Tutorials get links, because people find them so useful. But there are many tutorials on blogs everywhere. How will yours stand out and become a must-have resource? In this article, I’m going to cover some important tips and techniques to help you make sure your next tutorial blog post is a killer resource that your readers will link to and bookmark. Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- Your Tutorial Must Meet a Need
- Use The Three T’s
- Address Learning Modalities
- Taking Steps
- Test Runs
1. Your Tutorial Must Meet a Need
You must create a tutorial about something people really want, or they will never link to it and bookmark it. You have several ways of finding out what people want to get ideas for tutorials:
- Emails your readers send you, asking specific questions
- Questions your readers ask in the comments
- Questions people ask on social media sites
- Paying attention to trends: for example, the trend in tutorial posts getting high numbers of links
- Your own observations about what is under-served… an under-served audience is likely to be appreciative.
2. Use The Three T’s
The Three T’s are:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you told them.
This is a deceptively simple yet effective way to structure your tutorial according to the adult learning model. I’ve spent over seven years as a computer training and courseware specialist, and it works. Let your audience know what they’re going to be in for, present the material in the same order, and simply review it afterwards. Telling your audience what topics will be involved in advance removes any surprises and gives your audience a mental framework to hold memories. It gives them a sense of anticipation of what’s to come and that helps to keep their attention.
When you present the steps of your tutorial, you will be meeting your audience’s expectations, instead of surprising them or violating them. This gives them the feeling that they’re in control and keeps them comfortable. Your audience is getting exactly what they expected, and they expected it because you told them what to expect.
After you present the main steps in the tutorial, you want to help your audience feel satisfied with the tutorial. You do this by reviewing the main points. This reinforces the tutorial’s main points in a way that aids in retaining the material, plus it helps to provide an emotional sense of closure regarding the information. Your audience will mentally and emotionally confirm for themselves that they got what they wanted and what they expected.
You will notice that this tutorial is, of course, following this format!
3. Address Learning Modalities
Successful tutorials address the different learning styles (modalities) people have. Some people learn best by reading, others learn best by watching examples, and still others learn best by hearing the words. Addressing more than one modality is important for your tutorial to be as effective as it can be. A common way to do this is to provide pictures to accompany the written text.
Now bloggers can add video and audio to their tutorial posts as well, plus a host of other methods for engaging the different ways peopel learn, such as slide shows (SlideShare) or animation (Animoto). The review portion of this tutorial will feature a multimedia SlideCast in addition to the text.
4. Taking Steps
Before a person can follow the steps of your tutorial, how should they prepare? Make sure you provide the proper set up information they need. When you’re providing step-by-step instructions, use numbered lists so people can follow instructions in the correct order. Keep any images or video that are tied to a specific step within that step’s instructive text–you’ll confuse your readers as to the correct order if you separate them from each other.
5. Test Runs
Just like people who create recipes must test them in order to ensure their results are reproducible, so too should you test your tutorial by following its steps through from beginning to end. Our tendency is to sort of gloss over this. “Yeah, yeah, I know all this! I wrote it!” The best way to do this is to step away from your tutorial for a day or two and then follow it with fresh eyes. You will spot some aspects that need to be changed or improved. Put yourself in the mind of a person who needs the tutorial, someone who doesn’t already know what you know.
Better yet, get such a person to test it out for you. Social networks are great for this. Your friends might be willing to help you out. Their feedback will be invaluable. If this seems like a lot of work, well, it is, but if you want your tutorial to be seen as a go-to resource, you’ve got to put the effort and time into it. You can’t just slap it together and hope people like it.
The time it takes someone to go through your tutorial is an important consideration. It should take no longer than 45 minutes at a maximum. Any longer than that, and people will begin to lose patience and their ability to focus will waiver. If what you’re doing is extensive, break it up into parts. Make sure your readers know it is in multiple parts, and that they understand what part they’re currently reading. Once all the parts are done, provide links to them all in each one (side note: stuff like this makes for great ebook material).