When I began my tutorial website, all that I knew was that I wanted to share information with other people. I'd never tried writing a tutorial before, so I wasn't sure how to go about it and decided that if I was going to do it, I should just do it and learn from my - inevitable - mistakes.
It's been nearly 5 years since my tutorial site first opened. During that time, it's changed names once, changed focus twice, and gone from an unknown hobbyist's site to one that is featured in all the top tutorial directories and receives more than 100,000 visitors a month. Not bad for a girl with no idea what she was starting when she started it.
My story is not the norm. Most successful websites spend hours in planning the layout, the focus, and the target audience they will work to bring their tutorials to. Even then, a lot of them fail. Without reputable tutorial directories like Pixel2Life indexing your work, it's very hard to "get known". The directories aren't the end of it, either - you still need to get your name in other places, get yourself noticed for high-quality pieces that really teach readers something useful. Associated Content is a perfect spot for that - and if you can write your work well enough, you can even earn some cash off of the experience.
A good 90% of the emails I continue to receive, though, all offer up the same type of question: "Why is your work in (where ever) and I can't get them to take mine?" So, here it is folks - my best advice on how to write tutorials that will get accepted, read, and welcomed at the tutorial directories and content sites like AC.
I've heard from some of my closest website-owning friends that they started a series of tutorials to draw in traffic. Okay, granted, writing a tutorial that has keyword-rich content can draw in website traffic - it will get indexed in search engines and more people are likely to find you. What good will thousands of hits do you, though, if people see that they've been tricked and decide to never return to your site again? It happens - often.
The major thing to keep in mind when you're writing a tutorial is that tutorials teach. They are a way for your reader to learn from your experience, to broaden their horizons and create something that they needed/wanted to create. If the purpose to teach isn't the first thing in your mind, it will show - your work becomes hurried, and your intention of gaining visitors rather than imparting knowledge is obvious.
Teaching takes time, and for that reason tutorial writers may be some of the most underappreciated of any writer. A quality tutorial often takes hours of planning, research, trial-and-error ... and that's before the writer even gets into taking screen shots and explaining the steps. They're definitely not a quick-fix to traffic problems and won't get you fame and glory. However, they can help limitless people if you care enough to take the time and ... well, teach.
Qualified Writers = Quality Tutorials
The simple fact is that we all start from somewhere, and we all learn from someone. Whether that someone is a university professor, your family tech-whiz, or a tutorial on the Internet, someone imparts their knowledge with us to help us grow.
Remember the saying, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should"? It applies to tutorial writing 100%. Just because you can open up Microsoft Word, for example, and create letterhead, doesn't mean that you should be teaching anyone about it. Take some time to be truly honest with yourself - if you don't have experience in all the aspects of, to follow my example, Microsoft Word, there's a ton of mistakes you can make while trying to teach that simple letterhead. We all learn new techniques as we go along, but getting another person off on the wrong foot just because you know minutely more than them is unfair.
I don't want to push this too far and end up offending anyone, but please let me ask you to seriously consider your experience before you attempt to share that experience with other people. The editors of sites like Associated Content and owners of tutorial directories see literally hundreds of pieces every day. They can immediately tell which authors know something about what they're saying, and which ones don't - if the author doesn't, their work won't be accepted. Period.
I can't speak for the multitude, but I can comment on the sites I know: Associated Content, Pixel2Life, Good-Tutorials, they all hold the concept of originality in high regard. Before you spend hours creating a tutorial, do a quick search on the sites you're interested in having the tutorial associated with to see if that tutorial has been done. Usually, if you can find one tutorial on a topic, you're able to Google for thousands more. Because the places you want your work on need the website visitors just as much as you do, they won't accept tutorials that have been beaten to a bloody pulp by hundreds of tutorial writers - be original.
The best tutorials I've written, the ones that continue to receive thousands of hits every month, are the ones that no one has ever attempted to do before. Part of the reason I write these is that I hate the "elitest" attitude that many professionals develop concerning the software they use - the whole idea that they make the big bucks because they have insider knowledge no one unworthy of their skills should have. The other reason I write these kind of tutorials is that I'm positively obsessed with stretching my own knowledge beyond what it's held before.
Look for topics that haven't been done before, or if they have, make sure that you know a better, faster, or simply more quality way of doing the topic. Not only will this help you get your tutorials accepted more consistently, but you'll receive many, many more hits for them.
Moving On - Preparing the Content
Before you decide to actually write your tutorial, re-trace your steps and ask yourself the following three questions:
1. How many tutorials already cover this topic?
2. Is there a reason that the topic hasn't been covered (i.e. is it even useful)?
3. Am I experienced enough to teach this topic well, and patient enough to do it right?
If you've honestly answered those three questions and still feel you've got the right topic, you're ready to get going. Make sure that you spend some real time taking quality screen shots, and edit your wording well. Keep in mind that a quality tutorial will be usable by a ton of people, so don't use a lot of jargon (or, if you can't get away without using jargon, explain it well) and stay far, far away from potentially offensive images or subject matter.
For tutorials that will contain graphics, the best way to proceed is to write the tutorial first. Then, follow your own steps to create the graphics - screen shot each step, and explain anything that confuses you more clearly.
Finally, remember that a teacher is a professional. If you are attempting to share a tutorial, you are acting as a teacher - present your best work. One of the most common complaints I hear are how other tutorial sites have totally confused the reader by including terrible spelling and grammar, or by using l33t speak. Seriously, use the spelling and grammar checker, or your readers will never take you seriously - and won't return for a repeat visit.
Once you've gone through your tutorial a couple of times checking on the keypoints in this guide, you should end up with something really astounding - a piece of work that really teaches something, and will be snatched up by tutorial directories and sites like Associated Content in the blink of an eye.