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Thread: How to Write a Guide

  1. #1
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    How to Write a Guide

    How to Write a Guide.


    There are a lot of guides being written for the various encounters in Firelands and for specific classes. Not all of them will be perfect at the first draft; in fact I would be surprised to see a guide that is perfect in its first draft. There are a few basic principles that a good guide follows, and these are also universal in all non-fiction writing. Anyone who has completed a science lab class and had to produce an experimental report, or had to compose a paper for a course at college or university, will be able to relate to these aspects. The five most important aspects to a guide are the following:

    1. Redundancy
    2. Accuracy
    3. Clarity and Readability
    4. Objectivity
    5. Expandability


    In a nut shell, the guide should assume the target audience is, while not completely ignorant of the topic, unaware of anything but the bare basics. This means explaining everything in detail, and not leaving “common knowledge” out because “everybody knows that”. A guide should be accurate – it should not contain errors! You cannot teach a person about a subject if the course material is wrong. Clarity means that you should structure the guide clearly into sections. This can range from a simple introduction, main content and conclusion to an expansive article with tables, lists, videos and images embedded into the body of the text. Readability means that the text should also not make too much use of formatting and use a standard typeface – flashy colours and typefaces distract the reader and can lead to the text being illegible. Objectivity means that the guide is impersonal. It does not portray opinions as fact and strives to be unemotional, even when the author feels strongly about the topic. Expandability means that the author can easily adapt the guide should a part of it become obsolete or alternative methods become known. A guide is never finished, at best it can be considered to be close to being finished. Do not forget who you are writing the guide for – you are not writing it for yourself.

    Redundancy
    More information is always good, and information is hardly ever redundant. What might seem to be common knowledge to the author is very likely unknown to the target audience. Do not leave anything out. The reader needs to get everything he or she needs to know from your text. Something I see all too often (this is not just restricted to gaming guides, sometimes I find this when researching for a University seminar project) is that the author forgets that the paper will not only be read by someone with an intimate knowledge of the subject at hand. Terms are not explained, or are explained too loosely.

    An example of this would be the energy degeneration and stacking damage and movement speed buff. This is sometimes not given enough airtime – it is a mechanic that serves as a soft-enrage. It interacts with the boss’ abilities (the Shadowbreath and the fire in Phase 3) and thus needs linking to these sources of damage. One needs to be sure to mention the interaction between the energy, the breath and the (in phase 3 new mechanic) Shadowblaze Fire and the need to kite the Constructs in a manner that avoids the flames and the breath so that they lose their movement speed and damage buff.

    Accuracy
    Obviously accuracy is important. This may seem to be basic knowledge to the weathered guide writer, but guides that present information that simply is not true are useless. It would also be remiss for me to decide that this fact is not worthy of this guide given the previous paragraph. Electronic navigation assistants are notorious for this – everybody knows how annoying it is to be told to “turn left” when the road signs clearly state that you cannot turn left (or there is no left turn available). Just like in “real life”, a guide that does not present correct information to the reader proves to be more of a hindrance than a help. Somebody learning a boss fight, their class, or simply how to do something as simple as putting a flat-packed cupboard together that is presented with false instructions will end up wiping a lot, performing sub-optimally or end up with a pile of wood and pasteboard that is good for nothing except burning.

    Clarity and Readability
    This brings me on to the topic of clarity and readability. Just as the inaccurate instructions can prove to be obstructive, unclear instructions can prove to be just as frustrating. A good guide is split up into different segments.

    The Introduction usually tells the reader a bit of background about the author, and informs the reader of any prerequisite knowledge that is assumed. This can range from a simple “This guide assumes knowledge of the normal mode version of this encounter” to a more elaborate description. It contains basic information about the guide (focus on 10 or 25 man, the topic of the guide, the aim of the guide) and can contain links to essential knowledge which is too extensive (or the author is simply not allowed) to copy.

    The introduction is usually followed by an overview of the topic. In the case of a boss guide one will typically encounter a summary of the fight; in the case of a class guide one typically finds a description of the useful stats. Progress from the basics to the more involved content, and stay in chronological order. This basically means that the author covers the beginning of the encounter before covering the end.

    Benchmarks can be a useful tool in guide writing too. They enable the reader to find out of they are on target or not. Examples for this would be "Phase 3 should begin at the latest 5 minutes before the Berserk to allow for enough time to kill the boss", "A Fire Mage in this level of gear should be able to sustain 18000 dps on a standing target" or, to continue with the desk building manual, "This (insert picture) is what your desk should look like at this point." While too many could be percieved as hand-holding or rambling, a well placed (and well worded!) benchmark can tell the reader more about their performance than anything else.

    Role specific information is presented after the general encounter description. Divide it by role and class specific tips can be provided here as well.

    The Conclusion will provide a clean end to the guide and generally include a summary of the guide in a few sentences, not more than a few lines.

