How to Create a How-To Guide (Best Practices + Examples)
The world is full of how-to guides.
It doesn't matter what you want to do—plant a rose garden, solder a circuit board, master close-up magic—you can find a guide to help you do it.
The problem? Most of the guides out there aren’t always helpful. The truth is, creating a quality how-to guide is an art. To make sure yours hits the mark, you have to follow a proven plan and a few best practices. So here’s a how-to guide on how-to guides!
- What a how-to guide is
- The benefits of creating a good one
- A four-step process to help you craft more effective guides
- Best practices to ensure your next guide is a winner
- And a few example guides for inspiration
What is a How-To Guide?
How-to guides can be internal or external documents, one page or one hundred pages, published in any field or industry. The point is that how-to guides are a flexible content type that you can use to learn—and teach others—how to do any task or process at your company.
The Benefits of Creating How-To Guides
How-to guides are invaluable documentation for companies to have. Creating one (or two or three!) will help yours in countless ways, but here are three of the biggest benefits.
Internal how-to guides teach employees how to complete tasks, use tools or software, and learn processes. As such, they can supercharge onboarding processes by bringing new hires up to speed in less time.
How-to guides can also be stored in your company's knowledge base for easy access. That way, if a new employee (or an old employee, for that matter) forgets how to do something, they can quickly access the information they need for a quick refresher.
Internal how-to guides do more than teach employees how to get work done. They teach them how to get work done in the most productive way possible.
Think about it: There are a million ways to write, edit, and publish a blog post. But your company writes, edits, and publishes blog posts in its own unique way—shaped by your brand’s voice and tone, the size of your marketing team, or your overall content process. . By teaching new employees exactly how your company creates and distributes content, you'll empower new hires with the knowledge they need to produce quality work in less time.
The same philosophy applies to every department and task in your company. By showing your team how to do things the right way, they’ll naturally be more productive.
We've talked a lot about internal how-to guides. What about external ones?
External how-to guides are valuable, too, because they have the potential to drive website traffic and acquire new customers.
What do you do when the sink clogs? Or when the lawn mower doesn't start? How about when your boss asks you to take over content marketing for your company—even though you work in sales? Like most people, you ask Google for help.
So, you search "How to unclog my sink," "How to fix my lawn mower," and "How to create a content strategy" into Google. The goal? To find a how-to guide that will teach you how to do what you need to do.
If you can rank your how-to content in search engines (a whole different topic, but one you should definitely look into), you can drive a steady stream of potential customers to your company's website—creating more opportunities to make sales.
Create Your How-To Guide in 4 Easy Steps
How-to guides will benefit your company—as long as you create helpful content that people want to read. Here are four steps to show you how to do that. 😉
1. Research Your Audience
First things first: Who are you creating your how-to guide for? Research these people to learn about their daily challenges and end goals regarding your guide's topic.
Audience research is straightforward for internal how-to guides. Just talk to your colleagues! Ask them what they struggle with and how these challenges impact their day-to-day work. Then you can create how-to content that addresses their pain points.
You'll have to work a little harder for external how-to guides. We suggest visiting online forums like Quora to learn more about your target audience. What questions do people ask on the platform? And how can you answer these questions logically for your guide?
Consult your company's marketing, sales, and customer support teams. They should have a library of information on potential customers that you can study.
2. Understand Your Topic
Now that you’ve researched your audience, you can dive into the topic you plan to write about.
Remember, you're creating a how-to guide, which means you have to understand how to accomplish the task you'll be teaching others to do. If you don't, your guide will be shallow and useless to the people you want to help.
Now, you don't need to be a verified expert to create a stellar how-to guide (though expertise doesn’t hurt.) You just need to conduct thorough research.
For internal how-to guides, talk to people in your company who know how to complete the process and perform the task you're covering. Ask them to teach you how to do it, too. At the very least, ask them to review your guide before publishing.
For external how-to guides, find similar pieces of content online. Then, study said content to gain a comprehensive understanding of your topic.
3. Structure Your Content
At this point, you've studied your target audience and the topic you plan to cover. Now it's time to structure your how-to guide content in a logical, easy-to-follow way.
Your structure will largely depend on your topic and publishing plan. A recipe how-to guide, which you would post to attract food enthusiasts to your website, will look a lot different than the blog posting how-to guide you would publish to your company's internal knowledge base to ensure your company's content is consistent.
