Do you ever find yourself face to face with a question, project or dilemma that brings your brain to a screeching halt? Perhaps the light in your bathroom is on the fritz and you can’t tell the difference between a wiring box and a mailbox. Maybe you planned to cook that expensive fish fillet you picked up at the store for your lady-friend, but realized you know more about pan-cakes than pan-seared. We all find ourselves with this quandary from time to time. In the old days, people would have simply crossed their fingers, hoped for the best, and probably ended up electrocuted or sick from salmonella. Thankfully, we live in the age of the new-fangled intra-web and have been given the gift of a website known as eHow.
If you are not familiar with this site, shame on you. You are missing out on one of the most interesting, entertaining, and informative websites ever. EHow will teach you how to fix that faulty bathroom light and how to properly cook that piece of grouper. It can teach you how to be popular in school, how to make your own yogurt and how to be better in bed (I can literally hear the guys bookmarking the site as we speak). Anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to know can be found on this site, along with things you probably wish you could un-know.
I had visited the site once or twice before but was recently scowering its contents to find ways to help promote my blog. After a few minutes, I started to notice that as I typed in the search bar, the site would automatically pull the most commonly searched items for my convenience. I was not surprised at the results it pulled, though some certainly jumped out at me. As I typed the words “How To”, subjects such as “How to save money” and “How to buy a house” topped the list. But as my eyes scrolled through the options, I noticed “How to walk” was 8th on the list. Perhaps in another few months, I’ll just sit the Jakester in front of the computer for a couple of hours and before I know it, he should be struttin’ his stuff around the neighborhood.
I tried typing “How To build” and found instructions for the perfect snowman, a nice shelving unit and a deer cabin. I typed “How To use” and before I knew it, I was proficient in Excel, aneroid barometers and Montessori methods for teaching counting. The possibilities are endless, or so it seemed.
As I tried my best to find something that this website couldn’t teach me, I realized there was no “How To” for writing a How to list. This seemed odd considering the sheer volume of “How To” lists residing on this site. Certainly there should be a guide for someone intent on creating a new list for people to blindly follow. How could this essential step-by-step tutelage be undocumented? With this question in mind, and the great hope that I can somehow help a prospective how-toer, I give you my “How To write a How To” list.
Step 1: Understand this: anyone can write a How To list. Imagine there is a subject that you consider yourself to be the definitive expert on. Well, guess what…someone has already claimed to be the expert on that subject and they’ve written a “How To” about it. That’s right, every subject that could possibly be taught already has. Sorry to burst your bubble. With that cynical and dejected thought in mind, cheer up. The point I’m trying to make here is that you don’t have to be an expert to write a “How To”. So here are your options; you can pick a topic that is so widely written about that you can’t possibly get it wrong, or you can pick a topic that has so little appeal that you won’t be steering too many people astray with your horrible advice.
Step 2: Be as detailed as possible with your instructions. Remember that exercise back in grade school where you had to describe the steps for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Well, now that you’ve experienced more of the world and have seen the people who populate it, it doesn’t seem like such a silly waste of time anymore does it? People require details, as many as possible, when it comes to learning something new. Don’t expect that anyone reading your directions to infer anything other than the literal meaning of the words you’ve written. All I’m saying is, if you tell someone to put the peanut butter on the bread, you’ll end up with a jar of Jif on top of a loaf of bagged Wonder bread.
Step 3: Include pictures or video wherever possible. In this, the age of YouTube and viral videos, the written word is often underappreciated. The fact is, the average person probably won’t sit through 32 steps of “How to properly iron pleats” without a diagram or two and a video that may or may not include bodily injury. Actually, there’s a good chance people won’t sit through 32 steps of “How to properly iron pleats” regardless of those things so you should probably choose a different topic.
Step 4: Be confident in your advice. It seems that most people will believe what they read if it’s written in a way that seems concrete and unwavering. If you have an opinion about something, say it, don’t hold back. You could be completely ignorant on the subject but if you say it with gusto, people will think, “This guy knows what he’s talking about. Seems like a bad idea to call the girl I have a crush on over and over and over again until she agrees to go out with me…but it worked for this guy!” Note: This step should only be used when the potential for injury is not present and in conjunction with the words “this is only my opinion”. Don’t think it’s ok to tell someone to use a screwdriver to dislodge a broken light bulb from the socket, just because you said it “with gusto”.
Step 5: Test out to your instructions before you officially submit them. If you’ve attempted to teach someone how to play Stairway to Heaven on the guitar, make sure it doesn’t sound like the theme from Highway to Heaven first. Despite being detailed, including video, and being as confident as possible in your instructions; if the final product is the complete opposite of what you intended, perhaps teaching isn’t the job for you. If you fall under this category, fear not…you can always just throw together a “How to write a How To” list. Oh wait…damn!