11 Essential Tips to Writing the Ultimate Tutorial

By Daniel Scocco

This is a guest post by Quan Quach. If you would like to guest author on Daily Blog Tips just send me an email through the Contact Form.

Why Write a Tutorial?

Creating value-packed content is key in attracting and retaining readership. One of the best ways to create such value-packed content is to write an informative tutorial or guide on a subject that is sorely lacking one. Writing such a tutorial can be a great way to develop your reputation, increase web traffic to your site, build incoming links to your site, and can also make you an authority on the given topic.

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Tutorials are a great source of traffic that is maintained over time. Regular blog posts bring in the majority of their visitors during the first couple days of their existence. Afterwards they might as well be deleted from your blog because they will most likely rot in the archives, never to be read again. Tutorials on the other hand, provide consistent traffic that will bring in more traffic over its life time than many of your other posts. It is not a stretch to say that a good tutorial can bring in as much traffic (or more) compared to 20 well written posts.

Take for example, Caroline MiddleBrook’s Twitter Guide or this Flickr Guide. Both are great examples of a well written tutorial that have greatly enhanced the popularity of the author by providing tremendous value to its readers.

Piecing together the Tutorial

1. Choose a good topic. You should start with topics wherein you have a good amount of knowledge. But if there are already a bunch of tutorials on those topic, it could be difficult to attract any traffic. Thus, its a good idea to do a quick search on Google to gauge the competition. Another good idea is to consider writing tutorials on topics that don’t have any tutorials written on them yet.

Obviously, it helps if there is a need or demand for said tutorial. Usually, if you are the first person to write a comprehensive tutorial on a particular topic, there’s a good chance that your tutorial will attract all the traffic and establish a firm spot atop the search engines . . . that is, until someone writes a superior tutorial on the same topic. The next 10 tips will help prevent this from happening.

2. Clearly state the objective of your tutorial. This should be done in the title description and then once again in more detail at the very beginning of the tutorial. This gives readers an idea of what to expect and helps them determine if they want to continue reading.

3. Be clear and concise. This tip simply cannot be understated. You want to write the tutorial in such a manner that a 3rd grader can understand and follow. Tutorials require a different style of writing than you are probably used too because your main objective is to teach something to the user. It is imperative that your tutorial is clear and concise so that the reader does not get confused or frustrated. Remember, a tutorial is supposed to help a person learn, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them.

4. Use images to supplement the text. A picture can be worth a thousand words. Most of the time, you will need pictures to explain how to do things. Using screen shots and modifying images to describe what you are saying can greatly aid in getting your point across to the reader. Well placed pictures can make or break a good tutorial.

5. Use examples. Find simple examples that will best illustrate your point. Examples are critical to a tutorial because applying information can really help the reader understand and grasp the material better. Talking about doing something, and actually doing it are two completely different things. If possible, multiple examples should be used as it can be quite useful to the reader. If relevant, include source files of examples that you conduct.

6. Use an organized structure. Writing tutorials in list format make them more visually appealing and increase their readability. Some tutorials can get quite large, so developing an organized structure can help your user navigate around the different sections. I use a Table of Contents plugin to help me organize my tutorials. In addition, I also use multiple pages to break up my tutorial into more manageable pieces. Some users prefer that all the content is on one page, so it might be a good idea to offer both formats.

7. Break down the tutorial into simple steps. It’s better to have two simple steps, than one step that is longer and more complicated. Remember, we’re trying to make it easier on the reader, not harder.

8. Leave nothing to ambiguity. This point reinforces #3, but deserves it’s own mention. Explaining more is better than explaining less. More information is better than less information. Once again, it all comes down to making it easy for the reader. Try not to make any assumptions about what the reader does or does not know.

9. Proofread and run through your tutorial. It is also a good idea to have some other people do the same. Odds are good that they will find stuff you forgot to mention. In addition, they can provide feedback on parts where you failed to explain certain things clearly or parts where more information could have been offered.

