Seven steps to writing a 'How to...' article.

Started by Gyppo, December 10, 2020, 02:48:28 PM

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Seven steps to writing a 'how to...' article.

You have a subject you know well, or can research thoroughly.  Perhaps a trade or craft skill, and you want to share it with others.  Maybe you've even taught apprentices in person.  But if you've never written anything like this before it can seem a bit daunting.

1)  Sit there and think about the problem from the perspective of a newcomer.  Imagine a Target Reader to represent your target audience.  Complete newcomer, semi-skilled, highly skilled.  Give them a name - this can really help - such as Edie McTuft.  This is the person you will be 'talking' to through your writing.

Don't worry about their gender unless this is particularly relevant.  You're giving instructions, not offering a counselling service.

2)  Ask yourself the questions they would ask.  Write them down on a sheet of paper or on screen.

3)  Write down the answers.  Between the questions.  (This is easy on screen.)

4) Take out the questions and look at the answers from the target reader's viewpoint.  Would Edie McTuft understand this?  If not rewrite as necessary. 

5)  Read again.  See if it still makes sense, or at least enough sense to be worth a little tidying, and perhaps a re-ordering of some paragraphs.

6)  Write a short intro and end piece if necessary.

7)  And there it is.  Gyppo's 7 step plan to writing a 'How To....' article.


Jo Bannister

But the question we're all consumed by is, How many steps are there to writing a How to Write a How To Article? 

Sorry - it's all good advice.

To which I would only add: Never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.  If anything you suggest can be misunderstood, however wilfully, so as to cause damage or danger, rewrite it as if for idiots.  Edie McTuft will sue you if she manages to burn her house down while following your instructions for building a home barbecue.


It's a chilling thought.  if I wrote an article on how to murder your neighbours and not get caught, (which is what fiction writers sometimes do, but it's not sold as advice), and some idiot followed my instructions and managed to get caught...



I like this. It's a good process.

I have found that the most critical thing about writing a good how-to is remembering that the reader does not have the same knowledge that you have. Like when I was teaching, I had to take extra care when writing lectures. Instruction can be ineffective if you assume the students know more about the subject than what they really do. In a F2F environment you can see the lost looks on their faces and adjust.

But in writing, you don't have that luxury.
Motivation for Life


If you're writing for real beginners it can help to cast your mind back to when you were first starting out in whatever you're writing about.  Remember the questions you wanted to ask as an apprentice or whatever.  The better you are at this 'stepping back' the easier it is to write about it.

My eldest is in the early planning stages of a short(ish) book at the moment.  We talked through the basics and it was good to see that she remembered most of the lessons I shared with her about ten years ago.  She remembers that for non-fiction the more precisely you can define the target reader the better.

She's writing about a certain aspect of paganism.

I asked her, "Would you like to know when you first became interested in the pagan gods, and why?"

"Yes please."

I told her the story and I could see it being logged in her mind for recycling later.  I suspect it may feature in her introduction ;-)