Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Steps How To Write a "How To" Article

How to write article

How-to posts are always going to be popular. They’re great for readers – who are often Googling “how to X” – and they’re great for you, the writer, because they’re easy to put together.
So, open up a blank document and let’s get your how-to post underway…

Step #1: Pick a Good Topic and Goal

Any great blog post starts with a great idea. Your how-to post is no different.
Think about what people in your niche want to learn (and what you can easily explain in step-by-step format). That could be:

How to tune a guitar (music or guitar blog)
How to edit your writing (student or writing blog)
How to spend less and save more (personal finance or self-development blog)
How to make money from home (entrepreneurship or stay-at-home-parent blog)
How to create a plugin for WordPress (blogging or web development blog)

Your how-to post comes with an implicit goal: if the reader follows your instructions, they should be able to accomplish something. Think about your audience – will they want a simple, straightforward goal, or something more complex?

Do it: Come up with a “how to” idea for your own niche and write it down. Don’t worry about perfecting the title just yet.

Step #2: Work Out the Steps from Start to End

Before you leap into the writing, you need to work out all the steps of your how-to post. If you don’t do this in advance, it’s easy to miss something out – or to realize half-way through that you should’ve tackled a different topic entirely.

Sometimes, you might have several options – or it might be possible to put the steps in a different order. If so, you can:

Choose the simplest order
Start with the easier steps and work up to harder ones
Flag up particular steps as “optional”

Think of your “how to” post as a recipe with clear instructions at each stage. If you’re struggling to figure out the steps, try working backwards: begin at the end and ask yourself what comes before that? And before that?

Do it: Write down the steps for your how-to. You’ll probably need around 4 – 10 steps. If you have more than that, either join some steps together or consider breaking your post into two parts.

Step #3: Write the Introduction

Now that you have a plan for your post, you can write the introduction. Some people prefer to do this after writing the main body of the post, so if you struggle with introductions, you might want to come back to this step.

Your introduction should:

Explain what the post is about and what the reader will be able to accomplish at the end
Give a sense of why the reader might want to do this – mention the benefits
Tell the reader about any prerequisites, if appropriate (such as equipment that they’ll need or knowledge that they should already have)

Don’t get too hung up on writing the introduction – you can always come back and edit.

Do it: Write an introduction to your how-to post. This might be anything from a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs long.

Step #4: Write Instructions for Each Step

You’ve already got the steps worked out, so writing the body of the post should be straightforward. Explain each step to the reader – you might want to give a screenshot or photo to show them how things should look as they’re progressing.

There are lots of ways to write the steps. You might like to use one or more of these ideas:

Include personal experience – explain how you did it
Offer an example at each stage
Come up with alternatives and suggestions that the reader can use
Give direct instructions (like the “Do it” sections in this post)

Do it: Work through your post, writing the text for each step. If you get stuck, ask yourself “how would I explain this to a friend?”

Step #5: Add a Conclusion and Call to Action

Once you get to the final step, your post isn’t quite finished. You still need to add a conclusion – without this, you’ll be ending too abruptly and you’ll be missing out on the chance to include a call to action.

In the conclusion, you may want to:

Sum up – explain what the reader should now have accomplished
Offer suggestions for what to do next, or alternatives to try out
Encourage readers to actually follow the steps, not just read them!

A “call to action” is a copywriting term. It means that you should ask the reader to take some action – ideally, something that ties in with your own goals. For instance:

If you want more comments, ask readers to “leave a comment below” or “share your experience in the comments”
If you want more tweets, ask readers to “click here to tweet this post”
If you want more sales, tell readers “you can learn more about X in my ebook, available here”

… and so on.

Do it: Write a conclusion to your post. Include a call to action (you may need to stop and think about your own blogging goals at this point).

Step #6: Tweak the Title

Currently, your how-to post probably has a descriptive title like “How to train for a marathon”. That’s not a bad title – but it could definitely be more compelling.

Here are some easy ways to improve your title:

Add a number: How to Train for a Marathon: 5 Steps
Add an adjective: How to Train for a Marathon: 5 Straightforward Steps
Add a “who” to the title: How to Train for a Marathon: Experts Speak Out
Make it personal: How I Went from Couch Potato to Marathon-Runner … And How You Could Too

Do it: Tweak the title of your post. You might want to come up with several possible versions and ask friends to choose which they think is best.

