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How to Effectively write a tutorial

In one of my previous articles, I shared with you my opinions and viewpoints on How to effectively write a design article. I was quite pleased with the feedback I received. I think there are more people out there who need to be made aware of how to write a tutorial on Photoshop or Illustrator. Once this is learnt and mastered, it is quite evident that the tutorial is going to reach out to many people than it would have done if you don’t know the basic protocols to be followed while writing a tutorial.

If you have noticed, once you finish writing your tutorial and submit it to few of the sites which showcases tutorials, for example good-tutorials, Pixel2life, to name a couple; not all of them get accepted. So, how does one make sure that his/her tutorial is upto their standards or what they feel is worthy enough to be published. Most of us do not see this paradigm but due to the gigantic number of design blogs that are floating out there on the web, it becomes extremely difficult to accept each and every tutorial that is being submitted.

So, what are the ways and methodologies you can follow, which as a result produces an effective way to write to tutorial. These are a few of the points which i believe when used, will ensure your tutorial gets appreciated by many readers, beginners and experts.

1) Ask yourself, What is the purpose?

Never be under the notion that you are going to, and should gain lots of traffic and increase the number of visits by writing a tutorial. Tutorials are meant to teach people something new. Its a manner of sharing what you know and what you love to. Trust me, even if the tutorial is good (if not phenomenal), and if you put your heart into creating it, people will eventually appreciate your work and your effort.

If you attempt to write a tutorial to increase traffic or to make quick money, not only will it be obvious that you are not teaching anything that is useful, but it is sure to be filled with a lot of inevitable mistakes and is bound to reveal your bad intention to the readers. While writing a tutorial, consider yourself as a teacher trying to educate some students on a certain concept and how to arrive at it from different perspectives.

Try to analyse the difficulty of the achieving the result. This helps you to target more users, both beginners and the ones with intermediate skills.

2) Choose a Good title and description

I think it is an obvious fact that people tend to read the title first rather than read the rest of the tutorial or see the pictures. So, always choose the optimum title which best explains what you are going to teach in the tutorial. For instance, let us consider you are writing a tutorial on creating a typographic poster with some grungy effects in it. So, the best title would definitely look something like ‘Create a Grungy typographic effect using Photoshop’. As you can see, the title itself is where the desicion is being taken by the readers. Thye gets a clear idea of what they might be expecting out of the tutorial.

Dont exaggerate and always keep the title succinct. Remember, the more keywords you use in the description, the better your chances the tutorial will come up when someone is searching for something related.

3) Conduct a Survey

Just because you know how to open Photoshop and perform a few tricks doesn’t mean you have mastered it and are ready to teach. Do not write tutorials on topics which seem very obvious to your readers. It is definitely going to result in a poor tutorial. So, try answering this question “Is my tutorial worthy enough to be shared with others, or is it just another of the trick which I know to perform, but I have no idea what on earth is really happening?“. Sometimes, I see many tutorials, which just tell the steps but never explain the reason behind why it is done. I have personally learnt a lot from this kind of an ordeal.

It is best to perform a thorough survey prior to writing a tutorial. You might want to try answering the following questions while you are taking the survey.

1) Is my tutorial previously attempted by any other sites?

2) Do I know enough to explain every step that I take in the process?

3) Has the approach towards the tutorial become outdated?

Well, to answer the first question, I would recommend you to just google your tutorial and find out related links to other tutorials and go through them thoroughly and see if they are similar to what you had in mind. If yes, discard your tutorial and try for a better one. With the extent of design blogs today, especially the ones which offer tutorials on Photoshop, chances are that your tutorial might be similar to the one written by a someone at the other end of the world. If this is the case, I would suggest you to find flaws and possible errors in it and try to rectify them, multiplex your ideas and approach and publish a refined version of the tutorial. This, of course is a “worst-case-scenario“. I would still suggest you to think of another idea for the tutorial.

