One Writer’s Journey

April 10, 2009

How to How-to

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:05 am
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stepsKing of my pet peeves is the poorly written how-to.  The absolute worst are written for adults.  The one I encountered today was a recipe in big national magazine.   The stated preparation time was 10 minutes with about 45 minutes for baking and 2 hours for refrigerating.  When I saw that one of the ingredients was corn syrup, I remembered what my mother used to say.  “Recipes with corn syrup tend to be rather involved.”   How could it take only 10 minutes to prep? 

That was the right question.  Step 1 was mixing and baking the crust then letting it cool.  Step 2 consisted of a brownie mix layer, baked and cooled.  These steps alone seemed to involve more like 20 – 25 minutes prep time as well as all of the baking time and cooling time which the recipe overlooked completely.   Then you had to make a mousse, refrigerate for one hour, cook the topping and chill for another hour.  Hmm.  10 minutes for prep time?  Not on this planet.

If you want to write a how-to, follow these five tips. 

  1. Start with your ingredient/materials list.  Include quantities where you can.
  2. Keep steps managable.  “Make brownies according to package instructions, bake and cool” is not one step.  
  3. Instruct the reader to do things in order.  You shouldn’t need to use words like “before” or “prior to.” 
  4. After you’ve written out your steps, follow them.  If you deviate from what you’ve written down, rewrite your steps.  Then try them again. 
  5. Have someone else follow your instructions.  If they have any questions, rewrite again. 

Learn to write smooth, straightforward how-tos with no hidden steps or time drains.  Editors and readers will thank you.

–SueBE

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