AKA The Tutorial on how to write a Tutorial!
I think that the hardest part about sharing an idea with someone is trying to explain yourself clearly. And that’s made even more difficult when you are trying to communicate via the written word. So hopefully you will find a few tips here to make writing a tutorial a less daunting task and maybe even a little bit fun.
Tip #1: Have a clear topic.
Seem obvious? Well, you’d be surprised at how distracting it can be to stay on topic during a tutorial. You need to know what you want to write about and stick to the point. Try not to let the tutorial get too long winded. It’s okay to assume a certain amount of knowledge and just explain your particular technique or pattern.
Tip #2: Be Orderly.
Do you remember those school teachers who taught you how to write an outline for a paper or (nerd alert!) a math teacher who taught you how to write out the steps of a problem solution? Well bring that information out from the back of your brain…dust off the cobwebs…and put it to good use again.
A good tutorial or pattern is laid out in a clear, logical manner. Whether you are using bullet points, roman numerals, numbers or other symbols, make those steps easy to find. There’s nothing worse than a great idea with instructions that you can’t follow!
(looking to make a • point? Macs and PCs are different but try holding down Fn + Alt + 7)
Tip #3: Use a Good Typeface and Font Size.
Oh it is easy to get carried away with all of the fun fonts out there, but remember…people need to be able to easily read what you are writing. Save those super scripty fonts for your wedding invitations people!
Here’s a great link to 25 Fonts that are unique but legible. When I get my act together I will use things like this more. But in the meantime, less is more. It’s better to be the most common font out there and be legible than be the most “unique” and have your readers squinting to follow along.
Tip #4: Use a Good Font Color.
The colors that work best for your tutorial will depend largely on the colors you have chosen for your website. But in general you are looking for high contrast. So that means dark colored fonts on a light background and light colored fonts on a dark background.
It would be both useless and annoying if I started writing my tutorials with multiple colors and none of them were easy to read.
Tip #5: Use Good Pictures.
I know. I know. Easier said than done. But it’s the truth and there is no denying it. The best tutorials have clear, well lit, photographs that immediately show the point you are trying to make. Cliched but true, a picture really is worth a 1000 words.
I have no doubt that this picture conveyed what I needed it to. A little girl who was thrilled with her very own backpack made just for her. I see it and want to make another one! lol But I took 300 pictures that photo shoot alone.
I’m certainly no expert in photography…and here is a case where I don’t want to get off point too much and start a whole other topic, but there are lots of photography tips out there. Try improving just ONE thing at a time and go from there. Yes, a better camera can help, but it won’t make or break you. Learn to use what you have the best way you can.
Tip #6: Use Font ON your pictures.
Tip #5 comes first because you need a good picture. But once you have it, try adding some text to your picture to help make your idea more clear. Even an arrow can make all of the difference. Sometimes you are so familiar with your own work that you can forget what people need to be looking for when they see your tutorial. So point them (literally!) in the right direction. Don’t forget Tips #3 and #4 though. Make that font clear and easy to read. Keep in mind with photographs you often have a dark background, so here is your chance to use that lighter colored text!
In this picture I was pointing out my disintegrating seams on a bee block I made. (Don’t worry, I made another one!) Here’s an example of where I knew where to look but I needed those arrows to show my point to others.
Tip #7: Use a Photo Mosaic
Often I will have hundreds of pictures that I need to weed down to a usable amount. But there are some tricky steps out there in my tutorials that make more sense when seen in a progression of photos like a photo mosaic gives you. The mosaic condenses your ideas into an easy to understand set of directions.
I also use this technique when I have a bunch of photos and I can’t figure out which one is actually the most helpful in a particular step. Different people need to “see” different steps. So the more you can show, the more likely that your audience will understand. Photo mosaics help you show the same idea in multiple shots that may appeal to different readers.
I used photo mosaics extensively in my pincushion tutorial. Use whatever program you have!
Tip #8: Give credit where credit is due.
Were you inspired to write a tutorial by someone’s project?
Did you see a fabulous picture of a room and decide to recreate it?
Have you “tweaked” the idea or tutorial that someone else started?
Then let us know! It’s called Integrity people. Use it. Always.
(trust me…it helps you ignore those comments who claim that you have copied your idea from someone else)
I NEVER think of worse of someone for saying that an idea or tutorial they have is based on the inspiration of someone else. I enjoy seeing how someone takes the idea of one or two people and turn it into something else. THAT is inspirational. So tell us who or what inspires you!
Tip #9: Be Yourself.
Worried about doing things just like someone else? Well don’t be. Be yourself. We all have our own voice and our unique perspective is part of what makes us interesting. The more “you” that you are, the more likely people will be interested. People don’t read blogs and websites and tutorials because they are generic. They read them because the writer has something that captivates them.
So be captivating. Don’t be afraid to throw your personality in there.
You’ll find your audience.
Tip #10: Be Original.
It’s #10 but it could be #1. Above anything, be original and share your OWN work.
If you have an original technique that’s wonderful! But regardless of whether you’ve just discovered how to turn dirt into clean drinking water or whether you are writing the 10,000th tutorial on how to install a zipper, make sure that your words are your OWN. Go ahead and write that zipper tutorial. You will probably have a really grateful audience because they understand you and want to learn from you. But write your tutorial from start to finish with your own words.
It’s harder to be original but it’s INFINITELY more satisfying.