Make sure, “you know what you are doing“. Do not just write a tutorial for the sake of writing it. Try to understand the purpose of each and every step you take to progress in the tutorial, the reason behind its usage and what might happen if you use alternate methods. This not only helps you to become a professional designer, but also gives a feeling to the reader that you are the right person to explain the tutorial. For example, if you are using a Blur Filter on an image, try to analyse and learn the reason behind using it. The best place to acquire this information is the PHOTOSHOP HELP SECTION. There is a plethora of information in the Help section that  will literally blow you away. If your extent of knowledge compares only to the tutorials you’ve read on other blogs, you probably shouldn’t be teaching because you don’t know anything about how to use the program.

There are tons of tutorials already on the web, for example a tutorial relating to shiny text effects has been covered in every possible dimension and there is no scope for neither improvement nor any further application of the effect. One of the main reasons most of the tutorials do not get accepted or get popular is because people have seen enough of that kind and aren’t interested in that anymore.

Pixel2Life has listed a few tutorial topics which you are advised to stay away from because of its redundancy. Here is the List.

4) Plan the tutorial effectively:

It is advised that you plan how to approach the tutorial in a reasonably good manner. Plan each step carefully, note down the elements you need to use and decide on the best way to spread the idea in the most succinct way possible. This can be done by providing examples, case studies, relevant links for further understanding of a particular concept, etc. Assume that you are teaching a beginner in the initial stages and then gradually move up the ladder, trying to balance the length of the tutorial with the amount of valid information transmitted.

Also, remember that you are writing a tutorial to a wide audience and not only to your next door neighbor. Keep in mind that people from all race, religion, young and old are exposed to this tutorial. I quote this excerpt from one of the good articles written by Dan Richard of Pixel2Life :

I once saw a great tutorial on how to create bruises and cuts. It was very well written and the effects were pretty realistic and looked good. The problem? The author used a photo of a 6 year old! As a parent, I was appalled to see a picture of a beaten up child, even if it was done digitally and not only did the tutorial get declined, but the author got a nasty email from me and I was pretty much ready to ban their site from P2L.

So, I advice you keep your tutorial, the steps, the images you display and manipulate, as discrete as possible to avoid any unforeseen circumstances which might harm your credentials.

5) Be Honest with the requisites:

Before starting off with any tutorial, give a clear indication or a short description on what kind of readers you are trying to target. PSDTuts usually applies this approach wherein they clearly state whether the tutorial is intended for beginners, intermediate or advanced users.

Also, provide a clear estimate on how much time you took to get to the result. This gives the readers an idea on how to prepare themselves for the rest of the tutorial.

Do not forget to mention the tools used to create the design. I can’t remember how many tutorials I started to try out and in the middle, had to get frustrated that Cinema 4D and ZBrush were used, which I had no clue whatsoever, about how to use them. In order to avoid this, mention the tools used by you and the ones that might be useful to achieve the exact result shown in the tutorial.

6) Give a glimpse of the final result:

In order to keep the readers engaged in the tutorial, it is very important that you show them what you will be achieving by the end of the tutorial. This is a very good approach to keep them at the edge of their seats and also motivating them to try the tutorial out instead of just reading and forgetting it. This also allows them to devise a strategy to accumulate their skills prior to the start of the tutorial instead of getting confused midway

7) A picture is worth a thousand words

What you are trying to explain in 5 to 10 lines can be neatly illustrated in just an image. Try to use as many images as possible. This type of approach not only keeps your readers engaged in the tutorial, but also allows them to learn faster and understand the steps better. Use visual pointers wherever necessary to indicate the process of the steps taken.

Also, remember not to overdo it. A tutorial with only images and no textual data will spoil the authenticity of the tutorial and the ability to learn. You cannot expect to teach every step using an image. Use them wherever necessary and use them wisely. Moreover, if the readers are in a city where the the broadband speed is relatively less, images tend to load slower and they will end up gazing at a blank screen throughout.

