How To Write a Great DIY How To.

How To Write a Great DIY How To.

When I first started writing for Curbly, my biggest worry in constructing a how to was its translation. Would my readers be able to follow the steps? Would anyone be able to replicate the process outlined in the how to? To help alleviate my fears, I did what any novice blogger would do, I read other blogs. Although I discovered plenty of how-to-write-how-to’s out there, they weren’t specifically for DIY how to articles. Ultimately, I incorporated what I found in my research and applied it to my posts. Using this information, coupled with trial and error, I’ve written dozens upon dozens—hopefully successful—how to’s for Curbly, this being one of them!

What you need:

  • A project to post
  • A digital camera
  • A computer

What you do:

1. Photos first. Even before you begin to write, grab your camera. It goes without saying that the best time to take your photos is while you’re doing your project. You don’t have to take pictures of each little step, unless they’re tricky. Of course pictures after big steps are necessary. The great thing about having this pictorial diary of your project is that the images will jog your memory when it comes time to actually write the how to, as it’s very easy to forget those little details once the project is done!

2. Titles are important. One of the most popular online titles include "How to". People search the internet for information. By including ‘how to’ in your title you let them know exactly what to expect from your post: they are going to learn something. Other great, eye-catching titles of the how to variety include "6 Easy Steps to…." or even "5 Ways to…."

3. A picture says a thousand words. Upload a picture of your finished project. Yes, I know, you want it to be a surprise! Well, forget about it. You need to show your viewer your fabulous outcome to entice them to read the entire post.

4. Give your readers a short history. It’s nice to start the text of your how to with a little background, like why you decided to undertake the project in the first place, just to establish your voice and to introduce yourself to your readers. But remember, shorter is always better.

5. Subtitles Part 1: What you need. After the introduction, you’ll want to space down, and then tell the reader what supplies they’ll need to replicate the project. I use subtitles such as ‘What you need’ (in bold) and then follow it up with a bulleted needs list. The white space between your intro and your bold subtitle and the bulleted needs list breaks up the text, which makes the post easier for the viewer to read.

6. Subtitles Part 2: What you do. After the needs list, I insert a second subtitle. Namely, ‘What you do’ (in bold). Again, this tells the reader what to expect next as well as breaking up the text.

7. Consider numbering your steps to completion. Again, this helps the reader follow along with the process and it makes the how to less intimidating–especially if it’s a long how to!

8. Uploading pictures. I upload my pictures as I write, finishing each step and then inserting the corresponding picture. I usually insert the pictures after the text describing it. It really doesn’t matter whether you insert your pictures before or after the text related to it, but it is important that you maintain consistency throughout the post. So if the first descriptive text comes before the first picture, then it should come before the second picture and so on. (You could even annotate your pictures with the corresponding directions via your photo editor!)

9. Picture placement. I’ve learned not to mess with the text alignment features, as they seem to effect my picture placement. I also don’t fiddle with the vertical and horizontal spacing on picture insert windows. I find it best just to upload my pictures and insert them where I want them—at the left margin. If on MSN I clip and past my pictures; if on Explorer and Firefox I drag and drop.

10. End with a bang. I always end my how to posts with another picture of the completed project. It’s usually something a bit different than the primary picture, which might have been taken from a different angle or even a close up, for example.

11. Proofread! Proofreading is essential to ANY writing—even the internet variety. If my how to seems especially tricky, I’ll even have someone else read it to make sure it makes sense. Or, if it’s a quick little thing, like paper folding, I’ll make the project referring to my written instructions.

12. One more thing before you go. Sure, tell us how much you love it, add tips you picked up along the way, or tell us what you might have done differently—if anything. Otherwise, just say ta-da, or some appropriate equivalent to let people know that’s all there is!

For an example of a how to I’ve written that incorporates the ideas in this how to, visit How to Make a To-go Coffe Cup Tissue Pop Up, How to Make an Envelope Pillow and How to Make a Plastic Bag Keeper. Also check out DIY Shrinky Dinks and Photo Wall on a Shoestring.... And that’s it!


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ModHomeEcTeacher on Mar 26, 2008:

It's a chair re-do for the Indy Star-a DIY column I may have.  If you give me your email, I'll send you a photo of it.  I can't post it anywhere else.  Gannett Newspapers owns the rights to it, but I'll show it to you. email me at mmleer@att.net

DIY Maven on Mar 26, 2008:

Think Raymond Chandler. Cut the fluff. Stick to the facts. You might sacrifice your voice, but those are the breaks. (Hee hee. That was my imitation of Chandler; could you tell?) Anyhoo...I'd first check for repitition. You might be surprised to find you've already covered something elsewhere. If they're really strict with word count you could always ditch the coordinating conjunctions and use semicolons! What's the article about?

ModHomeEcTeacher on Mar 26, 2008:

You know on the Food Network when they send an expert cook to someone's house to cook for them, that's kind of like this:  I'm writing a how to for the Indianapolis Star.  It's supposed to be only 300 or so words.  I've whittled it down as much as I can so it's still understandable and it's 388 words.  Any advice on what to assume people know how to do, thus not necessary to explain?

ModHomeEcTeacher on Feb 21, 2008:

This How To helped me write one last evening which I'll post in a few days on Curbly.  It was so much easier and when I used your guildelines, the steps became brief and concise. 

DIY Maven on Feb 06, 2008:

I heart you too, Diva!

DIY Maven on Feb 05, 2008:

You're welcome! And thank you again for the idea ;)

ModHomeEcTeacher on Feb 04, 2008:

Greaaatttt How-to!  Thanks so much!

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