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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!