How-to guides are an important part of sharing complex skills, processes and valuable information to large audiences. They may appear in nearly every field, from art and craft projects to technology. Understanding how to write an effective how-to guide can help you successfully share your skills and experiences with readers seeking direction for various tasks. In this article, we discuss the definition and importance of how-to guides, and the elements of effective how-to guides and offer a list of steps, tips, and an example to help you create your own effective how-to guide.
What is a how-to guide?
A how-to guide is an informative piece of writing that describes a process from start to completion using a series of step-by-step instructions. Readers of how-to guides are often looking for information on how to complete a task. How-to guides may provide instruction for processes from several areas of interest, some of which include:
Art and craft projects
Cooking or baking
Why are how-to guides important?
How-to guides are an important way to share valuable information about processes, both simple and complex. They provide educational and skill development opportunities to their readers and may offer assistance during advanced procedures. Sometimes, they may include important safety information for high-risk or potentially dangerous tasks that can protect the well-being of their readers.
For example, an individual may use a how-to guide to learn how to change a tire or troubleshoot an electrical issue safely.
Elements of effective how-to guides
There are several elements included in effective how-to guides, including:
Clearly defined chronological steps
Effective how-to guides often contain clearly defined steps that are listed in chronological order. Often, these numbered steps include only one task per each. Steps that have a logical order of completion and contain individual tasks may be more helpful to readers than steps without chronological organization and multiple or complex actions.
It’s important that a reader easily understands each task within a step to ensure the correct completion of the process. Effective how-to guides often have concise instructions that simplify a complex action into more manageable items for the reader to complete.
Examples and visual resources
Effective how-to guides may include examples and visual representations of their processes. This is a great way to include additional clarification and allows a reader to match the written instructions with visual resources or relatable examples, which could increase comprehension.
How to create a how-to guide
You may use the following steps to help you create your own effective how-to guide:
1. Understand your target audience
Before writing your how-to guide, it’s important to understand your target audience. Do your best to contemplate who might read your how-to guide and why. Consider their age, background, level of knowledge on the subject and other demographics to determine important aspects of your guide. Your target audience and their motivations may influence the language used in your guide, the number and complexity of steps and the information deemed necessary to complete the process.
2. Research the process
It’s important that you understand the process completely when writing an instructional guide. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, consider researching it is as much as possible before starting your guide. You may do this by reading other how-to guides, watching instructional videos, practicing the process yourself, or reading books and literature available on the subject. Having an advanced understanding of the process can help you include all the important and accurate information needed for successful completion.
Even if you have existing knowledge of the process, it may be helpful to do a small amount of research to refresh your memory and update your techniques.
3. Decide on a title
Consider the title you’d like to use for your how-to guide. An effective title often concisely summarizes the process your guide aims to describe and begins with “How To.” Try to use a bold, easily read-font for your title and center it at the top of the page. For example, you might title a guide for catching fish “How To Catch a Fish.”
4. Create actionable steps
Once you fully understand the process and write your title, you may begin writing the steps of your how-to guide. First, consider the number of steps necessary to convey all instructions clearly. Then, assign subheadings or titles to each step that summarize their content. Then, write your instructions for each step as clearly and simply as possible. Consider how actionable each of your descriptions are, as sometimes, simply telling someone to do something doesn’t give them the tools necessary to do it. You may need to offer suggestions for how they could complete the task.
For example, instead of saying, “do some research,” you could say, “Access online resources such as search engines and training videos to conduct research.”
5. Simplify your language
After completing your numbered steps, consider reading through your how-to guide to find any areas of complex wording or intricate language. It’s important that your audience clearly understands your guide and simplifying any complicated content could help them better comprehend the process. To do this, consider marking complicated words or phrases that you could convey in fewer or simpler words and revising them to reflect these changes.
6. Incorporate examples
Sometimes, images and examples can help readers more easily visualize the instructions in your guide. Consider adding examples or helpful pictures to clarify your statements. This may help eliminate any confusion for your readers and could prevent the incorrect completion of steps.
7. Include additional tips
If there is additional information or helpful details about your process that don’t fit cohesively within your numbered steps, you may include a brief list of additional tips at the end of your how-to guide. Consider information that was helpful when you completed the process, information found through your research or any other important content from which a reader may benefit. The number of tips to include may depend on the subject and complexity of your guide but try to keep your list to under five items to enhance readability.