Take screenshots of every step you perform and document your every move. Take extra screenshots if needed so that you can probably edit them later and fit them into the tutorial if necessary. It is advised to show the workflow of how you achieved the result (using images and pointers), instead of lecturing about what you did. Please check out my previous tutorial on Retro Typography to understand how I have adopted this approach to improve the quality of my tutorial.

Also, it is usually advised to use stock images whenever necessary. This creates a professional environment. Try to avoid using lots of images from Google Images. Here is a list of 30 Websites where you can find FREE stock images for your tutorials, written by Web Design Booth.

8 ) Be consistent with the Image size:

This is one of the crucial steps in writing a good tutorial. Always keep the width of the images (screenshots, textures, stock imagery) consistent. This not only makes the post a little bit more readable and thus elevating the professionalism of your research, but also images with varying widths create some sort of a negative impression on your tutorial. Basically, it doesn’t look good :)

Also remember to crop your images to the relevant area which shows the steps or the exact area of operation. Using images as big as 2500px (the entire desktop as a screenshot) will only force the reader to spend the entire time trying to figure out exactly what the heck is going on.

9) Give a detailed explanation

Explain clearly what you are trying to achive with a particular step. Steps like — Click here > Drag this > Draw line > Click there > We’re done — appear juvenile and does not teach the reader anything but breeds ambiguity. if you are changing the blending mode of an image, explain why you are doing it and what are the advantages in doing so.

Also, mention the available shortcuts wherever necessary. Being aware of the keyboard shortcuts is a very important aspect because it not only allows the reader to understand the tutorial faster, but also adds a professional tint to the tutorial.

10) Involve the reader in the discussion

Use language from a third person’s perspective. Try to involve the readers and immerse them into the tutorial as much as possible. Instead of saying “In this tutorial, I will be teaching you to create…….“, you can use “In this tutorial, we will be learning to create…….“. I don’t know if this really is a plus factor, but it has surely helped me build a better and a constructive discussion.

11) Avoid grammatical errors

I keep saying this over and over again. Always check your tutorial for flaws and grammatical errors. The last thing you want is, your readers getting stuck in the middle, not being able to understand what you are trying to say and trying to figure out what is missing in your tutorial. Grammatical errors can easily disrupt your reputation and chances are you might lose your reader base gradually. You can even consult some of your friends to review your tutorial and spot any mistakes or ask them for any suggestions. This will help you a lot in broadening your thinking and judging capabilities.

12) Finish it in style

After you are done with explaining what you intended to, upload the final image with some extra finishing and additions of your own but keep that part of the tutorial, a mystery. This forces the reader to actually go further and try to experiment with the final result, thus enabling him to spend more time on it.

It is a best practice to also explain where else the tutorial can be used and how it can help in creating other results. Give links to similar tutorials which more or less, extends further from what you’ve achieved.

Always put forth a question and allow users to interact and communicate with you as much as possible. Let them know that you are open to any kind of discussion and are ready to answer any questions, to the best of your knowledge and expertise. Invite you readers to share their results if they try the tutorial in the future and to also share any new ideas or easier methods to achieve a particular step where you might have taken a longer route otherwise. This not only creates an ideal learning center but also add value to the tutorial and the effort you put in writing it.

13) Create, Contribute and Collaborate

After you have written the entire tutorial, its upto you to provide a platform for a constructive design community where your readers can use the source images, PSD Files and such stuff and create better results and showcase their work in the community, and of course giving you the necessary credits. This will allow them to work with your original files and learn better. I feel this is something the readers can interact with and contribute to and this would be a great idea for a design blog.

———————————————————————————————————————————

So, I think that pretty much qualifies to be the rules that has to be followed while writing a tutorial. I cannot say my tutorials always follow the above terms, but if it does, then it will most certainly turn out to be the best. It is a wise approach to incorporate all of the methodologies while writing a tutorial. If you have any good tips that you can add to the list, you are more than welcome to do so.

——————————————————————————————————————

So, I hope you found the article useful. I would love to know how you felt reading it. Most of the points were from my standpoint of view, so it is quite agreeable that you may have some indifferences with them. I am open to such opinions and discussions. I would request you to add some of your advice which you think would be a better way to write a tutorial. If there is anything you want me to help you with, please let me know. Thank you!!