Step #7: Edit Your Post

Finally, it’s time to get your red pen out and edit your post. No-one’s first draft is ever perfect, and a bit of editing can make a huge difference. If you can, let a day go by before you edit your draft – or print your post out so you can edit on paper. This helps you see it with fresh eyes.

When you edit, you’re not just looking for typos. You also want to:

Check that your post isn’t missing any steps (perhaps get a fellow blogger to try out the instructions)
Make sure you’ve expressed things clearly: check for any ambiguous or confused sentences
Watch out for grammatical and spelling mistakes that your spell-checker might not pick up

Do it: Edit your post, starting with the big picture (checking that you’re not missing any steps) and working down to the details (spelling, punctuation and grammar).

If you’ve been following all the steps, you’ve now got a finished “how to” post that can become a great piece of pillar content for your blog. (And if you’ve just been reading through, now’s your chance to go back and do all the bits in bold!)

Have you got any how-to tips to share – or any pitfalls to avoid? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, 23 July 2012

How To Make Phone Calls Through Google+ Hangouts

How To Make Phone Calls Through Google+ Hangouts

Google+ Hangouts let you set up group video chats in seconds, but what happens if you want to invite a friend who isn't near a computer or a webcam? Until recently, that buddy would've been left out — but now you can simply add him or her as a voice-only participant by making a phone call through the Hangout.

Google employee — and inventor of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) — Jarkko Oikarinen announced the new feature in a Google+ post on Thursday. He explains that the addition of phone calls to Hangouts is supposed to make arranging party lines and conference calls even simpler.

All you have to do to add a telephone participant to a Google+ Hangout is tap the "Invite" button at the top of the Hangout's interface, click the "Phone" tab on the left, enter a phone number, and click "Call Now." That's it!

It's worth noting that this new feature is initially available only inside Hangouts With Extra — which is simply a version of Hangouts with a handful of additional tools. It currently only supports calls in the U.S. and Canada.

How To Choose The Perfect Mouse

Are you still using the mouse that came with your computer? Or maybe you've tried something new, but you've got some nagging RSI strain, cords tangled everywhere, or a lagging mouse that's left you unjustly fragged into oblivion? If your mouse aren't working for you, it's time to buy new ones. Here are the things you'll want to keep in mind as you shop.


There are some great cheap, simple, 2-button mice out there, but you'd be surprised how much easier a nicer mouse can make your day. Sure, a nice mouse can be a bit pricier than the $10 two-buttoner you bought at Staples, but whether it's getting rid of wrist pain or just saving you endless clicks on the scroll wheel, they're well worth the money. In fact, the $75 I spent on my mouse is some of the best money I've spent on my entire rig—and since you use these items every time you sit down at your machine, you should make sure they're of good quality. If you're ready to trade in the old beater for a new model, here are some things you'll want to consider.

Size and Ergonomics

Undoubtedly the most important factor in choosing a mouse is how it feels. While you can prevent a lot of strain by merely rearranging your workspace, having a good mouse that works with you can still make a huge difference. For the most part, this involves two things: size and grip. Size is mostly personal preference (plus how portable you want your mouse to be), but certain mice are better for certain types of grips. The three main grips are:

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

Palm Grip: With this style of a grip, you lay your entire hand on the mouse, using your palm to move the mouse around. You'll feel this most in your wrist and forearm. It's faster than the other grips, albeit less precise, so not always the best for gamers that require very precise movements. It's also the more comfortable of the two, so if you have RSI problems, you're probably better off with a mouse that encourages this type of grip. Usually these mice have a bigger bump on the back end for your palm to rest. Examples include the Razer Lachesis and the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer.

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

Claw Grip: The claw grip gets its name from the way your hand looks when you hold the mouse—your palm may still rest on the back, but your top fingers are arched in a claw-like fashion, and you may use your thumb, ring finger, and pinky to give you a bit more control over the mouse. It's more precise than the palm grip, but can be a bit more straining too. These mice are usually longer and have lipped edges, so you can pick the mouse up and move it. This is kind of in between the palm and fingertip grip, though, so you can use a ton of different mice with it, depending on where you fall in the spectrum. The Razer DeathAdder and Logitech G9x are popular gaming mice for this grip, while the Logitech Performance Mouse MX (my personal mouse of choice) is great for regular PC users.

