How to a terrific tutorial post

In first grade, each of my classmates and I had to go up to the front of the classroom and guide our teacher through a tutorial.

I remember watching one of the boys teach Rondi how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am pretty sure he forgot to mention that you need to spread the peanut butter with a knife, so she ended up getting it all over her hands.

It was my first lesson in how to teach well.

I learned a lot more about it as an elementary school teacher, when I would plan an awesomely creative lesson (in my mind), and about halfway through, I would realize that most of my students were zoning out, because I had lost them somewhere in the middle, when I forgot a step, or didn’t explain it well enough.

Writing great tutorial posts is about teaching well.

A terrific tutorial post is not just a list of steps, but a list that meets your readers where they are, that provides concrete examples, and that helps them get from point A to point B.

Not to get all meta on you, but here is my tutorial post on how to write great tutorial posts.

1. Choose a tutorial that is “just right” for your audience

It’s kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears…you want a tutorial that’s not too long, but not too short. That covers enough information to be helpful, but not too much that it overwhelms them.

Last week, I wrote this massive tutorial post about how to use your business goals to drive your blog topics.

I shared it with my awesome friend Danielle, and she said, This is great, but I feel overwhelmed.

It was just too much. I realized that each of my steps could be its own post. So I unpublished it and am planning to republish shorter posts for each step.

This also comes down to deciding the way your blog works. You may be a blogger who publishes massive posts that could take readers weeks to complete, or you may be someone who wants to publish a series instead. You have to figure out what works for you, and for your audience.

Here are some things to think about:

  • What is your intended outcome? If your readers are successful in completing your tutorial, what will they come away with? Make sure it’s a concrete, doable thing.
  • How much explanation does each step need? If each step needs a lot of explaining, consider writing one post for each step and publishing a series instead of a longer post.

Here’s an example for you:

I recently wrote this post on how to get way more traffic with Pinterest. It covers A LOT of ground. I may take the different steps and write additional posts on each of them, as well.

On the other hand, Marianne from Design Your Own Lovely Blog wrote this great tutorial post on a small component of the process I outlined – creating custom “pin it” buttons.

2. Break it into manageable steps.

Once you’ve decided what you want to teach, write down a list of steps.

Then go back through it and do the ‘peanut butter and jelly’ test – make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Also, be sure that each step is large enough to write a few ideas and guiding words under it, but small enough that it’s not actually 3 or 4 steps in disguise.

3. Fill in the details.

What do you need to add to your steps to make them doable?

This may include:

  • Bulleted lists inside of some of the steps (like this one. Wink, wink.)
  • Photographs
  • Videos
  • Diagrams
  • Examples

For each step, ask yourself, If I were learning to do this for the first time, what would I need to know?

Then give your audience the tools they need to be successful.

Here’s an example for you:

This tutorial from KISSMetrics on how to increase your traffic from social media only has 4 steps, but you’ll notice that that first step has bullet points and a numbered list. And each of the steps includes a screenshot. (Incidentally, I use this tutorial for my social sharing, and I HIGHLY recommend it.)

4. Make sure that readers of all learning styles will “get it.” .

I recently read an awesome post about basic graphic design principles. The blogger had included some great videos of herself using Canva to create graphics.

But I’m not a video watcher. I just hate having to sit through explanations. I just want it all laid out for me so I can get in and out quickly.

I recommended that she add steps written out as well.

She used screenshots from her videos to outline exactly what she was teaching so that lazy people like me could get the information right away.

What can you add to your tutorial posts to make them even more accessible?

Here are some options:

  • Screenshots
  • Audio
  • Graphics

Here’s an example for you:

The Minimalists blog wrote a post on how to start a blog. The first post only includes brief instructions. But then, in an updated post, they went back and added lots of screenshots, videos, and resources. The second post is WAY more helpful than the first.

5. Add your WHY and/or a personal story in the beginning.

What makes this tutorial your tutorial? Your WHY.

Why are you writing this post? It could be something you’ve struggled with, something that has a personal story attached, or something else entirely.

Once you’ve written all the steps out and filled in the necessary information, go back to the beginning and about why it matters – both to you, and to your audience.

This both personalizes your tutorial post, and it also helps your readers see why they should keep reading.

You may also want to add a few words about what your audience will learn in the post.

Here’s an example for you:

I’ve been really frustrated with trying – and failing – to use an editorial calendar. And other bloggers have told me that they struggle with it, as well. So I wrote this post on how to REALLY become a consistent blogger.

I start it with a quick little note about why I care about the topic. Check it out here.

6. Create a graphic listing the steps and place it right before you go into the steps.

This will do 2 awesome things:

1. It will make your post WAY more pinnable. Seriously.

2. It will prepare your audience for what they are about to read. People learn more effectively when they have some background knowledge to latch onto. So the more you can prepare them, the better.

(Check out the graphic for this post as an example.)

7. List the steps again at the end of the post.

When you repeat the steps at the end of the post, it helps your reader put it all together.

You can repeat the graphic, or you can just list them out.

I like to write something like this:

To sum up:

1. Choose a tutorial that is “just right” for your audience.

2. Break it into manageable steps.

3. Fill in the details.

4. Make sure the readers of all learning styles will “get it.”

5. Add your WHY or a story in the beginning.

6. Create a graphic listing the steps.

7. List the steps again at the end of the post.

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