The How-to on How-tos

Wondering how to create the next big how-to guide on the topic of your most knowledgeable passions? Welcome to the how-to How-To, where one can follow along to the very simple yet comprehensive steps on achieving a great how-to manual. Let this guide help you help others!


Step 1: Address the ‘Why?’

Any literary piece must have a reason for being written. Why do you feel the need to write your how-to guide? The production of a how-to guide is a lot like an entrepreneurial endeavor, in that it needs a little bit of market research beforehand. Does there already exist a how-to guide on the topic you’re interested in writing about? If so, what would make your how-to different?


Consider the example of how GoodYear wrote their guide on changing a tire. Before launching into the steps necessary, the article takes a moment to address the importance of knowing how to change a tire, setting themselves apart from other bland tire-fixing guides.


Step 2: Identify the Issue

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The purpose of a how-to guide is to adequately respond to a specific problem. Without knowing the exact root cause of an issue, a how-to guide cannot be specific, rendering it virtually useless in doing anything other than covering a broad range. Wikihow, in their article on “How to Break Up With a Friend” splits up the guide into three separate parts. The first part is all about the ‘before’ — what led up to the issue, and is the issue really a deep seated dilemma that requires more than an honest conversation? A how-to guide may not even be necessary, depending on the issue at hand. Know your enemies before you attack them.


Step 3: Accumulate the Tools

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If I may reference GoodYear again, and every single cooking recipe on the internet, knowing what tools should be used throughout the how-to guide will be necessary. List the tools clearly, and if possible, where one may attain them.


Step 4: The Actual How-to Part

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Now is what a reader is usually waiting for! Launch into those steps. Clearly label them and add substeps if appropriate to each step. This is not the area to be decorative — trim down the steps and their descriptions so that although they are effective and thorough, they aren’t excessive. A reader wants to get through a how-to guide generally as fast as possible, and they shouldn’t be distracted from the task at hand.


Take a note from Wikihow and add pictures on occasion — visual cues can help in explaining, sometimes more than sole text can.


Ensure that the steps cover the post-process as well. In cases such as a friend breakup, steps can be taken to officially break up, but one of the trickiest parts is maintaining distance from the ex-friend after the breakup. Just as NBC’s Better mentions, a breakup isn’t the end of the relationship, oftentimes. The other person, or even the breaker-upper may be upset enough to try to revive the friendship, which doesn’t usually go well.


Hopefully this how-to guide helps! Happy how-to-ing!


2 thoughts to “The How-to on How-tos”

  1. This is an effective guide for creating a How-to, which honestly may be one of the most under-appreciated genres we all come across constantly. Throughout our day, anytime we face a question or problem, we usually look for a how-to in order to solve that dilemma.

    I think the “why” is a part of the process often overlooked because we just care about the how-to portion. The tools are also important because without them the how-to often times cannot be accomplished. I agree that a how-to guide needs to be as specific as possible, especially when limited to words without pictures or videos, because the reader may struggle to understand a certain step.

    How-to guides are also interesting because of the variety of topics they span across, and the levels of certainty they present. Something more technical like how to fix a tire or bake a cake usually presents a single, correct way of doing something, while more opinionated how-to guides present different steps and reach different conclusions, like how-to break up with a friend.

  2. Nice guide! I like your focus on providing context with a ‘before’ situation. I think this is a great way to connect with the audience on knowing what could have led up to this person reading this guide in the first place. I also think it’s a great way to provide a small, personal narrative or story on how this issue arises. If readers find that they also experienced a similar ‘before’ situation, they may be more inclined to read it (or perhaps even just read it because it sounds like an interesting story). The difficulty is somehow balancing that personal side of the story-telling with being able to connect with a more general audience who could have arrived at their issues in any manner.

    I also strongly agree with being very intentional about the purpose of the guide. The guide is not to simply just address symptoms of an issue, which may be temporary, but instead to narrow in on the cause to ‘permanently’ resolve the issue. Likewise, understanding that guides are brief and made to consume useful information quickly, brevity is definitely a huge component.

    I liked the images too! Visuals definitely add to the guide. 🙂


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