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1 post from September 2008

Why I hate your tutorial: Useless Tutorials part 2

Tutorials. Everyone has them (ok, so not everyone. But a lot of people - even I had some... and for far too long, I might add). They bulk out the content of the average site and which makes the site look more important and useful and the site owner feels better about themselves, knowing they're helping people out.

The point of a tutorial is that it should help people out. It should take them through, step by step, instructions on how to perform a particular task which would otherwise be demanding and/or difficult. It should be clear, to the point, and easy to follow.

Let's take Jane Jones, a fictional website owner who loves writing tutorials. She writes them about anything and everything; Photoshop, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, you name it. She copied wrote all the iframe and blur effect tutorials first, dontchaknow. Anyway. Jane Jones comes across a script she likes - it takes text entered in a form and stores it in a database. She hasn't written a tutorial for at least a day now and she really loves this new script she's found, so she decides she'll write a tutorial for it.

She could start by writing about how the form could be extended - adding an extra field, for example. She could also write about how you can jazz up the layout a bit, for those who don't know how to do it. But this is all far too advanced for Jane... She starts with the traditional installation tutorial. "Create a database, see my other tutorial for details," writes Jane. "Then upload all the files. That's it!". Yay, one tutorial done. Second tutorial: "How to add text. To add text, write in the box and then press ok. That's it!". Next one: "How to delete text. To delete text, click the delete button. You're done!"

Let's say I'm using the script Jane has written the tutorial about. What have I learned here? I already know how to add text - it's fairly obvious, and anyone with half a brain would have guessed that you enter text in the box and then click the button. Even the most dim-witted person in the world would be able to guess that clicking 'delete' would, oh, I don't know, delete text?

So I ask you this: as a site owner, why are you writing that tutorial? Because you feel like sharing knowledge? Because you think that explaining the way you did something would help others? Or is it because you want more content? Or even because your hits are low and you want more on your site to keep them entertained?

Does your tutorial point out the obvious? Is it actually teaching anything? Writing a tutorial of the type Jane wrote above will insult the intelligence of your visitors. People will read it and wonder why you bothered writing it.

(And no, before anybody asks, this is not directed at anyone or any tutorial in particular. I see these sorts of tutorials all over the place and they do my head in.)