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7 Simple Steps to Writing Great ‘How To’ Content on Your Blog

Yesterday I announced our ‘How To…’ group writing project and issued readers of ProBlogger with the challenge to go away and write a ‘How to‘ post for their blog.

On Twitter a number of people told me that they were having a little trouble with writing a ‘how to…’ post because it wasn’t their normal style of writing on their blog so I thought I’d jot down a few tips for writing ‘how to…’ content (something I’ve been creating for 10 years now on my blogs).

How to Write ‘How to’ Content on your Blog

What follows is how I personally tackle writing ‘how to’ or ‘tutorial’ style content. By no means is it the only way to do it – if you do it another way, please tell us about how you approach it in comments below – I’d love to learn from you!

1. Start with a Problem

Perhaps the best advice I can give on writing effective ‘how to’ posts on a blog is to put some time aside to identifying the problems that your readers have because the most effective how to posts are written about actual challenges that your readers might face.

As I’ve already written 11 tips on how to identify reader problems I won’t rehash them all here again – read this post!

2. Break it Down

With a problem or challenge that you want to solve for readers identified now is the time to break down the process for solving that issue.

With a problem in mind I generally take a little time before I start writing to come up with a list of steps to overcome the problem. I personally do this usually but jotting down some bullet points in a notepad (retro of me I know) or in a text document on my computer).

If the problem I’m writing about is more complex I also occasionally will break down the process for solving it using a MindMap (I use MindNode either on my iPad or computer).

I find by identifying what I want to write about before I start writing that I’m much more effective in writing the post because I know where I’m headed!

I also find having this helpful because as I’m actually writing I will often have other ideas for the post (or for followup posts) on the fly and I jot these down on the list so I don’t lose them.

3. Writing Tips

With bullet points jotted down and an idea of how the post is going to shape up I then begin writing. I usually start with a title and an intro (however they rarely end up as I write them at first as I usually go back to it at the end and make it fit what I’ve actually written).

With a basic intro in place I then take each bullet point and begin to expand them.

As I write I begin to get into the flow for the post and make a decision on what style of post it’ll be.

For example with this post I’m writing now I decided as I was writing my previous points that I would break the post up in to sections because I had enough to write on each point that I’d probably be writing several paragraphs for each one.

Alternately if as I started writing I found I only had a sentence to write on each post I probably would have written the post more as a short ‘list’ post with lots of short sharp points.

Or if what I had to write leant itself more to an ‘essay’ style post I’d have written in that form.

I know some people probably determine what style of post to write before they write – but for me I find that evolves after I’ve begun to write!

The writing takes time for me – I will usually have a go at writing the whole post in a sitting but will often then go back to it later and add more, edit some parts and rewrite others.

4. Give the Post a Critical Review

With the bulk of the post written I then give it a read through with a ‘critical eye’.

I don’t want to publish a post on my blogs that isn’t useful on some level to readers – posts just for the sake of posting don’t cut it with me so I read through what I’ve written with a critical question at the forefront of my mind – the question is ‘SO WHAT?’

I got this idea of Chris Garrett who shared at an early ProBlogger Event that he asked himself the question constantly as he wrote to ensure that his posts actually had a point and mattered.

Other questions to ask at this point might include:

  • What’s the Point of this post?
  • What impact will this post have my reader?
  • Will this actually solve my readers problem?
  • What questions will my readers still be asking at the end of this post?
  • Have I clearly communicated what I’m trying to say?

I find that in asking these kinds of questions of what I’ve written that I’m often driven to rework the post to make it more useful.

5. Add Depth

The post is hopefully shaping up at this point and is getting close to publishing but there’s an opportunity at this point to add more depth and really blow your readers away but making it KILLER CONTENT!

Here are a few ways to take a good post and make it great by adding depth to it!