10. Include a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section. This is a good way to answer questions before they are even asked and acts as a good supplement to the tutorial. As you get more feedback from readers, you can continually update the the FAQ section so that new readers do not ask the same questions.

11. Update and provide support. No matter how comprehensive your tutorial is, it is practically guaranteed that you will forget to address a particular issue or that people will have further questions. You should treat your tutorial as a living document and edit it when new information comes into play. You should also be ready to answer any questions in a timely manner. By showing that you are active and willing to help, you will build credibility by the sheer number of comments and responses. If the comment section gets too crowded, you may even have to consider using a forum.

If you follow these eleven tips, you should have no problem creating a high quality tutorial. Here are some links to three tutorial sites that are exemplary. You can use these as a blueprint in writing your own tutorials. Good luck!

Quan Quach runs a blog at blinkdagger that acts as an engineering resource dedicated to presenting tutorials mainly on Matlab, but on other topics as well. In addition, you can find articles, editorials, and reviews on contemporary topics that are infused with an engineering twist.



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47 Responses to “11 Essential Tips to Writing the Ultimate Tutorial”

  • John

    Great post, I often write tutorials and love to use tutorial submission sites. That is great way to to spread the word about your tutorial . There are plenty of good sites that are happy to receive your tutorial, and link back to your site. Have a look at it 42 Sites Where To Submit Your Tutorials

  • pÅ‚atnoÅ›ci internetowe warszawa

    Great post. I am going to have my daughter read this post , she has a craft blog and is always wanting to do tutorials.
    cheers

  • John Elar

    This is a great post. It is a very nice blog too. I add it to my favorites. Thank you

  • Syahid A.

    Bookmarked. Essential read for those who writes tutorials like me.

  • Working at Home Mom

    Great post. I am going to have my daughter read this post , she has a craft blog and is always wanting to do tutorials.

  • Nick – road2blogging

    A tutorial about writing tutorials, strange but interesting! My main concern is whether I’ve chosen the right topic to write a tutorial on; it’s not until I get some feedback from readers that I actually realize I passed on a little knowledge to readers.

  • TPN WEB DESIGN INC.

    Nice Post

  • bitkidoku

    In #8, it is written

    More information is better than less information.

    Frankly, this is not true always. Sometimes being simple and elegant is better. Giving more information may confuse the audience. It should be “Provide more information if it is REALLY needed.”

    Great article, thank you. I enjoyed it 🙂

  • Napster

    Nice tips. Got some nice stats from my latest tut.

  • GG

    This is a great step-by-step article. One additional thing that I have found useful is a resource guide attached to the article. For instance, if you have a topic that you add more banter about–it is always helpful to create a link back to a basic post about.

    I am glad someone brought up the FAQ but I’d also ponder a Glossary of Terms for those unfamiliar with the industry or topic. I find that many people use acronyms (initials used within an industry for a specific group instead of the long name) but skip defining it in the first mention. A glossary can have the description available with just a quick link.

  • Carla

    FAQ is an important step and often overlooked, nice post!

  • Quan

    I’m glad everyone found this article helpful. Hopefully I will be able to continue writing content like this in the future!

    Sander: The FAQ plugin seems extremely useful, thanks for sharing it with us.

    Programmers Kit: I agree that video tutorials can be very helpful as well. But personally, I have never really been a fan because video tutorials can take a little long to load, are difficult to navigate, and moves at a single speed.

  • Programmers Kit

    When covering technical material a video or audio file will help the tutorial. I know many people who don’t want to ‘read’ but just see how to do it.

  • Franck Silvestre

    I agree with you, what work for me is tutorial, there are a lot of advantages, and one of them is that you can leverage a lot with a tutorial.

    Plus your readers are literally forced to come back if you have several part tutorials.

  • Sander

    Thank you on the table of contents generator plugin! used it and it rocks.

    For FAQ I’m using the plugin from http://knowledgeconstructs.com/wordpress-plugins/faq-tastic/

    Good luck.

