Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
If you’re a writer, you need to know how to write a how to article.
A how-to article is a durable short content form because it provides step-by-step instructions to help your reader complete a task.
Personally, it’s one of my faves to write because it is so logical and sequential. First, do this. Then, do this. Do a couple more things and POOF! You’re done with the task.
But here’s an ironic little secret about writing a how-to: your reader isn’t all excited-can’t-wait-to-learn how to complete the task you explain your article.
Yes, she wants to know the materials and the steps she needs to complete and in which order to complete the task.
But for her, your how-to article is simply a means to an end. She aims for something more. And it’s not the task itself.
She reads your article for the benefits of that task – what completing the task offers her. Your how-to article is a vehicle to make your reader’s life easier, simpler, happier, more fulfilling, safer, or cost less.
Uncover what she’s looking for and promise your reader you will deliver – and you’ll write a how-to that actually gets read from start to finish.
For instance, your reader wants to know how to change the windshield wiper fluid not because she loves the blue stuff but …
Notice each of the reasons she reads your article start with “so that.”
Writing tip: How do you find out how to write a how-to article that actually helps your reader?
Use two little words – “so that” – and complete the sentence. Then you’ll uncover the benefits your reader is seeking. And you can address them head-on in your article.
You’ve already got the first two words of your headline: “How To.” And you’ve got the next phrase – one that identifies the task you’ll describe, such as:
That’s fine. It's a decent headline. But you and I know that there are a dozen ways to make a cup of cocoa. But what unique benefit will your how-to offer your reader?
Uncover your promise by using our two little words – “so that.”
She wants to drink cocoa, but she wants to avoid spending hours doing it and making a huge mess. She wants to enjoy the experience. She doesn’t’ want to have to run out to the store first.
Put those benefits in the article headline like this:
Now you’ve got a promise to your reader: “read this article and you’ll learn how to make a cup of cocoa in the microwave.” You’re going to make her life easier (or simpler, happier, more fulfilling, safer, or cost less …)
Your job in the article body is to keep your promise – the promise you made in the headline. Make sure you include three elements.
What materials does your reader need? List them in the order in which your reader will use them.
What steps should she take? Include every step, from start to finish, no matter how intuitive it may seem to be. Be specific. Don’t assume your reader knows what to do. Then read through steps and follow them yourself to see what you left out. Ask yourself this question: “If my reader follows these steps, will her life be easier, simpler, happier, more fulfilling, safer, or cost less?” Remember, your job is to make your reader’s life better. A missed step or an assumption can negate your goal. This is not the place to be creative or cute.
Write. Out. The. Steps.
In what order should she take the steps? If there is more than one possible sequence, then say so and choose one for your article. For instance, you can make a mug of cocoa in the microwave or on the stove top. Your how-to should specify which.
At the beginning of this article, I made a promise: here’s how to write a how-to article that gets read from start to finish.
You read the entire article – from start to finish – so I’d like to think that I kept my promise.
People are surprised when people make promises and keep them.
Did you fulfill the promise you made in your how-to headline?
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