Whether you're writing a how-to post for your blog, documentation for your software, or instructions on how to use your product, it's important to make your content easy to read. Otherwise, you'll lose your readers' attention and they'll never even get to the end of your post.
These tactics will help you create more helpful how-to posts that your readers will love (and hopefully even finish reading):
1) Use visual aids.
It takes a long time to read a 2,000-word blog post, but less time to read a 500-word post that includes images to explain key concepts. The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" definitely rings true.
For example, explaining how to set up a website conversion path would take a few paragraphs. Instead, this diagram tells the story in a way that's easy to understand.
2) Include annotated screenshots.
If you're explaining how to do something online, either on a piece of software or a website, include screenshots showing where to click and what area of the screen to look at.
For example, if I were explaining how to add an image to a blog post in HubSpot, I'd include a screenshot showing where the Insert Image icon is in the editor.
To easily take screenshots and annotate them with arrows or boxes, you can install software such as Skitch or Clarify.
3) Use animated GIFs to show complex steps.
Use animated GIFs to explain a more complex step that would have otherwise taken multiple sreenshots. While it might be hard to get people to click "play" on a video recording, animated GIFs automatically play, and are usually just a few seconds long.
You can use software like GIFBrewery to easily create GIFs from your screen recordings -- and you can crop the images, add commentary, or apply filters.
4) Label things exactly as they're labeled -- and bold them!
If you are instructing people to click on a specific button, navigational element, or link on a website or software feature, include the exact words of the label. Also bold the label. That way if people are skimming your instructions, the bolded terms will stand out and they'll quickly understand what to click on next.
For example, if I were explaining how to add a horizonal line to a blog post in HubSpot, I would say, "Place your cursor where you want the line to appear. Then click Insert > Horizontal line."
I wouldn't say "Insert > line" or "insert > horizontal line" -- be consistent regarding all words and capitalizations.
By the way, here's the screenshot I'd use in this step:
5) Avoid dense paragraphs of text.
Dense paragraphs are those long blocks of text with nothing to break it up. There aren’t enough paragraphs, section headers, or images to break up the content. At first glance, this style of writing looks very overwhelming. When writing how-to content, headers, images, and plenty of white space are your friends.
6) Use section headers or numbered lists.
This is what I’m doing in this post. Each tip is its own section prefaced by a numbered section header. I use H2 headers for the section headers, and H3 if I ever need subsections. This makes it easy for my readers to scan the post and quickly grasp the main points, and then they can read the sections that are most interesting to them. It also breaks up the content nicely, so it's less overwhelming.
7) Use bullet points.
Use bullet points to list steps, takeaways, or ideas. This lets readers quickly scan the content. Here are some ways to use bullet points:
List things. Instead of listing things in a long sentence using commas as separators, turn it into a bulleted list.
Create steps. List small steps not worthy of a full section as a bullet point, rather than having one long rambling paragraph.
Table of contents. If you're writing a long post, start with a bulleted list like a table of contents to show what you'll cover in your post.
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Originally published Jul 15, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017