The 10 essential actions for creating compelling WordPress tutorials

7 min read
Bob Dunn

There are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of WordPress tutorials at your fingertips. You can find them on blogs and YouTube and in online courses. They seem to be everywhere. And they run the whole gamut of quality, from the extraordinary to the totally worthless.

Creating workshops and tutorials for the last five years has been an enlightening experience. The feedback I got helped me craft my art so I could better deliver tutorials that filled real needs.

The first rule, of course, is to know your audience. With that foundation, here are my 10 tips to consider when creating free or paid WordPress tutorials.

1. Stay away from industry terminology and acronyms.

This is critical anytime you are teaching new learners. Drop the professional jargon. At the minimum, if you do use it, take the time to define what it means. It is easy to slip into acronym-speak. Just FTP that file. What does that mean? And even if you spell out File Transfer Protocol, does that make it any clearer?

Use language that is appropriate for the user’s experience level.

The language you use will depend on the knowledge level of the people who are watching your tutorials. And if a tutorial is for advanced users, note that in the description.

Drop the industry jargon when you're teaching new users. [Photo by mikecogh via Compfight cc]

2. Keep your students’ learning styles in mind.

Earlier this year, I did a poll on how people best learn WordPress. More than 400 people responded and the results were interesting. Text and screenshots came out on top. And while many still argue that video is the way to go, I advise that you determine what is best for your target audience. I get a lot of feedback from people who are frustrated with video-only tutorials: having to constantly stop and restart them, finding that one nugget in the middle somewhere and having to wind and search.

And you need to keep your time and resources in mind. WordPress videos, for instance, can become outdated quickly. If you’re charging for your tutorials, people expect them to be up-to-date. A tiny change can easily require the redo of an entire 10-minute video.

3. Make your tutorials as long (or short) as they need to be.

Most tutorials are short, especially video tutorials. And we all understand the attention span of the normal person. But at the same time, some people feel shortchanged when they want to dive into something and a tutorial walks them through the steps quickly and with little detail.

If what you’re teaching takes some time to learn, take the time to teach it right.

Break it up into smaller videos. Or, if your tutorials run on the long side but are filled with tons of education, let people know that.

4. Consider offering options that address different learning styles.

You need to think about this one because it definitely takes a commitment to pull it off. When I did my first site, for each full video tutorial, I included text and screenshots with the tutorial highlights. That way, after watching the video, the user could easily revisit any specific part by just scanning through the added text. But be warned: This additional content is time-consuming to create and requires continuous updating.

Unhindered by Talent via Compfight cc
Take different learning styles into consideration when planning tutorials. [Photo by Unhindered by Talent via Compfight cc]

5. Develop a unique voice and style.

You don’t necessarily need beautiful, professionally orchestrated video tutorials, but you do need to create a quality product that shows you are an authority to be trusted. Decide on your own style. If you want to add music and creative graphic displays, do it. If you want to get down and dirty, and let your own teaching style shine through, do that. People will be attracted to different styles and you will find your own audience.

6. Use decent screencast and screen capture software.

I hear complaints all the time from people about video tutorials that are way too small; they become blurry when they are sized for full-screen. High-definition videos really help — but keep in mind that they do take up more space and bandwidth. Streaming them from popular sites like YouTube and Vimeo can certainly help. There are several software options out there, but if tutorials are a big part of your blog — or your business — invest in something that will do the job. I personally have used Snagit and Camtasia for Mac for years. Also, in both video and screenshot production, make sure you can easily add annotations.

7. Always time stamp your tutorials.

Not putting the date on a WordPress tutorial — or any tech resource, for that matter — is one of the worst things you can do. WordPress plugins and themes update, and when they do, they can remove or add features. Even some conceptual ideas can change quickly. Put a date on your tutorials or, if they are part of a paid online course, make sure they are constantly updated. Your readers will respect you more for it. And don’t assume that putting the date on will make your tutorial any less popular. In fact, one tutorial I posted three years ago continues to be the most popular post on my blog.

8. Consider including captions for your videos.

Accessibility is an important issue with web design. It also plays a huge role in learning and education. Just be aware of a couple of things:

  • When you caption from your actual recording, remember to make it clear verbally what you are doing. I have read some captions that are totally useless.
  • Prepare to pay. Good captioning services will cost you.

9. Keep your ‘beginning learner’ hat on.

It helps to remember what it was like when you first learned this stuff. Don’t make any assumptions that certain parts are already clear to the reader. It might seem like a no-brainer to you, but it is new to them. I cannot tell you how many times students and clients have told me how much they like it that that I take the time to explain things clearly. And whatever you do, avoid fast screencast movements and talking too quickly.

a.pasquier via Compfight cc
All experts started as beginning learners. [Photo by a.pasquier via Compfight cc]

10. Be prepared to edit, but think first.

Nobody is perfect. (At least I know I’m not.) You will need to edit. How much you do is up to you. A few ums aren’t going to kill things, but do remove any distractions or unnecessarily long pauses. And if you are doing them on a live site, and your Internet is a bit slow, speed things up with some cutting there as well. As far as mistakes happening, or something going wrong, don’t be hasty. I can’t tell you how often I run across an unexpected problem and decide to tackle it on the spot instead of cutting it. By thinking about what happened and why — in real time — you might just be solving an issue hundreds of people have also had, or will have.

That’s it. Use the points on this list but keep in mind that they are not written in stone. You will be on your own journey to finding your voice and developing your teaching style. Just make sure, above all, that you know your audience.