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

Fingertip Grip: This is the complete opposite end of the spectrum of the palm grip. With this, your palm doesn't rest on the end at all, you control the mouse entirely with your fingertips. This is the most precise of all the grips, but can also be the most taxing. Many people find it also has the steepest learning curve (since the palm grip is what most people use naturally), so if you have issues with RSI, you might want to avoid this grip. These mice tend to be smaller and flatter, like the Razer Abyssus or the Logitech Marathon Mouse M705.

The above images are from Razer's mouse ergonomics guide, which I recommend checking out. It's mainly written for gamers, but can apply to anyone. I also recommend checking out NCIX Tech Tips' guide to mouse ergonomics if you want more information on figuring out your grip and what mice are good for it. Note also that the mice listed above are just guidelines. Everyone's hands are different, and you probably use a combination of the above grips, or lie somewhere in between. The size of your hands can also influence which types of mice work with which types of grips. If you have smaller than average hands, for example, don't be afraid to venture outside the above recommendations to see if your claw grip works with a mouse designed for a palm grip. The best advice I can give is go to the store and try them out—these aren't the kinds of things you can tell when ordering a mouse online.

Wired vs. Wireless

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

One of the other big deciding factors in your mouse decision is going to be whether you want a wireless mouse or one with a cable attached. In general, wireless mice tend to be more convenient, since the cable can't catch on your desk or get in the way. However, wireless mice can also carry some lag (usually about 8ms), which can feel like an hour if you're in the middle of an intense gaming session. Furthermore, they can sometimes interfere with other wireless devices in your home, like a wireless G router, or 2.4 GHz cordless phones. Wireless mice also require batteries, which can be a pain if you forget to charge them or pick up some AAs at the store.

Also keep in mind that if you're going to go wireless, you have a few different choices—namely Bluetooth and RF. RF mice are usually a bit more responsive and have a longer range, but they require a USB receiver, so they'll still take up a USB port on your machine. They're also more likely to interfere with other wireless devices, as I mentioned before. Bluetooth mice are a bit rarer, but will pair with many computers on their own (if your computer has Bluetooth built-in). Finding a good Bluetooth mouse can be hard, since RF is much more common—so unless you're really short on USB ports, I wouldn't recommend being too picky about Bluetooth versus RF.

Extra Buttons

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

Extra buttons aren't just for gamers anymore, folks. You can map your spare buttons to any function, like back and forward in your browse, or to a function like Mac OS X's Exposé. Some Logitech mice even have an awesome "fast scroll" button that'll make your scroll wheel move fast, smoothly, and with momentum, which is great for scrolling through long pages quickly. I wouldn't base my entire decision on how many buttons a mouse has, but getting something with a few extra buttons on the side can be really nice for those features you use extra often. Have to copy and paste a lot of text in your day? Map those to some of your extra buttons. Switch between a ton of virtual desktops to manage your windows? The arrow buttons on the side of many Logitech mice are perfect for that. You're only limited by your imagination with this, so think of the more painstaking keyboard shortcuts you use and map them right to your mouse buttons. You'd be surprised how much of a difference it can make.


How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

I briefly mentioned this above, but if you're doing something that requires precise movements—like gaming or image editing—make sure you get a mouse that has relatively high sensitivity. Your mouse's sensitivity determines how small of a movement you need to make for your cursor to move. Perhaps you've noticed that with some mice, your cursor will get "stuck" if you move your mouse to slightly, and you have to jerk it out of place. High sensitivity mice don't have this problem, since slighter movements yield small movements in your cursor.

Sensitivity is calculated in dots per inch (DPI). Most medium- to high-end mice come with high sensitivities, usually 1200 DPI or higher, which should be more than enough. Just make sure that you aren't getting a cheap 400 DPI mouse if you're doing precision-oriented tasks. Some mice even have buttons on them that let you switch between different sensitivities without opening up their control panel, which is great if you want to quickly switch to a high sensitivity for image editing or gaming, then switch back when you go to do normal work.

