Tutorial: How to Write a Tutorial- FAQs and Tips
What is a tutorial?
A tutorial is a connected series of instructions that leads the user through the key features of a software program and familiarizes him/her with all its aspects. In the process of going through the tutorial, the user learns how to use the software effectively.
Why do you need tutorials in addition to the “help” section?
When you have never used a piece of software before, or when clicking on “Help” is not answering your question(s), a tutorial is a good way to answer some of your questions or even help you get started. Providing a tutorial in the User Manual is highly recommended for better understanding of all software features.
Who can write a tutorial?
Anyone familiar with all the aspects of the software program and is also good at technical writing can compose a tutorial. An important thing to remember before starting to write a tutorial is that you are probably going to be communicating with both users who have no computer knowledge and those who are computer whizzes. It may be essential to tailor your tutorial according to the needs of all kinds of users. A tutorial writer also needs to be familiar with the multimedia interface used for the tutorial. This can range from a basic MS PowerPoint presentation to a sophisticated presentation system. All the material here deals with writing the tutorial and assumes that the writer is familiar with such presentation software. If not, the writer can use software programmers to create the actual tutorial based on the written text and storyboard.
How much information should a tutorial provide?
Ideally, a tutorial should help the user get familiar with all the features in the software program. If this is not feasible, it should at least cover the most widely used features. Some parts of the software program may be rarely used and instructions for these can be a part of the user manual.
Are tutorials better than manuals?
For some people and in some situations they are. Tutorials are extremely interactive, which helps users to learn better than they would from a book. Of course, it does not hurt to include a tutorial with your software unless the costs involved are too high.
Does it help to have voice in a tutorial?
Voice helps make the tutorial a more interactive experience. Voice also helps to retain user attention. Having voice may increase the size of the tutorial and also the work involved in designing it, but it is well worth the effort.
What are the basic steps to follow for a good software tutorial?
- Present to learners new information related to the software program.
- Have learners perform activities that require them to process the information and provide a response.
- Provide feedback to learners to provide positive reinforcement for correct responses and remediation for incorrect ones.
What are some questions to ask before I start organizing my tutorial?
- Do I have a clear-cut objective or goal for the tutorial?
- Do I know exactly what needs to go into the tutorial so that it is useful to the people I am designing it for?
- What software will I use for this tutorial and will my audience have access to the software and hardware necessary for access?
- What categories should the information be organized into?
- What are the priorities for these categories?
- Are the categories logical and well organized so that the users can predict where to go to find what they want?
What are some of the points to remember while writing a tutorial?
- Include a cover page, table of contents and if necessary a preface.
- If the document is copyrighted, include a copyright notice.
- Decide on the technical level of your users, how you will address the user, and conventions that need to be followed.
- Match the level of technical language with the audience’s level of proficiency. Always underestimate the knowledge of your users rather than overestimate it.
- Use the active voice (e.g. Click on Menu) and address users directly (use "you" rather than "the user").
What are some questions to ask during the design of my tutorial?
- Can the user find his way around the information easily, going backwards, forwards and out of the program when necessary?
- Have I made this presentation as simple and flexible as possible?
- Are the colors for background, graphics, text and navigation tools all complementary and visually attractive?
- Is every page divided into relevant sections that are easily understood by any user?
- Are all the pages balanced and visually appealing?
What makes a good tutorial?
- Organization: It is well structured with a comprehensive table of contents and index.
- Content: The material focuses on user tasks, provides clear instructions and is concise.
- Appearance: The presentation is visually attractive and not too cluttered.
- Language: The text is easy to read and aimed specifically at the users.
What are the general steps in designing a tutorial?
In writing the tutorial, you may follow some general steps that include:
- Writing an outline: In addition to the main topics, your outline should include each of the subsections you will need for every single feature or function. You will also need unique subtopics that explain how to use the feature.
- Gathering information: Your information may come from any number of sources including manuals, specifications and other documents, subject matter experts, etc. You should also have access to the most current version of the software so that you can try things out as well as get rid of any discrepancies between your tutorial and the actual software.
- Creating a prototype: This way, you can test your page design, outline, headings, etc. in a small document. The prototype also gives you something to show to whoever must approve the documentation.
- Obtaining comments on and approval of the prototype: You want to be sure that your tutorial meets the objectives of your client in terms of layout, organization, writing style, and accuracy.
- Drafting the tutorial: When you are writing the draft, your primary goal is to get on screen the main points that you need to cover. Don’t try to get the answer to every question as and when they arise. If you interrupt the flow to resolve every question that comes up, you will find it hard to pick up where you left off.
- Reviewing the whole tutorial: Look for typographical errors, non-flowing text, repetition of information, long instructions, inconsistencies in terminology and writing style.
- Making revisions or corrections: Depending on the comments you received from reviewers, you may now be able to prepare the final version of your tutorial incorporating all the revisions and corrections suggested.
- Finalizing the text and layout: Proofread the text, look at page layout and check for general readability and user friendliness.
Finally you get to relax, now that you have completed your assigned task- Writing a tutorial. Congratulations!
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