Consistency Pays Off When Mapping Your How-To

Cookbook authors can teach a new how-to writer a lot about establishing a solid foundational structure. Like you, they first need to consider how they want their readers to navigate their book. How-tos need the same organizational flow. Dissect the structure of a few of your own favorite how-tos to see what I mean.

Regardless of the subject matter, the goal of a good how-to is to ensure that a reader’s page-by-page navigation is so helpful that the experience becomes a pleasure they recommend to others. Readers don’t want predictable content — the death knell of many a self-published how-to — but they appreciate being able to quickly identify how to use an informational resource.  

How do you establish a consistent chapter structure when you have so much information about your expertise to share? Where do you begin?

  1. Establish your table of contents, your TOC. What specific problem will each chapter cover? Take the time to write a brief summary for each chapter. Take a page to explain what the chapter will cover, how you plan to cover it and why it’s important to cover.
  2. Ask yourself what you want readers to reflect upon before they read each chapter’s specific solutions. That paragraph or two can become a brief intro to launch your chapter or a section of a chapter.
  3. Consider establishing consistent subheads in each chapter. Consistent subheads are like ID tags that provide easier navigation for readers. Strive, too, for a fairly consistent number of subtopics along with the global subheads you choose to consistently use per chapter. Consistency helps you, as the writer,
    • focus on the most pressing issues per topic
    • identify and avoid subtopics that are too similar
    • see the light at the end of the tunnel and finish your book
  4. Once you get to the heart of each chapter’s issue, choose relevant support to help readers succeed. With the strategies you provide, can readers easily examine and tackle the problems you know how to solve? Which chapters need real-life scenarios, contrasting examples to compare, evidence-based research, simple steps, tips, lists, illustrations, charts, graphs, daily action items to practice? Whatever supporting elements you choose, write them with care.

Design each chapter to help your readers in practical ways. That includes keeping chapter patterns familiar. You can add different elements and types of examples per topic. Identify where readers find specific information and answers, whether under a designated subhead handling that part of the process or in a larger resource section.

Ironically, the introduction to your book may be the last thing you write. Tell readers what they can expect from your how-to and how to use the book. Explain your unique message, how chapters are structured to help them and the ground rules for getting the most out of the expert advice you have to offer.

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