Writing Solid How To Articles

One of my many side hustles (as my friend, J, has taught me to call them) is writing some freelance informational articles for the website LoveToKnow.com, which is a resource for lots of articles about work, life, hobbies, and more. The articles are generally penned by writers with a good deal of experience in the area they’re focusing on, giving readers more than just a mish-mash of googled fasts strung together.

As for me, I write most cake decorating and food pieces, though I sometimes grab costuming or plus size assignments as well. I have a strong background in cake decorating, having learned the art from my mother when I was twelve and then later having worked in bakeries and attended culinary school for baking and pastry. I’m also a former award-winning competitive costumer thanks to the sewing chops that my mother also taught me when I was young.

Many of my articles feature a step-by-step set of instructions on how to recreate something shown in a photo. This can be harder than it sounds! Without the time or money to create tutorial videos myself (they’re generally not part of the payment for the gig), I have to rely on my words to explain some fairly abstract ideas about making something out of nothing.

When it comes to How To for How To, I’ve got some tips.

  • Write about what you know. I know, I know, isn’t that what every writer is supposed to do? (And, if so, how do you explain fantasy writers? ANYWAY.) But when creating an informative How To article, please do not fake or fudge what you know how to do. Your readers will not appreciate being deceived and neither will your editors (who, remember, probably decide whether or not you get paid).
  • Have an editor that you trust to catch your errors. Many of these sites are so small that they don’t have an editing staff; if this is the case, have a friend look over the instructions to help you spot if you missed a step or if something is unclear.
  • Lists are your friends. Generally, I lay out tools and ingredients needed in a bullet pointed list (be specific with measurements, quantities, and maybe even link your readers to where they can buy the item) and my instructions in a numbered list.
  • Be clear. So clear. Crystal clear. This is the hardest thing! Explaining abstract things – like how to create a quilted look on the fondant icing of a layer cake – is not easy! It takes a critical eye, concise language, and constant vigilance to avoid jargon that might confuse the reader. This is another reason I really recommend having someone who is unfamiliar with the material check your work,. If they can follow it, you’re on the right track.
  • Humor can be welcome (depending on the tone of the site you’re writing for), but try not to be cheesy. Adding “a can-do attitude” to the list of supplies is a little much. I don’t recommend it.
  • Cite your sources! Takes you back to high school and college, right? Well, all these years later, it’s still the right thing to do (plus, then, you’re covering your own backside about plagiarism). Not only does it give credit where credit is due, it makes you look even more knowledgeable and believable to your readers.
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