12 Tips on Writing Tutorials

How to write a how to? After years of technical support and suffering with poorly written technical documents, I began my second career as a technical writer. Now, in what I guess is my third career as a writer and business consultant, I am offering some advice to crafters who wish to add some free projects on their websites.

In my last blog entry, Free Patterns Lead to Sales, I talked about how adding free patterns and project sheets to your website will help bring more visitors to your website or craft blog..

12 Tips on Writing Craft Project Sheets

1. Make No Assumptions

For the most part people who are looking for free tutorials are beginners. Make sure you explain everything. If you would rather not include basic instructions then make a list of needed skills. For example, “This project assumes a basic understanding of crochet and the ability to make single, double and half-double crochet stitches.”

2. Be clear, but not condescending

Comments like, ‘surely everyone knows how to make a ______ ‘ are neither helpful or welcoming. (Remember, including free tutorials on your site are all about inviting the web visitor to try your products and revisit your craft-related site.)

3. Number the instructions

This is where some would disagree with me, but; this is how I do all of my system and business documentation. Most of us are easily distracted, and even if we aren’t – kids and other relatives sometimes demand our immediate attention, the phone rings, the doorbell chimes, there’s always something. Numbered instructions are just easier to follow and easier to start and stop.

Also, if you are teaching from your instructions, numbering provides a common point of reference; thereby making it easier to ask and answer questions.

4. Pictures make a huge difference

Adding pictures to your arts and crafts tutorials does several things. It makes the how-to seen less intimidating for the novice. How many of us have picked up a book with no diagrams or pictures and just somehow knew the explanations were going to be hard to understand? We feel this way because our past experiences have almost always proven this to be true.

Pictures will also help those of us who are very visually oriented and simply learn better when we see things being done.

Always include a picture of the item! With the special exemption of mystery projects, a picture of the finished item is an absolute must. I’m just not going to raid my craft supplies on a project I don’t know if I even like. Just because you sell beautiful handbags doesn’t mean that I’m going to like that free clutch project. I want to see it first!

A picture of the finished item has quite often saved a project for me. Not everyone is a good writer and using step-by-step pictures can help overcome any deficiency you may have in your instructions.

5. Use as much white space as possible

Better to make your free craft pattern go on for several screens then try to cramitalltogether on one page. Be long and legible rather than short and unreadable.

6. Don’t overdo #5

While white space is a good thing, using it

excessively

can be

very

annoying.

7. Materials lists are a must

Including a materials list on your craft projects does two things, it lets the crafter know what they are going to need to make the project (yeah, should be obvious – but how many times have you started a project without reading ALL of the instructions?) and more importantly it gives you the opportunity to sell your products or services. If you sell any of the materials used in the project, make sure to include a link to your sales page for that item.

8. Perfect grammar is good, but not do or die

OK, so all of the English teachers out there just left us. But, really, the Internet is conversational in nature and sometimes perfect grammar is not needed. And, sometimes it just works better to start a new sentence with and.

9. Don’t abuse rule #8

Even on the Internet one hopes to find materials that are not so poorly written that they become incomprehensible. When we speak to each other in person, most of us do not always maintain perfect grammar. But, at the same time, you don’t want to come off as an uneducated rube. Break some of the rules now and then, but make sure you don’t make it look like an eight year old wrote your tutorial.

10. Be consistant

It just looks better if all the tutorials on your site have a similar structure and styling. It helps brand them as coming from your site. Site visitors can get comfortable with your style and this will encourage bookmarks and revisits.

11. Print me

Since I don’t live alone, the Internet is not always available. I am also of am age where I can remember when there weren’t computers and prefer to print out any interesting project sheets.

Make sure your craft project will print fairly well. There is no 100% solution as there are so many different computers and printers being used today.

There are several options, a seperate HTML page designed with only the project for printing, a second style sheet designed to be used when the visitor prints (a little more high-tech of a solution, but the one I would recommend), adding a pdf version (lots of folks, myself included, hate these things as they take so terribly long to load on slower Internet connections; but they do create the most consistant printed page), or design the how to section of your site so that it prints fairly well without changes.

12. Leave your mark

This goes hand in hand with number 11. Many people are going to print your craft project instructions. Make sure you have your site logo, company name and URL on the instructions.

I once spent over 2 hours trying to return to a website where I had printed a project sheet that had none of that information. How long do you think your prospective customer is going to spend hunting for your site before looking elsewhere?

Writing Craft Projects & Tutorials

A final word of advice, get someone to test your projects for you. There’s nothing worse than spending time on a project only to find unclear or incomplete instructions make it impossible to finish. Remember the purpose of putting free craft projects and tutorials on your website is to show you know what you are doing, create a new reason for people to visit your site, and ultimately make more sales – don’t ruin your hard work with some hastily written and poorly designed “freebie”.

A final note of caution – it’s amazing how small the crafting industry can be. Don’t borrow someone else’s craft tutorials and display them as your own – even if the original author never notices, others will. It’s low class and is something that could lead to lawsuits – just don’t do it.

Anyone have anything to add? How do you write your craft project how tos?

A few suggestions for further reading...

One Response to 12 Tips on Writing Tutorials

Technical writers have a bag of tricks they use to make tutorials more useful. This technical writer shares some of those tips in this blog entry about creating tutorials for websites. Though most of the examples are geared for craft websites, the information could be used for any type of tutorial.

The better your tutorials, the more likely you are to get backlinks and repeat visitors. Post an exceptional tutorial and watch your visitor counts rise as people start emailing your URL to each other and your tutorial goes viral.


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