  • Dan Cole

    I just wrote a tutorial today and looked over it again after reading this post. Hopefully it turns out to be helpful. Thanks for the great post.

  • Sol Lederman

    Good post. These suggestions will be very useful to me. I’m thinking of some tutorials to write and I’ve bookmarked this post to refer to when I do. I was one of the reviewers for Caroline Middlebrook’s Niche Market blog ebook and gained an appreciation for Caroline’s skill in conveying technical concepts to non-techies. This is a skill I also have so now I’ve got some ideas about how to capitalize on it.

    I’m also adding you to my RSS reader, not that you need the subscribers! With great posts like this one I see how you’ve got so many readers!

  • kl3tte

    This is a great tutorial and writing tutorials.

  • Grace

    This list should be a checklist: When you wrote your tutorial, did you do these? It would be nice. 🙂

  • The Geek

    Tutorials are definitely a great way to build a site =)

  • Mike Panic

    I’ve written a few tutorials that have made it to the front page of digg and been republished on other larger blogs (lifehacker, getrichslowly.org, etc.) with no prior info on the best way to do this – and this list is nearly exactly how I’ve done it. Anyone who wants to start should read this list.

    One thing I’ve found really helpful in writing the articles and I think helps the readers is to write a short paragraph on what you are going to teach / instruct / show them how to do, followed by a bulleted list breaking down the steps. It is eye-candy to have bullets or ordered lists for readers, it lets them quickly sumerize what the article will contain, in order.

    The body of the article is broken down with detailed info on each bulleted item.

    Doing this has helped me make sure I am getting the most detailed info, in the proper order for the reader to digest.

    Don’t be afraid to use the strike-thru option to correct mistakes that your readers point out to you in the comments.

    Break LARGE tutorials into 2 or more articles, seperate by a few days or a week. By large, I mean more than 10 or 12 unique steps to complete the task. This will get readers coming back.

    In one tutorial series I’ve been working on for the last 8 months or so (it is kind of an ongoing one), I made an entire Q&A post based on the questions asked in all the previous articles comments. It was like free, valuable content for the readers.

  • Adnan

    Awesome post Quan – tutorials can definitely bring in a lot of traffic and links, especially if you can get them onto social media sites like Digg, Del.icio.us and Sphinn.

    I think one of the most important points is the clarity part. Sites like PSDTuts (which you mentioned) show tutorials in concise stages which makes it easy for the reader to follow. Along with that, using nice graphics can really add to a post (and if formatted correctly will again be aesthetically pleasing for social media users).

  • Quan

    Nice tip Andy. Sometimes my assumptions about audience knowledge is totally off base, leading to more confusion on the reader’s part. In general, I like to play it safe and dumb it down an extra level.

  • Justin Dupre

    This doesn’t just go for tutorials and reviews, this goes for any writing! As for the FAQ, the writing just shouldn’t leave the reader asking more questions they can’t get from the text. This goes with leaving it unambiguous.

    Also, PLAN PLAN PLAN PLAN! They teach us that in elementary school, but everyone just dives in head first without a plan. I see 6th graders writing more fluidly than half the bloggers crap I’ve read because a 6th grader knows how to structure and plan paragraphs more concisely.

    Justin Dupre
    http://www.blogosis.com

  • Daniel

    Andy, good point indeed. It is a nice addition to the list.

  • marco

    same goes for writing reviews

  • Andy @ Liquid Football

    I would add ‘know your audience’ as a step before writing.

    It’s vital not to underestimate or overestimate their intelligence when you begin writing. After all, you don’t want to seem patronising or seem to be writing in a different language!

    Also, when you choose an ‘intelligence writing level’ make sure you stick to it, so that you explain points clearly enough, but without going through mind-numbing details e.g. what certain words mean if the audience already knows what they mean.

    Great post, starred in my reader!

  • Patrick Altoft

    I’ve had a lot of success in the past in adding a “Part 2” to popular tutorials if people request it.

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