If you liked the article, Why not consider subscribing to the blog via RSS Feed or you can follow me on Twitter : @richbugger

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Comments
59 Responses to “How to Effectively write a tutorial”
  1. Excellent article Rich, very well written.
    .-= Nikola Lazarevic´s last blog ..Most Important Design Conferences In 2010 =-.

  2. If I had a dollar for every time I got stuck half way through a tutorial because the author failed to explain a step….

    I am planning to write a few tutorials in the near future and will definitely use this post as a reference.

    Nice post Richie!
    .-= Duane Kinsey´s last blog ..10 Inspirational Japanese Digital Illustrators and Artists =-.

    • Richie says:

      Thanks a lot, Duane. I am on the same boat with you :)

      I don’t remember how many times I have ditched reading the rest of the tutorial because I couldn’t get out of that one step….

      Thanks for reading the article :)

  3. DesignLovr says:

    Great article Richie.
    It contains all the information one needs in order to write a proper tutorial.
    .-= DesignLovr´s last blog ..Weekly DesignLove #8 =-.

  4. Wow that was a great article, one of best design articles i’ve read this month some great tips which i will be implementing into my blog Creative Nerds. Thanks for mentioning our other blog Design Chair.
    .-= Timothy Blake´s last blog ..Why As a freelancer you should use twitter =-.

    • Richie says:

      Thanks a lot, Timothy. I’m glad you dropped by and shared your opinions. You’ve have a great blog.

      I wanted to make a fresh list of websites where people can submit tutorials and I found your site really worth mentioning :)

      Good Luck, Tim

  5. Ben says:

    great article Rich very comprehensive , I think you covered everything , Ive written quite q few articles that didn’t get accepted at tut directories so dont feel bad . If you submit them to enough you’ll still get decent traffic .

    A survey is a good idea also looking at the most popular trends ad seeing what people like is crucial .

    promoted

    Ben
    .-= Ben´s last blog ..Weekly Best of the Web # 2:Design Inspiration & News =-.

    • Richie says:

      Thanks a lot, Ben. Yeah, survey is the best way to make sure whether you have an authentic tutorial in your hand or not.

      As a alternate plan, I would suggest writing tutorials for other great blogs like Tutorial9, abduzeedo, Speckyboy and others. This will not only put you in the global map, but also brings you a lot of gratification..

  6. starr says:

    Hi Rich just want to say this is a very well written article and very informative.Thanks for the resources for submitting tutorials as well. Once again. Top work :)
    .-= starr´s last blog ..Most Popular #Design Tweets of the Week #7 =-.

  7. hi rich, you sharing informative stuff.
    .-= Tutorial Lounge´s last blog ..LogoBee Reduces Logo Design Delivery Time =-.

  8. Alex says:

    Well written and highly informative Richie. Nice to see someone trying to improve the way tutorials are constructed. A badly written tutorial can suck all the creativity right out of you.

    Conversely, a good tutorial can exponentially increase your creative skill-set. I think without people taking the time and effort to make these instructional articles, I’d still be staring at the Adobe Creative Suite interface perplexed and dumbfounded.

    In the moral cesspool that is the Internet, things like tutorials remind me that people; in essence, are ultimately good.

    • Richie says:

      Thanks a lot for dropping by, Alex. No one could have said it better than you. Infact, I learnt a lot from your tutorial. A lot of dedication goes into writing a tutorial than just into creating a design.

      • Alex says:

        Thanks, but looking back at my tutorial, and at this article, it’s clear I made a bunch of mistakes that I’ll definitely fix if I ever create tutorials in the future. The huge screenshots come to mind instantly.

  9. Very nice explanation.

    I am not a professional tutorials writer but I write a photoshop tutorial whenever I learn something new and I try to write tutorial in easy language and provide as much screen-shots as possible, making it easy for the readers to follow.
    .-= Web Design Blog´s last blog ..SEO Tips For Your WordPress Blog =-.

