5 Tips for Turning Drab Information Into a Tantalizing Tutorial

Reading Man Detail, George F. Fishman's 1991 Mosaic Faces Of Flower Avenue (Silver Spring, MD)

Sigh.

Ever read a tutorial that was sooooo boring your mind kept wandering off?

Or perhaps you even fell asleep?

Tutorials can be mind-numbingly dull.

But why?

Why are many how-to articles so monotonous and drab?

With a little effort and a few simple tricks, even the most boring topic can be turned into an inspirational tutorial.

When you share your expertise in an enchanting way, your authority rises quickly. People will love sharing your content. And they’ll be knocking on your door to learn from you.

Sound good?

Follow these five simple tips to turn step-by-step guides into enchanting learning experiences.

1. Start with the Why

Learning something new requires an effort from your readers.

They may feel tired. Or fed up. They may not feel like reading your advice and then implementing it. Because it might seem too much trouble. They have enough other things to do.

To get people interested, you need to start with the Why — even when the Why seems obvious.

The Why tells your readers where they’re headed and why their efforts will be worthwhile. Chip and Dan Heath call this the destination postcard:

… a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible. … Where are we headed in the end? What’s the destination?

A great destination postcard is inspirational, taps into emotion, and paints a clear picture.

In the opening of this blog post, for instance, I didn’t simply promise you tips to make a boring tutorial sparkle. I also told you that by implementing my advice your authority will rise quickly, and people will be knocking on your door to learn from you. I was hoping that that would make you excited enough to read on.

When readers understand that your guide will help them overcome their struggles and achieve their dreams, they’re more willing to make an effort to read your content.

Start each how-to blog post, each book chapter, and each course module with a quick reminder why people should make an effort to read and learn. How will you make them happier, more relaxed, or more productive?

2. Include vivid examples and a dash of fun

Imagine you’re writing a tutorial about the difference between features and benefits.

You could simply state that features are facts about a product, and that benefits explain what the product does for your customer. But that’s a tad dull, isn’t it?

To explain your point, you add an example: A cruise control is a feature, and the benefit of a cruise control is that you can keep your eyes on the road, preventing accidents.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the example above, it doesn’t add pizzazz. By choosing a more fascinating or cheeky example instead, you engage your readers, and perhaps even make them smile.

What about: An ergonomic saddle (feature) prevents a sore butt (benefit).

Instead of livening up your explanation with one or two examples, you can turn them into a story, too.

Introduce a guy, named Pete, who wants to buy a bicycle to get fit again. He visits his local bike store and tells the super-sporty-looking sales guy he’s looking for a bike to tour around the area. The sales guy rattles off the technical differences between several bikes; and Pete feels completely overwhelmed. You can continue the story by explaining how the super-sporty sales guy could have sold the bike by talking about benefits instead.

Simple stories add drama to your writing. They make your reader curious about what will happen next.

Good tutorials mix straightforward how-to’s with stories and examples to both educate and entertain.

3. Use metaphors to liven up your posts

A fresh metaphor can make a dull topic engaging.

Metaphors help readers visualize an abstract concept by relating it to something concrete. They help people understand a new idea by relating it to something they know already.

Imagery — the core of metaphoric language — will surprise, grab, inform, and persuade your [readers] as mere explanation will not. Vivid language will distinguish you from the swarm, will make you heard above the drone, will make you that rare person today: a communicator who gets results. ~ Anne Miller

To use metaphors in your tutorials, think about a topic you’re passionate about, such as sports, cooking, or parenting. Pick one theme and look for connections.

Imagine you want to write a tutorial about developing a blogging voice. You can draw a comparison with how chefs create their signature dish, how cartoonists develop their style, and bands their sound. You can give specific examples of famous bands that started out with playing covers, or of a cartoonist who started by copying his heroes.

The options of metaphors are endless. Use them to simplify your explanations and liven up how-to’s. Avoid clichés by including details that help readers visualize your ideas.

4. Point out mistakes

When you paint a rose-tinted picture of your how-to, you might lull your readers slowly to sleep.

You can wake them up by including a few problems.

Problems are like speed bumps — they slow your reader down. They start paying attention again, because everyone is keen to avoid glitches, hassle, and mistakes.

My e-course for business bloggers, for instance, tells the story of Henrietta, who is learning how to blog. The problems she encounters are similar to the problems many business bloggers face:

  • Her headlines don’t grab attention
  • Her writing is dull
  • Her blog posts fizzle out

The course material helps Henrietta overcome these problems. It even presents advice when Henrietta feels down because she’s struggling with some of the lessons.

Which are the most common mistakes you’d like to warn your readers for? And help them avoid? Sprinkle these mistakes — with advice on how to avoid them — over your tutorial, to keep readers captivated.

5. Edit your text to add sparkle

You know what makes content dull, don’t you?

A monotonous voice that drags on and on.

When talking, we often don’t choose our words carefully. We use the first word that comes up in our mind. In writing, this tactic can lead to rather bland text.

Your word choice has to be sharper and harder-hitting than the words you use when you talk because in writing you can’t scream, sing, or use wild gestures. Your words have to capture attention, express emotion, and get your message across.

To make your writing voice stronger and more dynamic:

  • Choose sensory words like creepy, bland, or dazzling
  • Pick emotional words like mesmerizing, mind-numbing, and captivating
  • Religiously tighten your text; and tighten it more

Once you’ve fine-tuned your word choice, it’s time to add a dynamic rhythm to your writing. Long sentences soothe your readers with a comfortable flow. To keep them awake, you need to interrupt flowing sentences with short burst of enthusiastic action.

In music, you have legato and staccato. When you play legato, the notes are longer, and each note blends with the next one. No pauses exist between the notes. In contrast, with a staccato style, each tone is short. And stops abruptly.

The long tones of legato make music flow fluidly. Staccato is more fiery. It draws attention to each individual note.

In writing, you have legato and staccatostyles too. By interrupting the calming flow of long sentences with a few ultra-short sentences, you attract attention to your point. You wake your reader up.

Read your text aloud to sense its rhythm. Is the rhythm constant? Or does it change?

Consistency is boring. Change keeps readers awake.

How to inspire your readers with your how-to guides

You’ve shared the 12 steps your readers need to take to accomplish their goal.

You’ve spiced up your writing with vivid examples and metaphors.

You’ve edited your text to cut it by 30 percent.

There’s one more thing you shouldn’t forget: A good teacher or mentor inspires her students to implement her ideas.

Consider what might stop your reader from following your advice … and take away that final obstacle.

When you encourage your readers to overcome their doubts and take action, they’ll hang on to your lips to hear each word.

And you’ll soon be an authority.

Well-paid.

And well-respected.

Now over to you …

What are some other methods you’ve found for writing tutorials that keep readers engaged?

Which of the five methods above have you not been using … and now plan to?

Let’s exchange ideas. Join the discussion over at Google-Plus.

And if you’ll be at the Authority Intensive live event in Denver, please say hello in person!

Flickr Creative Commons Image via takomabibelot

About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and marketer. She's on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make boring business blogs sparkle. Get her free 16-Part Snackable Writing Course for Busy People and learn how to enchant your readers and win more business.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!