  1. Give Examples – if you’ve got a practical example of what you’re teaching – give it! It’ll take your post out of ‘theory’ land and show readers that your post is practical!
  2. Add Illustrations/Charts/Screenshots/Videos – if there is some visual way to illustrate what you’re teaching you’ll significantly increase the effectiveness of the post by adding them. It’ll also give your post a visual point of interest that grabs their attention draws them into the content.
  3. Add Your Opinion – theory comes alive when you inject a little opinion into your post. It shows that you not only know ‘how’ to do what you’re talking about but that you ‘feel’ something about the subject matter too! Opinion is also great at drawing readers into commenting on your post.
  4. Suggest Further/Related Reading – adding links into your posts gives readers the option to read more. You can do this by adding links into the body of the post when you mention points you or someone else has written about or perhaps create a ‘further reading’ section at the bottom of the post.
  5. Add Quotes – if you can find someone else having said something on your topic – add it in – it’ll add another perspective to what you’re writing.
  6. Interview Someone – can’t find a quote that someone has said on your topic? Ask someone for a comment/quote to add! Send a few people a question or two on your topic and add in their responses. It takes a little effort but can add a lot to a post!
  7. Tell a Story – often ‘how to’ posts can be a little dull if they’re technical or theoretical – so adding in a short personal story or anecdote (a relevant one) can personalise the post.
  8. Add a FAQ Section – during your ‘critical review’ attempt to identify what questions your readers might be asking at the end of reading your post. Add a FAQ section to answer these questions (you might add to this if readers ask more questions in comments)!

Adding depth to a post takes time and effort – but it really can lift a good post to make it great!

6. Format Your Post

My style of writing is one where I tend to be thinking a little about formatting the post as I’m writing. I generally write posts adding in the html heading tags, bolding main points, adding lists as I write – however before publishing I will often give the post a bit of a review to make sure it looks right.

At this point I’ll often find an image or two to give visual interest, add or edit headings and think about how to make the post more easily scannable.

7. Tightening Up the Top and Tail

First and Last impressions count for so much!

Your title needs to grab attention and draw people to read your first line. Your first line is almost as important and needs to draw people to read your next line.

I think about my title and intro before I start writing, while I’m writing and then after I’ve written the post. It is crucial and worth giving time to.

A good introduction should give readers an understanding of what they’ll learn by reading on – however I also think it’s important to give readers a ‘reason’ for them to read on. Personalising the need and helping readers to see why overcoming it is going to give them much more of a reason to actually read what you’re writing.

Further Reading: check out these 8 tips for crafting great blog titles. and check out this post which gives you 11 techniques for writing your opening lines.

Also important is thinking about how you end your post.

With ‘how to’ content one effective way to end a post is to think about calling your readers to some kind of ‘action’.

If you’ve just taught them to do something your post will be SO much more effective if your reader actually implements the things that they’ve just learnt – so call them to DO it.

Giving readers homework or some kind of challenge or practical assignment is going to really do your readers a big favour – which in turn will make them more grateful for the post (and your blog). Encourage them to do something with what they’ve learnt!

Write Your ‘How To’ Post

OK – the time has come to write your ‘how to’ blog post. The only way to improve writing this type of content is to practice it again and again so get to it!

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed – I suggest choosing a small problem to solve. ‘How to’ posts need not be 5000 word tutorials – they could be as simple as a list of 10 steps – each one a simple sentence!

Once you’ve written your ‘How to’ post please share a link to it in yesterdays Group Writing Project so we can see it!

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Bryan Haines says:

    Nice rounded-out post. I especially like #4 – going over the post to make sure that it is actually of use. I’m going to refer to this when I write my next post this afternoon.

    Thanks!

    • I also love #4! The best posts in my blog are always the how-tos or those that helps people. I also get most of my traffic from them.

      Thanks for this guide. I’ll keep them in mind on my next posts ;P

      DJ

  2. I usually write article for my blog with writting tips from my experience. It’s very helpful for beginner blogger who wants to blogging for the first time.

  3. Joel says:

    Another great post Darren. I am thinking about adding something like this to my blog, but try to use images as the basic instructions since people’s attention spans tend not to be long enough to actually read. I’m leaning towards the 1 sentence per picture strategy. Still trying to work it out. Thanks for writing!

  4. buy gun says:

    thanks for such useful tips really helpful for me :) but can you tell me if any blog doesn’t have any problem they just share creativity or information then how could we make our comment strong?

