How to write an effective how to guide [+examples]

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A well-designed guide is a valuable and sought-after form of content. Companies are realizing that, amidst a glut of data, customers want quick and clear answers to their questions.

First and foremost a guidebook is an instruction manual. But it can also be more than that – it can inform readers about best practices, show trends and share insights. It can also support curious or frustrated customers and provide help 24/7. The key to an effective guide is to engage readers and anticipate their needs.  

In this text, you will learn: 

  1. The purpose of a how to guide
  1. How to prepare a step-by-step guide
  1. What rules to keep in mind when writing a how to guide
  1. How long it takes to develop a guide
  1. What to consider before publishing a guide
  1. What sample B2B guides look like

A guidebook is not just a collection of tips and instructions. It also provides a valuable opportunity to reach new audiences with useful, high-quality content. B2B companies know that guides fit perfectly into lead generation strategies. Users will begin to see your brand as an authority on the topic once you have answered their questions. Just keep in mind that guides are about responding to expectations while also sharing valuable information. Developing a great guide can be a challenge, so follow our checklist below.  

How to prepare for writing a how to guide: a checklist 

1. Identify and know your target audience.

How to guides are most often sought by beginners. As the author of a guide, you are the expert, but you must not lose sight of the beginner’s perspective. Your target audience are users with similar habits and ideas and the better you know them, the easier it will be to create a guide that meets their needs and preferences. Don’t ignore users’ concerns or the challenges they describe online. 

2. Thoroughly research the topic.

In your guide, you must approach the subject comprehensively. Even if you know the subject inside out, do not skip the research phase. This helps you avoid the “knowledge curse”. If you know the process you want to write about, write down the steps from memory. Follow your instructions and take notes to fill in any steps you missed. Check what keywords consumers use when searching for instructions and look at competitors’ guides. Gather expert opinions, review popular books and other resources for detailed information that will make your guide stand out. Verify your sources to offer credible content and avoid problems such as legal issues.  

3. Develop an outline.

After researching, it’s time to organize your ideas. Develop an outline for your guide that covers the ideas gathered during your research. You need to decide when it’s best to introduce additional information so that readers don’t leave your site if finding an answer proves too difficult. The outline should introduce the logic of the text and describe the process so that steps are completed as quickly as possible and in the correct order. Some readers may also use your guide as a checklist, so make sure each step in the outline is clearly and accessibly described.  

4. Add images, videos, and descriptions.

Collect images and videos during your research and be sure to include these visual elements in your guide.  These should not be funny graphics, but rather elements that help speed up and clarify the process such as images, screenshots, and videos. 

5. Evaluate the outline from the reader’s perspective.

It’s time to ask the key question: “Why do my readers need or want to know this?” Determining the overarching purpose of your content creation will make it easier for you to write from their perspective and create content that meets their wants and needs. 

6. Expand the resources provided.

It’s also a good idea to point readers to other useful resources. Those interested in deepening their knowledge will appreciate links to valuable blogs, websites, or e-books. Citing the original source builds trust and authority among your audience. 

How long does it take to develop a how-to guide? 

There is no definitive answer. The time needed to develop a guide depends on the sophistication of your readers and your level of domain knowledge. It’s safe to say that creating a quality guide takes at least several weeks of work, during which time the content, graphic design, and possible translation are created. 

Let us cite two examples from our own experience. The first was our internal project: a guide to launching a professional LinkedIn profile. It took us about a month to prepare the content in Polish, and another month was spent on graphic design and development of the English version. The topic was precisely defined and narrowed down to a specific aspect, which made it easier to plan our work. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is our second reference project: Great Taste – Zero Waste Manifesto. The subject matter was broader and we spent  about 80 hours just editing and organizing the content. Overall, it took us several months to prepare this guide. 

How to plan your work?

Remember that good planning and thoughtful organization of your work is essential when creating a guide. Here are some tips:  

• Develop a concise publication plan as early as possible. 

• Establish the scope of work with each person involved: number of characters, substantive review schedule, editorial requirements, etc. 

• Apply all corrections in change registration mode. 

• Respond quickly to editors’ comments. 

• Don’t ask editors to simplify or complete the factual layer (unless working with an expert). The risk of getting it wrong is too great, and it will take editors more time than domain experts! 

What else should you keep in mind before publishing? 

So, you already have the content of your guide. Now it’s time for the final touches. 

  1. Test each step of the instruction. This is a key phase which cannot be skipped. While testing, make notes of all inaccuracies and observations. If you find passages that are unclear after the first reading, be sure to add context, rephrase the text or add graphics. 
  1. Ask someone to proofread the guide. Two heads are better than one. Before releasing your guide into the world, test it with a small group of friends or co-workers. Tell them what to pay attention to and write down any questions, criticisms, or observations they may have. 

Want your how to guide to be a good read?

Keep these rules in mind. 

  1. Simplicity and brevity. A simple guide will be easy to find, understand, and use. Your guide should address a specific issue that the reader should be able to resolve after reading the content you have prepared. Don’t be afraid to simplify your vocabulary, structure, and text. Writing concise texts takes practice, but at Contelia, we know that plain language is powerful and effective. 
  1. Introduction. A good guide begins with a brief summary. Introduce the benefits of reading and reveal what readers can expect inside. Our starting point when writing the Great Taste – Zero Waste guide was to comprehensively prepare the audience for a fresh way of thinking about how kitchens and restaurants function. 
  1. Reader preparation. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and anticipate questions that may arise at later stages. Inform them in advance about the materials needed for the project as a whole and add tips on securing and storing materials. 
  1. Consistency of the message. Don’t mix industry slang with general vocabulary. You don’t want to confuse your audience or make it difficult for them to use your content. Consistent instructions make it easy to get the job done. 
  1. Interesting story. The best guides are not only useful but also enjoyable to read. An engaging guide tells a story. Approach readers with a clear message and don’t be afraid to add your own experiences. Authenticity speaks for itself! 
  1. Positive attitude. A person looking for a tutorial wants to expand their knowledge. However, some people may give up trying new things due to fear of challenges. Learning is exciting but can also cause discomfort. A positive tone in your text will give readers confidence before setting out into the unknown. Inspiring examples, the right choice of words, and the right tone can ensure that even difficult instructions do not discourage. 

Sample B2B Guides 

According to CEO magazine, employee onboarding is one of the most important HR processes. Ignoring or taking a dismissive approach to onboarding can quickly backfire leading to loss of an employee and subsequent recruitment costs. Software developer Atlassian has prepared an onboarding guide for companies that care about building relationships with employees from day one. They have combined their own experience with employers’ expectations to create a helpful guide. 

Brand promotion is a popular and well-explored topic. The Hubspot website and Brandfolder have come up with a solution for knowledge-hungry companies: they have developed a comprehensive guide to brand promotion. Readers will learn how to define, launch, scale, and monitor brand development from this guide. This is another great example of sharing knowledge and experience through guides. 

Do you need support in developing your guide? 

If you are looking for support in developing your guide, do get in touch! We will be glad to give you some tips, help you choose the best format and develop useful and effective content. 

Would you like to team up with us?

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Marta Smyrska


Gallup's Strategic Maximizer and professional optimist. She is responsible for sales and customer service. Marta develops creative processes and procedures, specializing in creating teamwork flow. Previously, a freelance writer and Account Manager in PR agencies.

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