8 Steps To Help You Create a How-To Guide

Naming your Guide

  • be easy to understand – use simple English and avoid using technical terms if possible
  • use active language rather than passive (‘Applying for a scholarship’, not ‘Scholarship applications’)
  • help users identify what action the content will help them complete – include a direct action so the user knows it will help them achieve their aim (‘Secure a place through clearing and adjustment’, not ‘Clearing and adjustment process’)
  • be clear who the content is for – place the Guide in context so the user recognises it as relevant to their need (‘Types of placements for undergraduate students’, not ‘Placements’)
  • be limited to 65 characters if possible so users can read it in entirety on search results

Title: Suspending your studies or leaving the University
Summary: What you need to do to suspend your studies, the process for coming back to University, and what to do if you want to leave your course.

Writing a summary for a specific audience

If your guide is for a specific audience (like postgraduate students or staff who are personal tutors), it’s important to make clear who it’s for in the summary. Some summaries may need to be more explicit than others, for example:

Title: Applying to university after a break in studying
Summary: If you are age 21 or over, you are defined as a mature student. Find out how to apply to an undergraduate course and the different routes into higher education.

This is especially important if you have separate content items which have a similar topic but different audiences, for example, one guide for how a pregnant student can get support and another for how staff should support them:

Title: Getting advice if you are pregnant while studying
Summary: How we can support you if you are student having a baby, or you have a young child.

Title: Actions staff should take to support a pregnant student
Summary: What academic staff should do when they learn a student is pregnant, including how to assess need and make necessary adjustments.

In some cases, referring to your audience in the third person may be the clearest option. This is fine for the summary, as it can make search results more helpful, however you should avoid using the third person in the rest of the guide.

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 wellbeing of their readers.

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.

Easy-to-understand instructions

It’s important that a reader easily understands each task within a step to ensure 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 representation 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

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.

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.

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.

8. Proofread

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 correcting them if they appear.

Consider Getting a Designer to Create Unique Visuals for Your Ultimate Guide

Design is critical to a thorough ultimate guide. While you want to include screenshots, graphs, and images for anything that lends itself to a visual, going a step further can bring even more traffic and growth to your site. For example, you could have a simple infographic designed for your guide – just like the one we designed, above!

Here’s another example. In one of Jon Morrow’s ultimate guides, a 3000-word blog that ranks in the top 10 of Google for how to become a freelance writer, he had a simple infographic designed and embedded that summed up several of the powerful statistics in the ultimate guide.

ultimate guide example

You can find awesome designers through resources like freelance platforms, LinkedIn profile searches for “freelance designer”, or you could talk to us about the custom blog header sets and ebooks we design for our content marketing clients as part of our content writing packages.

A True Ultimate Guide Requires Ultimate Editing & Tracking

It’s easy to assume that when you finish your ultimate guide, you may be fine with how it looks. But, how will you feel about it in a week? A month? A year? Remember – these are pages that will bring in millions of views over the years if optimized properly.

Our story about Unbounce is a perfect example. Such a piece kept getting clicks and circulated through content marketing circles across the globe. If your piece is to have that type of a lifespan and continue generating returns, you need to make sure it is updated regularly.

Luckily, if you’re learning how to create an ultimate guide on a particular topic, you probably already know that topic fairly well. Which means you’re also researching it constantly and keeping up on any changes to it.

If there are new developments, new studies, or any new changes at all, you should put them in your guide if they fit. I know what you’re thinking – what if a development happens and you aren’t able to find it quick enough?

With access to plenty of university repositories, this tool is fantastic for finding stats as they come out. The best part is you can set up an alert whenever new articles are published. You can also see which papers have cited which, so you’ll know if you’re bringing in a fresh perspective.




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