  5. Abhishek says:

    Darren I always had this problem where in my posts, I was able to understand the complete tutorial but my readers just can not understand it. After reading your post I am sure I would be able to write great how to articles on my blog too. Thanks a ton for this one :)

  6. I started reading this and thought, “Gosh, I should have waited for this post.” Yet I followed most of the points. I’ll definitely be using this as a guide for the future. Cheers!

  7. Zack says:

    When I can, I have someone proof read the post who has no idea how to do whatever it is I am explaining. I figure if they can figure it out, it’s well written.

  8. Perfect. I’ve been looking for a good overview of “How To” content like this – thanks Darren! This kind of stuff makes up the bulk of my blog, so it’s good to have a standard to measure it by.

  9. Bharath says:

    For any “How To” tutorial, presentation is very important. If its design or code related tutorial then its recommended to include a demo page. That way readers can easily understand the topic you are talking about.

  10. Angela Booth says:

    Excellent tutorial, Darren. I love your suggestion # 5 and # 6 — “add quotes”, and “interview someone”.

    Brilliant. This means you get another perspective, which adds even more value for readers. Thank you. :-)

  11. Peter says:

    Awesome article, Darren. On my how to post i tend to take note of the main pt which i can later expand. You are a mentor

  12. Christian says:

    How to write a how to post?

    Brilliant, I love it!

  13. Eddy says:

    Great post, I am going to attempt this as the first post of my personal blog that has no content on it.

    I was going to call my blog: “thepoorlyeducatedblogger” but thought better of it.
    I don’t think my post won’t be much of a read, but I’m sure I will learn something from it.

    Thanks
    Eddy

    • Janet says:

      Eddy, delete the first half of your last sentence. Negative stuff you say/write reinforces itself to you. Life is a learning curve. We’re all just on different parts of our own curve.

  14. marty says:

    Thanks for this refresher I just usually write the question with a quote and break it down.I also like to give examples of how I used my own advice.I also like to share what mistakes I made and what worked in the end

  15. Depending on the topic, of course, but I usually find it easiest to DO what I’m going to write about, making some notes as I go about little stuff that I might have forgotten, take photos as I’m going along, and then write it up.

    It’s not part of this exercise — I wrote it some time ago — but one that I did this way that has been really well received is Yeast Bread Making 101 — the intro is a bit long, but the how-to is really a “101″ type article for someone who has never has never successfully made bread from scratch.

    http://theboatgalley.com/yeast-bread-making-101/

  16. Johnny Jones says:

    I am a new blogger and I found your post very helpful, I have shared it with my friends and will definitely take your advice and try some of the things you’ve suggested thanks again

  17. Richard Ng says:

    Wow! What a comprehensive guides on this specific topic of “How To”. Thanks Darren for yet another masterpiece.

    Cheers!

  18. Giriraj says:

    A blogger should always keep in mind the problem of the reader.

    Thanks for th tips.

  19. Delia says:

    Aww, this was the blog post that I was going to write for the Group Writing project! Now I’ll have to think of something else :(

    Kidding, I already have another awesome idea! Thanks for the tips in the post, really helpful!

  20. Darren,
    ‘How to’ content is definitely some of the most popular on websites today from all the analytics we’ve seen. Thanks for this easy-to-understand guide for putting a similar post together on your own site. You’re suggestions are always helpful and I was so glad to see this one shared on the BizSugar community.

  21. Belinda says:

    This post is great, I am writing a “how-to” website at the moment, good tips

  22. ashish says:

    really these steps are awesome and going to use these steps for my article writing.

  23. this is a great article , trying to learn the fudamentals of writing a good blog thats practical and interesting takes time but this peice points me in the right direction thanks again

  24. Rosy says:

    I definitely start with a title and an outline first. Once I have the outline, the post is much easier to write. Then, I just rework the headline till it’s perfect (or at least until it makes the most sense for optimization and share-ability because hey, headlines matter).

    I often find, that at least for me, finding that darn image takes the longest time. Or at least, finding the right image.

