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Recipe Writing Tips

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.

Use these recipe writing tips as you write and share recipes on your blog, as a submission to a website, or with family and friends.

As always, it is best to write what you know. That’s why it’s helpful to have tried your recipe a few times (or more) to confirm ingredient amounts and best ways to prepare it. Plus, you’ll have extra tips you can share from your experience.

A clearly-written recipe has 4 parts. 

Recipe Writing Tips with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

Recipe Writing Tips for Writing Each Section

1. The Title

  • When to be literal: If you’re writing out a recipe that has a history – whether it’s been passed down in your family for generations or is well-known or pre-published – then be true to the recipe’s given name.
  • When to be creative: If the recipe is your own creation or a variation of another cook’s, then this is the moment in recipe writing that you can be creative. Give it the name you prefer. 

2. Extra Information

This section is optional, but can include number of servings, serving size, time needed to prepare the recipe, nutritional information, and even a shopping list.

3. Ingredient List

Use these recipe writing tips as you put together the ingredient list. 

  • Write out each ingredient in a vertical list.
  • Give each item its own line, rather than writing items in a series with commas in between each one.
  • List the ingredients in the order they are used to prepare the recipe.
  • List total amounts. Record the total amount of an ingredient when is used more than once in a recipe, then add "divided" – as in “2 cups of granulated sugar, divided” where a crust calls for ½ cup and the filling calls for 1 ½ cups. The exception to that is when the recipe has a large number of ingredients, create headings for ingredients of the different parts of the recipe. A layer bar cookie recipe, for instance, may include separate ingredient lists for the crust, filling, and glaze. 
  • List items in descending volume. When a list of ingredients will be used at one time together, list them in descending volume. For instance, a list of dry ingredients that will be combined can be listed as:

    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Spell out measure volume. Use cup rather than c; tablespoon rather than tbsp. or Tbsp.
  • Indicate preparation needed. Indicate when an ingredient needs a preparation step before it is to be used in the recipe instructions: “1 cup butter, melted” or “1/2 cup walnuts, chopped.”
  • Avoid writing two numerals in successive order. For example, “1 6-ounce bag of chocolate chips” could be mis-read as “16-ounce bag of chocolate chips.” You can skirt this problem when you write out one of the numbers – “one 6-ounce bag of chocolate chips” –  or when you use parentheses – “1 (6-ounce) bag of chocolate chips”.
  • Capitalize. Capitalize ingredients that don’t begin with a numeral.
  • Go generic. Use generic names for ingredients rather than trademarked names, as in “gelatin” rather than “Jello.”

4. Directions (also called Instructions or Preparation Method)

Use these recipe writing tips as you put together step-by-step instructions for preparing the recipe.

  • Write the steps in order. List directions in the order they should be carried out.
  • Write each step in a separate bullet or paragraph. Delineate each step with a separate bullet point or number. 
  • Specify cookware needed. Indicate the bowls, utensils, and cookware needed for each step. Instead of, “Cream together butter and sugar,” write “In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar on low speed, scraping the bowl continually with a spatula.”
  • Specify how fast, how hot, how long: “Cream together butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes” or “In a small saucepan on low heat, simmer butter and sugar until the mixture begins to bubble.”
  • Separate parts of the recipe. Create headings for instructions for the different parts of the recipe. A layer bar cookie recipe, for instance, may include directions for the crust, filling, and glaze.
  • Write cooking times with hints. Ovens, stoves, microwaves, and conditions vary. Give a specific amount of cooking time (or a range of time) but indicate what indicates doneness: “Bake 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown.”
  • Specify serving directions and storage directions. Tell your reader what to do when the recipe is ready: Serve cold. Cut into 4 rows of 5. Store with waxed paper in between layers. Keeps for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Final Recipe Writing Tips

  • Ingredient lists are not subject to copyright law. However, instructions are considered creative expression. If you plan to publish recipes, write out recipes in your own language. It’s not only the legal thing to do, but it’s also the right thing to do. (Disclaimer: this is not legal advice. Consult your attorney for information specific to your situation.)
  • If you copy another cook’s recipe word for word, be sure to get permission and give attribution.
  • If you adapt another cook’s recipe with a few of your own twists, then include an “Adapted from …” attribution on your recipe. If you change it substantially, then include an “Inspired by …” attribution.

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