    Readability
    , as mentioned above, goes hand-in-hand with clarity. It has to do with the formatting of the guide. Use clear fonts, like Arial or the Calibri font in Microsoft Office; fonts that seem “fun” rarely ever are and only serve to annoy the reader. Choose a font size and stick with it, 12 pt for the text body and 18 or 24 for segment titles are perfectly OK. Smaller text strains the eyes too much and the reader will probably not bother finishing reading your article. Likewise use colours sparingly, and when you use them, make sure to use a colour that contrasts with the forum’s background. Light colours only work on a dark backgrounds and vice-versa. Just because you can go crazy with formatting does not mean that you should do so. Checking your spelling and grammar is also imperative, this is not just a matter of courtesy – your guide will also be read by people who are not mother-tongue speakers of English and as such can easily misunderstand your article if it is not 100% correct.

    Use embedded content such as pictures, videos and tables to supplement or break up your text. If the content is directly related to the text it is adjacent to then a simple caption can be enough to link it into the body, otherwise you will need to describe what it is that makes the picture, video or embedded information so important. Resize images that are very large, take into account the size of the forum – on my guild forum I set up a BBCODE tag specifically for reducing an image’s size to a width set by the user. Nobody wants to navigate their way past a 1920*1080 picture (and readers using slower internet or who are on a data restricted subscription won’t want to be loading lots of 5MB images).

    Objectivity
    Emotions are very hard to keep out of one’s writing, especially when it comes to topics very close to one’s heart. The author of a guide should try to keep a guide objective – this means not going “over the top” with opinions or starting to complain about class balance. An opinion is fine (“A Discipline Priest can trivialise this aspect of the fight”), while “Discipline Priests are totally overpowered for this fight, stack them to win!” is probably less appropriate. It is not your job as a guide author to editorialise on the subject of your article (leave this to your blog), your job is to provide accurate information in an understandable and clear manner.

    Expandability
    Structure your guide in a manner which lends itself to expansion and editing. People will comment on the article, and provide constructive criticism which you as the guide author would do well to consider. Members will often provide alternative strategies or air an opinion as to the validity of your claims. You may discover after writing the guide that your raid adopts a better strategy, or that a different strategy becomes mainstream. Your guide should be able to be added to without major rewriting of entire passages of text. Guides are almost a living entity; they evolve over time to better suit the needs of the readership, in doing so they become more mature. As such an author should never consider their work complete.


    In conclusion I would like to thank the Authors here at TankSpot, they have provided an awesome resource that my guild and I have used extensively. I hope that people find this guide to writing a guide instructive, perhaps it will also help them outside of the game, either in school or at university as many of the principles I have discussed also lend themselves to usage in essays and reports.

    Pyrea aka. Fetzie
    <Allied Enemies>
    Anub’arak-EU
    12th July 2011

    edit: Benchmarking added, formatting alteration
    Last edited by Fetzie; 07-13-2011 at 03:44 AM.

  2. #2
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    A good and solid "first draft".

    I have a recommendation.

    Under redundancy lets change the example because it is a little too direct of a reference to another topic. Perhaps use Nefarian as an example. The energy mechanic and the ramping up damage of the adds in phase one functions identical to the mechanic in phase three, however instead of just the breath being able to refresh it there is also the the fires he will spawn. The adds themselves function the exact same way so this is redundant. Dealing with the adds is something you need to do in both phases and it follows similar rules, don't let the energy refresh. However how it is actually handled will differ. Hopefully we can avoid any drama carried over.
    Last edited by Quinafoi; 07-12-2011 at 10:04 AM.
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    Ok will change it ASAP. Any other comments?

    edit: is altered
    Last edited by Fetzie; 07-12-2011 at 10:13 AM.

  4. #4
    Ok will change it ASAP. Any other comments?
    Should have two paragraphs on Redundancy.

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    Splitting the "theory" from the example? No problem. Or should I write more about it?

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    Bov is trolling you, he's playing with the definition of redundancy, and saying to be redundant, you need two paragraphs on it. =P

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  7. #7
    Damn it, Kaze. =/

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    It looks better with the second paragraph anyway. I move from one "thought" to another, so technically there should have been a new paragraph there from the start

    I have finicky Professors at university, they would probably have marked me down for that :<

    edit: thanks for the pruning
    Last edited by Fetzie; 07-12-2011 at 11:07 AM.

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    Lets keep this clean, the guide is being written from a serious context and should be treated as such.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Turelliax View Post
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    A few thoughts:
    - I don't know what 'ility' this relates to, but in the post dungeon journal world, I find it less interesting to have a definition of the abilities and more interesting to understand their implications. e.g. Widows Kiss has a long list of effects but in a summary, what you need to know is that it forces a tank swap, Decimation Blade will test whether your healers can heal 90% of the tanks max hp pool every 2.5 seconds, etc. This may be at odds with your 'redundancy', given that the whole 'list of abilities' is rendered somewhat redundant by the dungeon journal itself.
    - It's very common for guides to be "how we did it". The best guides say "you can do this, or you could do that"... i.e. they outline options. I realise that this is difficult, since most people write guides based on their own successful experiences, but if possible it would be nice to include a 'flexibility'. There are many ways to skin a boss.
    - Benchmarks. This is something really useful that is often left out of guides, especially in fights with soft enrage mechanics. "You should be able to get Beth'tilac to around 80% before starting the final phase" or "your flying team at alysrazor should be able to do 15% damage to her before she lands" for example. These numbers aren't going to be absolutes of course (and this in itself is going to be at odds with the idea of flexibility) but for a raid leader who is trying to work out why things aren't working, it's incredibly valuable to say "we seem to be on track" or "we seem to be behind, what's not working right"

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    well if i'm reading a guide, i don't want to have to tab back and forth reading the game journal just to see what abilities do when a "guide" says, be careful of ability X, in phase 2, as long as you avoid the spots on the ground, you'll be fine. Sure, someone who knows that ability will get it, but if I'm reading this "guide" it just is better to have the description THERE for people to read it as well as how to handle it.