  25. great post, you have suggested wonderful ideas about adding depth to how to content. I will definitely apply.

  26. My blog generally produces these – How To & Tutorial, articles. Many times Guest Author asks me the type of content I want in my blog to publish and I tell them to write something that my readers like and similar to the format we have in our previously published articles. I think this post would be a easy-to-show my blog’s writer that this is what I want in my blog.

  27. kevin says:

    thank you for this, it is a wonderful post. I really like the in depth section really made me think how i can make my blog posts more awesome. thanks again.

  28. Anirudh says:

    Adding Screenshots, Videos interests the Readers. Agree with you Darren :)
    Incredible Post! Thanks :)

  29. Michael says:

    First, Choose a market. Then search for the problem and finally give the solution to the audience. That’s how you write a “How to…” Post.

  30. This is a fantastic post, Darren

    I find that I write a lot of How To posts for both my blog and for my newsletter subscribers. One thing that I try to do is keep everything open to allow people to be creative on their own. It’s easy for me, because each of my How To articles are based on my own experience with caring for our dogs and blogging.

    Thanks for the guidelines. It’s nice to have some steps to follow to tighten up my posts.

  31. It also helps to include pictures to show what you’re doing to give more clarity

  32. Bob says:

    Thanks, I actually needed to write a how to for my emerging technologies class. This is going to be very helpful!

  33. This is a great article for those of us who run a small business, writing a blog can be time consuming, when it comes to its structure and content, if not a professional then it can be a real headache, i will be trying your suggestions thanks for the info

  34. Fan says:

    I don’t really write much ‘how-to’ stuff. Only once in a while. But this will definitely help when I were to do it again next time.

    Thanks for the tip. Oh yeah, I agree with you that telling a story can make your post really interesting. People love to hear stories, and not facts and data all the time :)

  35. Shekhar says:

    #5 Add Depth- Gosh!never thought about it and thats why i guess readers don’t check my how to post much. But i hope i will learn all this once as i am still a new blogger and post like these helps us to grow fast

  36. Dave Wedge says:

    Thanks Darren,

    That is really useful. I particularly like the “So what?” test. I have a tendency to agonize over my writing and am never really happy with what I have written. Like most small business owners I dont have huge amounts of time for blogging so put it off because it takes too long. I shall try your formula!

  37. Sarah Bauer says:

    Great tips here for self-checking blog posts for audience relevancy. It’s easy to get caught up in word flow and structural elements and lose sight of the actual purpose of the post.

    Another great exercise for checking that your post has a “SO WHAT” is to write what a perfect tweet would say to share the article, and gauge your “tweet” by the post itself.

    Cheers!
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  38. Niki says:

    Absolutly brilliant guide, thank you so much for taking the time out to write this. I have been struggling to write decent content on my sites and hopefully now i should have a better insight thanks!

  39. Mark Neyton says:

    Great article, writing a good “How to” post is not as easy as all the people think.I think that from all the tips N5 is really important ad great. Thanks for sharing this.

  40. Ali says:

    This post is really great but what i really like about it is that the post itself is a live example of great how to posts.
    Thanks for sharing!

  41. Jessica says:

    What a great idea to “call readers to action” and to give them homework. This is the extra oomph that makes a how to post stand out! Thanks for more great advice.

  42. Darshan Modi says:

    Just Perfect for any blogger to read this article and move ahead to make good strategies for blog. Most important thing need to understand here is to know your audience who is always looking for some solutions or trendy news.

  43. chigotoday says:

    Great post. For me, talk about the problem in the first paragraph. State why they have to do it, and then show the readers how to.

  44. suraj tandon says:

    Nice Information, Actually I have started a ‘How to’ section in my blog. I am Going to follow your guidelines in our blog.

  45. Anakin says:

    I would like emphasize the point 5.8 – HowTo / FAQ section always attracts the visitor.

  46. Ryan Kettler says:

    Nice “how-to” on “how-to”s!

    I always like writing my intro paragraph and then stepping away from it for an hour or two. Then when I come back to it, I will re-read it and make sure I still have a solid basis for a high-quality article that my readers will enjoy.