How-to articles should be the easiest thing in the world to write, besides Emo poetry, right? Well, not judging by scores of how-to articles posted online. Many bloggers and amateur “freelance” writers assume that all there is to writing quality how-to articles is outlining the steps of whatever task they are describing. But, while they build the skeleton, they forget to layer some meat and muscle on their creation’s bones. Too often, new non-fiction writers forget to articulate each step or neglect important safety information or bibliographies. Don’t make the same mistakes. Here are tips for writing a solid how-to article that readers across the Internet will refer to again and again:
*Construct an interesting introduction: You don’t have to pen an introduction that generations to come will remember but you do want to save the audience from snoring, too. Most readers appreciate some kind of opening so they have context for your article. If you immediately jump into the “how to” of your article, they might be confused about what exactly you’re explaining, especially if you have a short, vague title. The intro clarifies and (hopefully) grabs the reader’s attention.
*Be as clear as possible: Write each and every step meticulously so that the average, rational person can read through your article and understand precisely what you mean. Always think up the appropriate verbs and adjectives because changing a single word can make a huge difference in a complicated step-by-step process. If a certain concept is difficult to put into words, consider including visuals to bolster your article. Visuals can come in the form of illustrations, diagrams, photographs, or, in this era of multi-media, even video. Audio clips may aid the reader, as well, especially if you are trying to describe very specific sounds.
*Mind your words: Most of the best how-to articles I have read have been at least 350-400 words. It’s tough to thoroughly explain a topic in an entertaining way and include a list of resources in fewer. That being said, however, you may have an unusually simple topic and/or a gift for concision. Don’t just try to fill up space unnecessarily (okay, unless your publication has a minimum word count…)
*Wrap it up: Your concluding remark will leave the last and freshest impression of your article on the reader. Make it memorable. Throw in a pun or other clever spice if it matches the tone of the rest of your article. Simply put, people love to smile. Extra points if you can push an outright laugh out of them. If lack a talent for humor, summarizing what you just said is fine, too.
*List sources: If you consulted anyone else’s work for ideas or quotes, lead your readers to the original source. This way, you not only “give credit where credit’s due,” but you also help out your readers. The best how-to writers are passionate about their subject and want their readers to develop the same level of zeal for vintage fashion or sustainable agriculture. Read the next step for further elaboration.
*Make suggestions for further research: Books, websites, pamphlets, museums—anything you can think to list for readers to find out more about the topic is a good idea. Not everyone is research savvy and, even for those that are it may be hard to find exactly what they seek after your how-to article piques their interest in the topic. We do, after all, live in super-saturated information age, where it’s often trick to distinguish reliable information from unreliable information.
*Always proof-read: Sometimes it is hard to catch errors in your own writing, but you want to present your reader with the best article possible. Try reading the piece aloud or give it to a friend with a good grasp for grammar. Even if you are on a tight deadline, it is never acceptable to submit a piece without looking it over first. Depending on how tired or distracted you are, you may make mistakes that completely change your explanation of the steps. Maybe you wrote “Do” instead of “Don’t,” for instance. (“Do give knives to small children” instead of “Don’t give knives to small children.”) Think of how such a tiny mechanical error could throw your reader off—and potentially endanger someone. Don’t expect your reader to have common sense.
After reading these tips, you should be on your way to writing quality how-to articles your grandchildren will be proud of—or at least not humiliated by. Post your newly perfected how-to articles on www.associatedcontent.com, www.helium.com, and www.ehow.com today! (And you thought I would contradict myself by failing to include a conclusion paragraph, didn’t you?)