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What makes a good tutorial?

Recently I came across a Google+ discussion about a post that was in the tutorial section of a community. The problem was the post itself wasn’t, to many, a tutorial at all. It was more of a ‘look what I did’ post. Sure it described what it was, what it was used for, and the name of the software and a link to get it that was used to create the end result. The part that was missing was any description of how to use the software to get from the starting point to the end result.

So the question becomes, what makes a good tutorial?

The answer for me, regarding software, is I want to see a summary of why I want to follow the steps to begin with. Some information on what feature is gained or problem is solved by using the software. For the steps in the process, I want to see what is needed to be performed. What software needs to be installed and does it matter the order? How do I configure the software to get it to a working state? What is the most common thing(s) that go wrong during configuration and usage? What is a quick and easy thing to do at the end of the process to prove that it is working at at least a minimal level of expectation? If a command line is given, explain the command and switches used in order. Finally, where can I go for more in-depth information? A good tutorial tells me enough to get what I want up and running, but without the deeper explanations of why it works.

What do you like to see in a tutorial for software?


One Comment

  1. Lee Russell wrote:

    Hello Chuck

    I agree with your comment on what makes a good tutorial. Before somebody teaches me how to do something, I want to know what it will do for me so that I have the drive to learn.

    Take as an example matrices and eigenvalues/vectors. Standard maths tutorials will teach you how to do it, with obtaining the correct result being the driver for learning (only pure maths brains find this to be enough). Adding in the abstract concepts of quantum physics doesn’t help things much.

    BUT applying them as a tool for 3D projection and pattern recognition, then surely most “students” would find this enough of a driver to learn.

    Monday, August 19, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink