This is our clear definition: A how-to guide is an informative document that presents clear instructions on how to develop any activity.
Key term here: document, a broad term. Because it doesn’t have to be in a written form only.
A how-to guide is just documented information that will help the receiver to succeed in its active process. So shape doesn’t matter here. What’s important is to make a clear representation of what we want to explain, maybe with written text, maybe with video content and images, maybe with audio, or probably just a combination of all of them.
By the way, a how-to guide can also be identified as a standard operating procedure, SOP.
In the end, it is all about knowledge, right?. Knowledge may be one of the most important aspects of our daily lives that we pass through all the time and yet we unknowingly overlook it. And with knowledge comes experience, which keeps us from tripping over the same stone twice.
However, since knowledge and experience are such intangible and difficult to measure concepts we have to come up with ways to document them. And that is where how-to guides play the most important role in our knowledge intake.
And as we said, how-to guides can come up in very different shapes. It doesn’t even need to be a document. Remember when your parents teached you how to ride a bike? Or even when you learned how to walk? That’s it: One step after the other. And if you fell, you just had to repeat it until you reached your goal! Those were our most basic how-to guides and that’s why they are so important.
Okay, so before we get into detail into how to factually write a how-to guide we want to give you a few tips and things you may want to have in mind all the time:
Aim for simplicity and accuracy instead of broad and vague ideas. A how-to guide must reflect an actionable plan of how to develop an activity, it must have a clear objective and a clear objective calls for clear steps. Hence, steps must be easy to follow even though what we are trying to explain is something complex.
Remember: we are teaching someone to ride a bike, but they have never done it before. So clear communication and instructions must be present throughout the whole process. They don’t need to know how the chain of the bike works, they need to know how to put one foot and then the other.
So now that we are clear, let’s start!
Before starting anything, whether it is your personal life or your professional one you must have some planification in advance. Hence, even before starting the how-to guide you will need to be well prepared, and that includes knowing who you are writing your tutorial for.
Knowing your target audience will help you to empathise with them and adapt to their specific situation. The audience will define how you are going to approach them, remember it is not the same to teach a 4 year old how to build a Lego toy compared to showing a salesperson how to use a CRM.
Now you will have to read articles, reports, statistics, or any kind of relevant source of information related to your topic. It will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of other guides similar to yours, so you can know what is currently working or not. You can use tools like Google Trends and other keyword research tools to investigate more about your topic.
However, the focus here is not how others do things, but rather how your audience is going to receive your information.
Now that you have prepared everything, write down your title. The goal here is that you become conscious of what you are going to create content for. The title will serve you as your lighthouse for when you think you are going out of topic.
As always, stay simple and specific, not only so your audience understands it, but also because broad terms only give vague ideas to your mind and will cause a lack of focus. This applies not only for the main title but also for every header of the guide!
Too much text may overwhelm your reader or content consumer so you must create a proper structure for your guide (prepare it before even writing it down). Thus, it will help them to settle a clear structure of your how-to guide in their mind.
Check other tools like Notion (notion.so) that will help you create structured and personalised content for your guides.
Support your instructions with imagery. Offering examples will help your audience to create proper images and better understand what you are saying. As we have said earlier, how-to guides do not only come in written shape. You also can combine different methods to create your unique style.
Thus, you may want to use visual content for specific situations where an image is worth more than a thousand words (think of photos, infographics, charts). However, use them to your advantage but do not abuse them, sometimes people need some context and explanation.
Use active verbs where you command instructions. Once again, avoid broad concepts that do not add any value. Aim for simple but specific terms that anyone can understand whether they know the topic or not.
Once you have finished your how-to guide give it a little check up. Remember that things can change in the process, it is not prohibited! Maybe your headings change their text, or maybe you discovered that it is better to do one step before the other. So it is important to review your work and have cohesive steps, to have a clear thread that makes sense.
Before you finish, follow your guide as if you were your own content consumer, try to build that Lego toy you have just created a guide for! This will help you to think outside the box and see what could be improved.
Extra: A few final tips before you go:
Having SOPs is crucial to scale a company, but what is it exactly? Here are 6 reasons why you should structure your processes. This will be gold for you and your team.
Yes, steps to create a step-by-step guide. Basics and tips to make an easy-to-follow guide and make sure anyone could follow your material.