After completing your guide, it’s important to proofread for any errors in spelling, grammar or instructional content. Uncorrected errors in your guide may confuse your readers and could cause the incorrect application of your instructions. Consider reading your guide aloud or having someone else check it for mistakes and correct them if they appear.
Tips for creating a how-to guide
Below are some additional tips to help you write a successful how-to guide:
Consider using a template
If you’re having trouble planning the steps of your how-to guide, consider searching the internet for templates to help you organize your thoughts. Templates are a great resource to use when you’re feeling unsure of how to format your how-to guide and could help you brainstorm ways of discussing your process.
Use active verbs
Active verbs help make your writing more direct and easily understood by identifying the acting subject of a sentence. Consider checking your guide for any instances of passive verbs and revising them to reflect active voice.
For example, instead of saying “The blocks are then stacked in a tower,” try “You may then stack the blocks in a tower.”
Stay focused on the topic
Sometimes, it may be tempting to use humor or entertainment to make your guide more enjoyable to read. While you may use your own perspective and style of writing, it’s important to remember to stay on topic and avoid jokes or irrelevant comments to prevent confusion and misinterpretation of your instructions.
Example of a how-to guide
Below is an example of an effective how-to guide:
How To Ride a Bike for the First Time
1. Choose a location
Learning to ride a bike is often easier done on a smooth surface. Consider using your driveway or an empty parking lot as your practice location. Be sure there aren’t any potholes or large rocks in the way and consider situating your riding path so that there is a softer area nearby, such as a patch of grass or pile of leaves, to catch your fall if necessary.
2. Wear safety equipment
It’s important to wear the proper clothing and safety equipment when learning to ride a bike. Consider wearing a sturdy helmet, comfortable shoes, pants that won’t get caught in the pedal mechanism and elbow or knee pads for additional protection.
3. Find a partner
It’s often easier to learn to ride a bike with a partner to help you keep your balance. Consider asking a friend or family member to assist you. They can be present to hold on to the back of the bike seat to help you remain steady during your first ride or simply offer emotional support.
4. Sit on the bike seat
Once you’ve chosen and put on your safety equipment and your partner is ready, you may sit down on the bike seat. When seated, your toes should be the only part of your foot able to touch the ground. If the seat is too high or low, you may adjust it using the lever on the base of the seat.
5. Put one foot on a pedal
Once you’ve adjusted your seat to the appropriate height and you’ve sat down securely on the bike with both feet on the ground, you may put one foot on a pedal. Be sure to place your foot on the pedal that is in the top position, not the one that is closest to the ground.
6. Push the pedal forward
You may now begin to gently push the pedal forward with your foot. While doing this, the second pedal will rise as the first pedal will move closer to the ground.
7. Bring your second foot onto the second pedal
Once the second pedal is in the top position, place your other foot on the second pedal and gently push it forward. This will alternate the pedals and turn the wheels of the bike, moving it forward.
8. Alternate the pedals
Continue alternating pedals by pushing on them with both feet, one at a time. The faster you alternate pedals, the faster the bike will go.
9. Maintain balance
To maintain balance on your bicycle, try not to lean to the left or the right. Do your best to sit upright, look forward and engage your core to prevent the bike from tipping.
10. Squeeze the brake to slow down or stop
When you’re ready to slow down or stop, slowly squeeze the lever on the bike handle. This is the brake mechanism and it will stop the wheels from spinning.
Tips for Riding Your Bike for the First Time
When learning to ride your bike, you may feel nervous about falling. Try to remember that your safety equipment will protect you, and since it’s your first ride, you likely won’t be going fast enough to sustain serious injury. Remaining calm may help you focus more easily and enjoy the experience.
Try not to squeeze the brake lever too quickly or suddenly, as this will cause the bike to stop quickly and you could fall over the handlebars. When you’re ready to slow down or brake, do so gently and gradually.
Take your time
Remember, this is your first time riding a bike, so it’s okay to take as much time as you need to feel comfortable. You may not get it exactly right the first time, but with practice, you will be riding with ease in no time.
I hope you find this article helpful.