    • Richie says:

      That’s good to hear.

      Well, to be honest, you don’t need to be a professional writer/designer to write a good tutorial. The more down-to-earth you are in your approach, the easier it becomes to reach out to a bigger crowd :)

  10. Sneh Roy says:

    Very nicely written Rich! Well done! I wrote a similar article last year that might interest you :)

    http://www.littleboxofideas.com/blog/features/how-to-write-effective-and-engaging-design-tutorials
    .-= Sneh Roy´s last blog ..Project 365 Vector Characters – Hut For Day 59 =-.

    • Richie says:

      Thanks a lot, Sneh. I read your article on the same topic. There was really good points as well. Especially the one which said ‘Be Nice’.

      I think that is one of the most important aspects in writing a good tutorial. Always respect your readers and show humility while writing.

      Thanks for the link.

  11. Very good article Rich. Nice share.
    .-= Matthew Heidenreich´s last blog ..71 Magnificent Examples of Concept Art =-.

  12. DebbyBruck says:

    AWESOME BLOG. You are a wonderful teacher. It takes a lot of thought and preparation into presenting a great tutorial. Documenting every step is quite time consuming. You must be very organized. Many blessings, Debby
    http://homeopathyworldcommunity.com
    .-= DebbyBruck´s last blog ..In Favor of Homeopathy: Mass Lobby of Parliament by Homeopaths =-.

  13. Nice read Riche, thanks for the Article.

    Something I would add though is explaining the tutorial thoroughly. Ex. (Create a new layer – Layer>New>Layer “Shortcut – Ctrl+Shift+N”) and making sure that you reread the entire tutorial to make sure everything makes sense.

    Cheers mate.
    .-= Jacques van Heerden´s last blog ..30 Design Blogs You Have to Subscribe To =-.

  14. This seems you are professional tutorial writer and can be evidenced from this article itself. Thanks for the effort.

    Acer Aspire

  15. Joe Vains says:

    Excellent tutorial to… make tutorials. :);)
    .-= Joe Vains´s last blog ..News : Adobe Shortcut App, tous les raccourcis Adobe… =-.

  16. Thomas says:

    Hey,

    Great article, and thanks for the feature of TutorialKing.eu
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Office Work: A Business HTML Template =-.

  17. Merle says:

    And this is why I read richworks.in. Insightful posts.

  18. Ted Rex says:

    Great post about a topic that is getting more and more popular. I made this page one of the three featured links on my Design Thought for the Day blog:
    http://designthoughtfortheday.blogspot.com/2010/03/03-10-blog-needs-google-index-tutorial.html

    All the best, Ted

  19. jeprie says:

    nice guide rich. i’ve been writing tutorials for some site and this guide really explain what we must do. if i can follow all this rules, sure ill be a great tutorial writer. sadly, im suck at photopshop.

  20. VenoM_31 says:

    Very good :)
    I haven’t tried it yet, but may well soon do it.
    Are you using BBCode here or what? The tutorial website point 8 (www.Tutorial9.net) has a smiley instead of the number. Also, to perfect it absolutely, use a bit of point 11) on itself. :D

  21. Hey!
    I was just having giant pleasure reading your site. It was great time for me indeed. If there would be more sites with so much usefull informations like this one, then my knowledge wouldn’t be so painful to get for me. I can assume that there would be no necessery to spare so much time on searching informations. So in conclusion i just wanted to show you how i am grateful for your effort to make this site.

  22. Sarah Pent says:

    Thanks Richie this is thorough analysis of how to write a good tutorial. The principle do equally apply to many other types of articles.

    btw: I don’t know if you are aware, but there seems to be a small problem with the formatting on this page in firefox. There seems to be a large gap being produced between all the titles (h3 tags) and the text in the article (p tags).

  23. hha.. thank’s for share, it be helpfull for me..

  24. Great tutorial on writing a tutorial:) It applies to many different fields as I’ve used a similar process.

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