reading them, their feedback makes for great updates, new editions etc…

  3. Go Holga says:

    Thanks for the tips.

    My site is largely based on tutorials, so these tips are great.

    Tom

  4. Dinesh says:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas on creating great tutorials. I loved every line!

    How do you motivate readers to leave a comment?

    Thank you again.

  5. Jagan Mangat says:

    Thats perfect,the way you wrote about making and crafting tutorials.You guys(guest authors) are just incredible.I am in blogging professions from past 6 months and after i get page ranks you will see me walking on your suggested steps for making tutorials.Have a nice time……

  6. Georgina..putting together a list of the key points are very important..you want to leave anything out.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  7. sf says:

    Working on a product demo video and this was definitely helpful. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for the updates , Its very useful for my project.

    Cheers,
    Ganeshmuthiah

  9. Every time I’ve uploaded a piece of unique evergreen content, it has grown my readership by 10%!…

    I’m looking to do this again in the New Year…

    Thanks

    David Edwards

  10. Gigi says:

    Thanks! Been wanting to post tutorials in my new blog for my handful of readers :) Thank you for keeping us updated and guiding new bloggers like myself. More power to problogger.net!

  11. The key here is to find the problems people have. One way, as Darren suggested a long time ago, is to create an Aweber autoresponder that eventually asks users what they want from you.

    On tuesday at The Traffic Blogger I’ll have an article on how to get what your users really want from you.

    • HI Chris,

      Thanks for sharing the info on Aweber autoresponder.
      I felt uneasy, after posting my lasting article and was loosing my mind for bad content.

      I hope this tools will help me to gather some feedback from reader.

      Cheers,
      GaneshMuthiah

  12. As a new blogger, I found this information very useful. For me there’s always been a fine line between too little content and too many words. I like the idea of mixing it up with visuals to explain points of interest. Thanks so much, Georgina. Well done.

  13. Great outline of requisites for making a good tutorial! I’ve made video tutorials in the past and then suddenly just stopped. When I look back, it’s some of my best content (one video is up to 23,000+ views on YouTube). I’ll be writing/recording more in the coming months so reading through this outline is refreshing and a good reminder.

  14. Thansk Georgina, for your tips and info.

    I think that it is important to build some pillar articles for a blog, to have a traffic basement.

  15. Good tutorial on writing tutorials. I wish I had read this a week ago…I would have tweaked my first tutorial that I just posted over at EzineArticles. Thanks Chris for the heads up; I am definitely leaning toward using Aweber, and I look forward to your post on tuesday.

  16. Thanks so much Georgina. I write tutorials for my frugal photography blog and I’m often at a loss for how to cap things off. When I’m done writing the steps I just want to say “Well, there it all is, go do it!”. It makes so much sense to quickly re-cap what I’ve just said to let the reader consolidate all of the steps. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. Thanks again.

  17. Perfect timing for a great post! I just started hashing out a pillar post because I’ve seen what they’ve done for others. I’ll keep this open to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. Thanks!

  18. Alex Brooks says:

    A really interesting topic, definitely bookmarked this and I’m going to refer to it next time I write a tutorial on something, very useful, thanks!!

  19. Andrew says:

    that tip on word flags is really good. I come up with a word pallet for each post, a bit like a mood board for designers. Hadn’t thought of organising them into sections. One tip I have is not writing too long a post of how to’s. I have been watching how I read blogs, and I have realised that once I another half screen below the fold I have become bored. So I am starting to really prune (to keep the theme!) my posts down to the essentials necessary.

  20. Brad Dalton says:

    Thanks for that. I am trying to improve my tutorial writing and this will help. I read recently about using dates in your custom permalink structure for your posts. Is this something you should do?

  21. Andrew says:

    personally i wouldn’t use dates. there isn’t really a need, and you have to remember that people access your site from all sorts of pages.

  22. Scott Kelley says:

    This article rocks! It really hit home with this sentence. “Remember the old essay-writing advice: tell them what you’ll say, say it, then tell them what you said? ” keeping it simple but yet logically thought out. Details, details and more of it. Very inspiring article and advice! Thanks

  23. tim says:

    Thanks for this. I used to write a lot of tutorials for makeuseof.com but it’s been awhile. This article not only gave some really good pointers but has also inspired me to get back to writing them for my own blog.

    BTW, I like how you mentioned to be consistent on how you format the word flags. I can remember times when I’ve been frustrated while reading tutorials when it was hard to find the words being defined.

  24. This article not only gave some really good pointers but has also inspired me to get back to writing them for my own blog.

    BTW, I like how you mentioned to be consistent on how you format the word flags. I can remember times when I’ve been frustrated while reading tutorials when it was hard to find the words being defined.

  25. Jewel says:

    Really good how to on tutorial writing. Step #4 is the point I find that people need help with the most. I sometimes see tutorials that turn into “screen shot extravaganzas,” when in actuality over-illustrating can drag down the pace where common sense should reign. :)