What We Use

While we encourage you to do your own research and shopping, here are a few of the Lifehacker staff's favorite mice to get you started:

How to Choose the Perfect Mouse and Keyboard

  • At least four of us use the Logitech Performance Mouse MX (formerly known as the MX Revolution), and we're all in love with it. It perfectly contours to your hand, has a few extra buttons that you can remap to whatever you want, and has the amazing momentum scrolling feature I mentioned earlier. While it's designed for more of a palm or claw grip, it'll really work with any grip you want, in my experience. This is a great place to start if you're looking for a good wireless mouse (though it isn't exactly portable, as it's huge).
  • On the other end of the spectrum is the Microsoft Wireless Mouse 5000, which is Dachis' favorite external mouse (he's usually a trackpad kind of guy). It's simple, inexpensive, wireless, and portable enough to carry around with you.
  • For gaming, Jason is currently digging the Razer Naga, who's main draw is a big panel of twelve—count them—thumb buttons. It's designed for massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, but you can map them to functions in any game you want (or even on the desktop, if you're the adventurous type).

Remember, comfort and health comes first. You probably spend lots of time sitting at your desk with these peripherals, and the less likely you are to develop strain injury, the better—the rest is just a matter of convenience. Got any of your own favorite mouse and keyboard features (or just favorite models you want to share)? Sound off in the comments.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

How To Handle Rejection

English: Logo of the band Rejected Español: Lo...
Image via Wikipedia

Passed over for a job. Disqualified for a bank loan. Turned down for a date. Rejection happens to the best of us on occasion. Yes, even those of us who are pitching pros sometimes get red-carded, as evidenced by the two “thanks, but no thanks” responses I got to queries I sent out last week.

But rejection isn’t the end of the world. In fact, there are ways to evaluate the experience of being frozen out for a few key lessons that will put the ego undermining in perspective and help you cope with the next time someone opts not to buy what you’re selling:

Decide if it’s you or them

Most people fall into the two camps – they internalize rejection as a function of their personal shortcomings or inadequacies or they assume that they’re doing everything right and it’s the rest of the world that has a problem. The reality is never so binary. Sometimes, it’s you. Sometimes, it’s them. Sometimes, it’s Mercury in retrograde. The trick is to figure out whether your natural tendency is to internalize or project and to keep this knowledge in the forefront of your mind when coping with a rejection. Acknowledge your instinct, but then take a step back to interrogate the situation as objectively as possible.

Realize that what you want to sell might not be what someone else wants to buy

I like to write what I want to write and how I want to write it. I am not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. People do not pay me for what I decide to give them. They pay me for what they want me to produce. If I want to be paid for my prose, it’s my job to understand what that is and to give it to them or to find other clients who will pay for exactly what I want to produce and never hold me to any standards (Ha!). We all have to figure out where our individual boundaries are in this regard and negotiate the trade-off between personal integrity and public acceptance. Tailoring your resume for a job outside your field is one thing, pretending to like country music or cats to impress a date is another. Rejection allows us to revisit this issue to decide whether we need to increase our flexibility and get better at reading our desired audience or whether we’ve reached the limits of how and what we’re willing to compromise and repackage and maybe it’s time to cut our losses and move on. Speaking of which.

Know when to cut your losses

Just how much effort are you willing to expend on a given endeavor? Deciding that in advance helps you to put rejection in perspective and prevents you from continuing to bet on a losing horse. Maybe it’s 25 casting calls before you re-evaluate moving back to Omaha, or five interviews that don’t net job offers before you hire a career coach, or 10 rejection letters from agents before you take a long hard look at the merits of your Great American Novel. If you’re currently at three rejections, you know that you still have some leeway left, but there’s also a relief in being at #9 and knowing that it will soon be time to switch focus and try a different tactic.

Mine the experience

As a writer, it makes perfect sense that after being rejected, I’d write a piece about how to deal with rejection. That’s my process. Not everyone is a wordsmith (Thank God, I don’t need any more competition), but everyone can find a nugget of useful intel in each rejection if they’re willing to stop licking their wounds long enough to seek it out. Maybe a string of dates that go nowhere forces you to reconsider your readiness for a relationship. Maybe your lack of enthusiasm in job interviews is a red flag that you’re pursuing ill-suited opportunities. Dig deep and apply the insight you glean to making your next kick at the can a more accurate one.