    Formatting largely can handle the "less interesting" parts by making it clear in the guide which parts are definitions and which parts are the strategy part, someone line you can skip the definitions, but someone who is new to the fight, can often benefit from being able to reference back and forth while reading the strategy section. It also allows reading the strat to flow better after any/all abilities are clearly mapped out earlier, to just go ahead and describe what needs to be done and not intermittently explaining abilities.

    I agree with being flexible, in such pyrea mentions expandability, which all author's should be open minded to including varying views/strategies if proven successful, but if specific strategies have pitfalls, weaknesses, they should be explained because not every raid will have the same compositions. So a 2 tank, 5 dps, 3 healer strat, may work "for us" but won't work for another, because you failed to mention that your strat requires chaining raid sac on your prot warrior, your ret paladin, and 2 holy paladins throughout the fight... something a lot of 10 mans don't have the luxury of having, etc.

    I agree, benchmarks are always always good if you have clear ones, or even vague ones, to help people who are progressing, know that at least if they're wiping in phase 2, they're properly working through phase 1 in time.

    Overall I agree with you swelt, but i think Pyrea wrote this in a more generic term and not just specifically for raid guides.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Turelliax View Post
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    I wrote this with all kinds of guides in mind, be it "how to kill this boss", "how to play your class" or even just "how you do X", with X being anything in particular. I used mainly raiding examples because that is a field that everyone on this forum is likely to have a certain amount of expertise in.

    Each kind of guide or description of a method has its own special "niche" sections. A guide on how to kill Ragnaros is going to be set up differently to a guide on how to build a desk from flat-packed pieces. However, there are universal features and properties that all guides should (in my opinion and experience) contain. I will happily add the points you raised in a section dedicated to raid boss guides if people feel that it is necessary, however I am loath to tack on a load of special case scenarios just for the sake of covering every single base. After all, a load of authors that take my guide as a checklist and tick off the boxes would lead to a lot of rather uniform guides that, while good in their own right, would not be particularly original.

    A guide is a guide. A recommendation if you will as to how to go about a task. It isn't a magic formula which will work every time for every circumstance.
    Last edited by Fetzie; 07-12-2011 at 12:20 PM.

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    I think it's a question of emphasis. A good guide highlights the really key mechanics and explains why they are important, where a 'less good' guide would just list them alongside all the rest. The way the tankspot video guides are these days pretty much reflects this. For a written guide, it's probably all about how you structure the introduction/overview/summary sections.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bovinity View Post
    Should have two paragraphs on Redundancy.
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    I like how a guide to writing guides harps on the importance of redundancy.

    Reminds me of, "I'm So Meta, Even This Acronym"

    This is a good document, though, and I approve.
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    Redundancy is difficult to get right in the amount of repeated repetition in the information that is at first emphasized by being so redundant but when your emphasis fades and vanishes by repetition dulling the ampified redundant information that clarity is replicated and degenerates from overly mirrored, and paraphrased information redundant in the manner of repeating the information without any emphasis or revision to provide clarity.

    Redundancy is difficult to get right in the amount of repeated repetition in the information that is at first emphasized by being so redundant but when your emphasis fades and vanishes by repetition dulling the ampified redundant information that clarity is replicated and degenerates from overly mirrored, and paraphrased information redundant in the manner of repeating the information without any emphasis or revision to provide clarity.

    @Bovinity: Is this more what you were intending, Bov? Reev, I think you are misjudging Bov, Reev.

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    Thoughts on having benchmarks for where one should be at each stage? Whether it be a boss kill guide saying that boss should be at X% when Y happens or your desk should now look like this (picture) when at this stage. Though how many benchmarks a guide has can be left up to the author I find them extremely helpful.

    A very well written guide. Excellent work.

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    In PuG raid-leading, most recently Occu'thar, I have found a semi-contradictory mix of redundancy and clarity: Using the correct mix of technical jargon and naming the actual abilites vs literary devices (metaphor, or allusion and whatnot) and slang.

    e.g. Occu'thar will randomly target a player for "Focused Fire" which spawns a lingering area-of-effect that spawns at that location. So if you don't have aggro and he starts staring at you, hotfoot it out of the void zone quick!

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    I like what you have shared about objectivity... It is true that emotions are very hard to keep out especially when it comes to topics that are very close to your heart. I will remember this not going over the top.
    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
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