How to Write a How-To Essay
A how-to essay is an essay that explains how to do something. It could be something as simple as “How to Bake Brownies” to something as complex as “How to Build a Nuclear Reactor.” In the essay, you’ll dissect the entire process from start to finish and include all the information necessary for the reader to achieve a successful result.
How-to essays aren’t difficult, but they do require you to pay close attention to details.
Here’s what you need to remember when writing a how-to essay:
Step 1 - Pick a Topic
Maybe you’ll be assigned a topic or maybe you’ll be given free rein to choose your own. In the event you have to pick a subject, it’s better for you to write about something you already know about. For example, if you know nothing about car mechanics, maybe you shouldn’t write an essay on how to change your transmission fluid.
Step 2 - Make a List of Materials
If your essay involves making or doing something physical, then you should include a complete list of materials for your reader. Write down everything they’ll need to finish the task.
Step 3 - Write an Outline of Steps
Jot down the basic instructions that need to be followed. You can finesse the language later. Just get the essential ideas down first.
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Step 4 - Write an Essay Outline
A how-to essay usually follows a particular form that includes:
- Introduction - Tell the reader what you’re going to be teaching them how to do: In this essay, I’m going to show you how to make the best brownies in under fifteen minutes.
- List of materials - Usually a list of materials comes next: In order to bake brownies, here’s a list of ingredients and cooking tools you’ll need…
- Numbered steps - How-to essays usually include numbered steps where you’ll provide detailed instructions of each procedure.
- Action - If you’re writing about something like how to fix a car engine or how to make a lamp, there will be a point where they will have to turn on the car or the lamp. Include that step if it applies to you.
- Conclusion - Briefly summarize the more important steps and let the reader know what kind of results they can expect if they followed them.
What Else to Include
- Tips - You can give helpful tips as well. For example, if you’re giving instructions on baking brownies, it’s not essential that the reader mix the eggs and milk and oil separately before adding the brownie mix, but it can help avoid over-mixing with the dry ingredients which can make the texture more tough. This is not an essential part of the procedure, but it demonstrates your knowledge of the subject and gives the reader more information and more options. However, you should avoid going into micro-details. You don’t need to explain how the chemical reaction of the ingredients works to produce brownies. But the occasional bit of expert advice that can help provide a better result is a welcome addition.
- Procedural phrases - Guide your reader with words like first, next, last, simultaneously, separately, afterwards, before and other words that highlight order or technique.
Step 5 - Test It Out
It can be easy to miss steps or to explain something in a way that leaves room for misinterpretation. The best way to make sure your essay is error-free is to have someone else follow your steps and see if your instructions work. Make sure you watch them as they go through your procedure step by step. Resist the temptation to give advice or correct things while they’re in the middle of it, but take notes to see what might need to be added or modified in your final draft.
Step 6 - Edit
After testing it out on a friend, it’s time to edit your text. Include any missed steps, make sure you’ve used procedural phrases and, if possible, test it out one more time before calling it a wrap.
Good luck and happy how-to writing!