Write A How-To Article by Christina Katz

A how-to is written as a sequence—first you do this, and then you do this. The essential question the writer asks herself when writing a how-to is, “What happens next?” If you are about to embark on a how-to, start at what you consider the beginning, and just keep answering that question over and over again. Before you know it, you will have sketched out a draft of a how-to article
Step 1

Select Your Topic

Choose a topic that interests you enough to focus on it for at least a week or two. If your topic is broad, narrow it. Instead of writing about how to decorate your home, try covering how to decorate your home in country style on a shoestring budget. That’s more specific and, as such, easier to tackle.

Then write a rough, rough draft, including everything you can think of. Stay loose, avoid getting analytical, and enjoy the process of sharing what you know. When you’re done, you’ll have the bare bones of an article that only you could write. Then put it aside for a while.

Step 2

Address Your Audience's Needs

Now, come back to your piece. Switch gears and imagine you’re the reader of this article. Pick three words to describe the audience you want to address (e.g., professionals, single men). As this reader, what questions would you like answered? You might not know the answers yet, but list the questions anyway; you’ll find answers in the next step.

Step 3

Research

Research will ground your article in fact. Good details to include with your how-to are:

Statistics
Quotes by well-known people
Definitions
Anecdotes (short, illustrative stories about yourself or someone else)
Quotes and examples from people like the reader or from popular books on the subject
References to other media (film, television, radio)
Helpful tools, resources or products (if many, consider creating a sidebar)
References to local venues or events (if for a regional/local publication).

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Step 4

Tighten Your Draft

Keeping your audience in mind, write a tighter draft incorporating the new supporting information you’ve collected. Sometimes what you’ve learned in Steps 2 and 3 may compel you to start over with a completely fresh draft. Or you may just want to revise what you have as you proceed, retaining a nice conversational tone by directly addressing your audience.

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Step 5

Make It Specific

Double-check to see that you’ve included every pertinent step in the process. How-to articles have to be thorough. You want your reader to walk away knowing exactly how to make that Thanksgiving dinner on a shoestring budget, execute that rugby tackle or locate great accommodations.

If your narrative goes on and on, or off in too many directions, break it down into key points indicated with subheads (as in this article). Synthesizing complicated information and breaking it down into steps is especially crucial for online writing, and is also a trend in print.

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