Keep this in mind: The best how-to guides do more than list process steps. They explain why each step in the process matters. By explaining why, you'll give your target audience a deeper understanding of the topic your guide covers.
4. Publish Your How-To Guide
Finally, publish your how-to guide to the appropriate platform.
Did you create an internal, for-employees-eyes-only standard operating procedure? Add it to your company's knowledge base so that team members can access it when they need to.
Maybe you've been working on a how-to blog post to reach new customers, an in-depth eBook to educate current customers, or some other public-facing, guide-like piece of content. Publish your guide where its intended audience can find it.
Once your guide is published, let your target readers know about it. The best how-to guide in the world won't benefit anybody if it just collects digital dust. Spread the word.
Best Practices For Better How-To Guides
See? Creating how-to guides isn't so bad. Once you’ve followed the four steps above, these best practices will help take your how-to guide to the next level:
Keep it Simple
Your how-to guides should be easy to understand. If they aren't, they won't help your target audience. And if they don't help your target audience, what's the point?
To increase understanding, ask yourself, "Can I simplify this in any way?"
Maybe you need to cut out the industry jargon. Or split "Step #4" into two different steps. Or turn one complicated how-to guide into multiple, easy-to-understand how-to guides—your call.
Images, charts, graphs, infographics, screenshots, and other visual elements make how-to guides easier to understand and way more fun to consume.
Hint: You can create automatically generated how-to guides—complete with screenshots for visuals—by simply walking through your process with Tango!
Link to Other Resources
What's the goal of your how-to guide? Whether it’s boosting employee productivity or driving traffic to your site, educating your target audience should always be at the heart of your guide.
With this in mind, feel free to link to other resources—like blog posts, eBooks, or other how-to guides—to give your readers more context and a deeper understanding of your content.
Note: External links have SEO benefits, too. By linking to relevant, authoritative content on the internet, you'll improve your how-to guide's ability to rank in search engines. That means more people will see your guide and visit your site.
3 How-To Guide Examples
“Great,” you're thinking. “A lot of good information here. But what do top-level how-to guides actually look like?” We're glad you asked! Here are a few of our favorite examples:
The B2B How-To Guide
HubSpot's “How to Create an Editorial Calendar” is an excellent example of a B2B how-to guide.
Why? Because it includes everything a reader needs to know to create a winning editorial calendar, including a definition of what an editorial calendar is.
The post features plenty of images and examples, too. It's even stocked with multiple free templates, which readers can download and use to power their content marketing efforts.
Your Takeaway: Make your how-to guides more comprehensive with basic information and definitions, along with the more complex details that readers will find helpful. Then, elevate your content with images, examples, and, if possible, templates.
The B2C How-To Guide
How about a B2C example? This post from Nerd Fitness, "How to Get In Shape Quickly and Safely: 4-Step Beginner Guide," is a real winner.
The post is a joy to read, contains interesting and relevant information, and is chock-full of visual content. There are also a ton of links that readers can follow to access additional information on related topics. Bonus points: the post is structured in an easy-to-understand format.
Your Takeaway: Get to know your audience. Do they like jokes and GIFs? If so, add some to your how-to guide to enhance their experience.
The Product-Related How-To Guide
When it comes to product-related how-to guides, it doesn't get much better than Stripe.
Take their “No-code quickstart guide,” for example. It helps Stripe users send invoices and get paid—even if they're allergic to technology.
What makes this guide so great? First, it has a great title. Most Stripe customers don't want to waste time coding. They want to collect their money—the faster, the better. So, including the word "quickstart" in the guide’s title was a good call.
The post also contains:
- Easy-to-follow steps
- Many screenshots
- Links to other content that readers may find helpful
Your Takeaway: Give your how-to guide a catchy and relevant title that will get your target audience to click and read. And don't forget about the basics: The best how-to guides are easy to follow, contain imagery, and link to other relevant resources.
Elevate Your Company With How-To Guides
How-to guides are an essential part of your company's content library that empower teams to share and scale knowledge. A great how-to guide can help train your employees, boost your team’s productivity, and connect your company with new customers.
Want to create how-to guides in less time?
Tango’s free browser extension and desktop application automatically generate how-to guides while you work, so you can document processes, craft engaging SOPs, and create better how-to guides in seconds.