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How To Write A How-To Article In A Dazzling and Efficient Way
The Possibilities Are Endless
Everyone thinks I dislike recipe articles. Not true! What I dislike are poorly-written recipe articles and that is a huge difference.
Hey, I love to eat just like everybody else, and I am always interested in learning about new ways to prepare foods; on the other end of the reading spectrum, my time is valuable and I don’t like to waste it reading drivel. Thus I write this article. My hope is that by writing this article I will see better-written recipe articles and other how-to articles in the future, thus giving me information I want and need and at the same time entertaining me and not wasting my time. See, this is a purely selfish article! J
How to baste a turkey….how to change the oil in your car…..how to re-decorate your house….how to host a sewing party….how to sew a blouse…..hundreds of thousands of these how-to articles flood the online theater daily, but not all of them are written effectively and really, isn’t that what you want…an effective article that people will read, enjoy and keep coming back for more?
Let’s take a look at how to write an effective, interesting how-to article that will have people returning to your site again and again.
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SELECT A TOPIC AND NARROW THE FOCUS
Most magazine articles and really, most effective online articles, should be between 700-1200 words; anything longer than that and you risk losing your audience. Think of the attention span of a fruit fly and then add about two minutes for the average reader.
With that in mind, you need to choose a topic that is focused enough so that it can be effectively covered in 1000 words. If you decide to do a how-to article like “How to re-decorate your house” you will never be able to do it justice in 1000 words because re-decorating an entire house is a huge job. Try an article on how to re-decorate the kitchen instead.
I recently had a customer ask for a 1000 word article on how to rebuild an automatic transmission. I told them it was impossible to write in 1000 words, but I’d be glad to do it in three articles and they agreed. We need to narrow the focus enough so that we can do a thorough job of explaining the process.
DAZZLE WITH A GREAT INTRODUCTION
Let’s say you are going to do an article on how to bake a chicken. Well I have some bad news for you: there are currently millions of baked chicken articles on the internet. What is going to make your article stand out and demand that the reader spend time on it?
First, the title of your article better be an attention-grabber and second, your first paragraph better be a doozie. Remember the attention span of a fruit fly? If you don’t grab your readers in the first ten seconds then I don’t care if your name is Ernest Hemingway, that chicken article is going to die in the oven.
If you want to guarantee failure begin like this: Now I am going to tell you how to bake a chicken!
Just shoot your audience and put them out of their misery.
WHAT ARE THE NEEDS OF YOUR READERS
Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach with your how-to information? Once you have answered that question then you can ask this question: what questions would your readers like answered by your article?
Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and figure out what they want to know when they are reading your article. Ask those questions and then move on to the next step.
The Writing Bible
RESEARCH THAT TOPIC
Once you know what your readers are interested in, then do research and find the answers. Research will give you facts, figures and a solid foundation, and you should include those facts and figures. Some things to include in your how-to article are:
- Statistics that support your statements
- Quotes by famous people
- Definitions so your readers are not confused
- References from other media
- Anecdotes that will bring life to your article and support your statements
Include some or all of these and you will have a solid article that can withstand the tightest of scrutiny.
STREAMLINE AND REVISE
Once you have done your research you may need to revise your first draft, or you may see the need to incorporate new facts and figures. Keep the original questions in mind during this stage. What is it that your readers want to learn? As long as you keep that question in the forefront of your mind you will not drift off-task while you are writing.
There is nothing worse than a how-to article that leaves out a couple steps in the process. Your readers want to have a complete understanding of the process when they finish your article. They do not want vague and they do not want incomplete. When they finish your article they should be able to complete the how-to task perfectly without doubt or hesitation.
If you are writing a how-to cooking article, and a single male who knows very little about cooking reads it, then you cannot say “toss in a pinch of oregano.” The average guy has no clue what a pinch is, but he can definitely figure out how to toss in a half-tablespoon…provided he knows what a tablespoon is. J
Remember my example earlier about the how-to rebuilt a transmission article? It was impossible to be thorough in 1000 words, and re-building a transmission is an important task that needs detail in the instructions. Remember that as you write your next how-to article. Did you cover everything in detail?
ASK FOR FEEDBACK
Your article is finished and it is now time to publish. WAIT A MINUTE! Read your article to a friend and ask the following questions:
- Did you adequately list all the ingredients and supplies that are needed to complete the task?
- Are all important steps listed?
- Is the order of your information and steps logical?
- Did you warn your readers of possible problems and how to deal with those problems?
If your friend says you have accomplished all of those tasks, then move on to the next step in the process.
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Publish it online and pat yourself on the back for a job well-done. You have covered all the bases and written a how-to article that would even pass my critical inspection, so kick back and treat yourself to a guilty pleasure like ice cream or a double-tall non-fat mocha. Congratulations!
Wait just a minute! This article is, in fact, a how-to article now isn’t it? Well, have I passed my own test?
Did I narrow the focus? Was my title an attention-grabber? How about the introduction? Did I meet the needs of my readers? Were all questions answered? Oops, what about research? Did I provide adequate support material? Not really! I gave you a quote and I read some supporting material, but I decided not to bog this article down with references and footnotes, so sue me. J
So there you have it. Get started on the next recipe or craft how-to article, and I hope your next one is the most popular to date. If these suggestions help you to achieve that lofty status then we will both be happy and I’ll celebrate with you.
By the way….this article is 1300 words. Do as I say and not as I do. J
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”