Introduction: How to Make a Great Instructable

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to learn …

NOTE FROM STAFF: This is a historical document of our site and practices, so you may see screenshots and descriptions of processes that no longer exist.

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This is a community edited Instructable that goes over the process of making an Instructable. It covers appropriate subjects; the mechanics of adding text, images, and files; and the level of quality expected in an Instructable.

You can start your first Instructable by mousing over "Submit" on the top navigation and clicking "New Instructable." Or, you can just click here!

If you're new to the site, welcome! This guide will help you navigate through creating an Instructable.

Step 1: Subject Matter

The best instructables are written by people who are passionate about what they do and
want to share their knowledge. So, the best question to ask yourself about writing an Instructable is this: "Am I passionate, enthusiastic, and really excited about the project I am about to share."

Some good examples of Instructables written by passionate people:
3-D Scanner
Magnetic Acrylic Rubik's Cube
Dixie Cup Spherical Dodecahedron
Teddy Bear Remote Control
Dachshund wheelchair

If you have a question, comment, idea, or request for collaborators, please post that in the forums. Instructables must include instruction.

Of course, there are some exceptions. If you did something that completely failed, and can teach others how not to repeat your error, that can make an excellent Instructable. Check How Not To for a good example of this.

Please do not make Instructables that violate our terms of service. Here is a brief, human-readable version of the TOS.

Instructables is rapidly evolving, growing, and becoming more and more exciting. Our vision for the project is captured in the about page, but I thought you might enjoy a more practical approach. So, here's a human readable terms of service (from here).

Please use Instructables to:

  • Document and show off how you built your projects.

Projects can be in any form -- half-finished (the documentation should be complete),
hot off your work bench, or fully debugged and ready to make a million units.
If there's instruction, if someone can learn from and improve upon your work, it's an Instructable.

  • Demonstrate how to do something.

This could include showing
how to change a car tire,
how to use a software product,
how to sail a boat.

  • Solicit feedback or help on projects.

Post useful comments and suggestions on other people's projects.
Work together with other users to improve on projects.
Post derivative projects that show your contribution or innovation to an existing Instructable.
We are working on tools to make this easier.

  • Market your project.

Did you make two widgets, but only need one?
Are you willing to cook your awesome recipe for others?
Are you the best at what you do and willing to share your service?
Let people know. We are working on tools to make this easier.

Please don't use Instructables to:

  • Advertise without any useful instruction.
    • Post projects that are inappropriate.

There's a "grayzone" that includes all the things you might think it includes: obscene projects, clearly unsafe projects with no warning or instruction, and projects that are previously copyrighted or rely solely on copyrighted or otherwise protected materials. If your project is in the grayzone, we may decide to un-publish or delete it.

  • Post comments that are mean-spirited or insulting.

Step 2: A Few Notes on Language

Your Instructable will be seen by a great many people. Its clarity and professionalism are a direct reflection on you as the author. Please use proper language when writing an Instructable; capitalize when necessary, use a spell checker such as the one available in Firefox 2.0, and be grammatically accurate. There is no rush to write an Instructable, so shortened forms of words,"u" and "ur" for example, are not acceptable.

English is the most common language of the Instructables community. However, Instructables are not required to be written in English. If you choose to write in another language, please follow proper conventions and consider posting a duplicate Instructable written in English. In the future, we will support localization and automatic translation. Better language makes for easier translation.

Step 3: Which Browser to Use

The Instructables website is most thoroughly tested in the latest version of Firefox. We also support IE6 and IE7, but do not use these on a day-to-day basis, so IE-specific bugs may go unnoticed. If you are having trouble, try using Firefox. If you find a bug, please note your system setup and submit a bug.

Other browsers are not supported, and many have known issues.

You can get Firefox here.

Step 4: The Intro Step and Title

Most people will find your Instructable based on the title - either seeing the title in the Instructables explore pages, on an RSS feed, or on a search engine. Make sure your title contains information that would help people who are searching for your Instructable find it.
Good title: How to make a _ to help you _ for less than $_.
Good title: Improve your _ by _ and _.
Bad title: The Widget by Username!
Bad title: What everyone has been waiting for: the AWESOME PROJECT!!!!!

On a search engine, people looking for the information in your Instructable typically only see the title and not the introductory text, so make sure your title conveys enough about your Instructable.

Cute titles are OK only when used in conjunction with an informative title:
The AWSOME PROJECT: How to make a _ to help you _ for less than $_.

For the intro step, provide an image and a short description of the project.

Try to describe the project using different words than the Instructable's title.

Check here for an excellent introductory step.

Step 5: Give Some Motivation for the Project

The Instructables community is always fascinated by why you decided to do your project. Tell a story, show a problem, or tell a little bit about yourself.

If it's short, include your motivation in the intro step. If it's longer and more detailed, devote an entire step to your motivation.

Here's an example:
The first few steps of this Instructable give detailed motivation for the project.

Step 6: Parts, Materials, and Tools

If applicable, give list of the parts, materials, and tools you used in your project. Links to places where you got any of the items are really appreciated. An obvious supplier of components or materials to you might be a wonderful new piece of information to someone else. The cost of any item is encouraged, but not required.

Step 7: Adding Images and Files

There are multiple ways to upload and add images and files to your Instructable.
The details below discuss the image library, but it applies in much the same way to the file library.

Each user has an image library with all of their uploaded images.
Each Instructable has its own image library with each image attached to that Instructable.
The 'This Instructable' image library makes collaborating with others easier because it gives each collaborator access to the images.

We have a new beta uploader that will allow you to select multiple files/images from your dialog box. Just click on the 'Try the new uploader' and use Ctrl + click to select more than one image.

You can upload images directly to you library here:

We have a beta Flickr upload tool available in your library or on the upload page under the 'flickr import' tab.
This allows you to import images from your Flickr account into your Instructables library.

You can upload images directly to a step on an Instructable, comment, or forum topic by browsing for the file under the "Upload" section directly under "attach images" and "attach files" tabs.

Step 8: Text Formatting

The text formatting in Instructables is based on the wiki used in Edgewall's trac.

The most useful thing for people is probably links.

[ Instructables]

Three things that are not available as buttons yet are:


and the horizontal rule (four or more dashes)

The full formatting documentation is here. Not everything is implemented yet, but we're getting there.

Step 9: Adding More Steps, Rearranging Steps, Deleting Steps

You can re-order steps by clicking on the 're-order steps' button. Simply drag the steps up or down to change the order. Click done after you have then in the desired order.

Step 10: Share (post Links / Email Friends / Add Collaborators)

In edit mode, click the "share" tab. There are three tabs you'll find.

share on - On this tab you will have easy options to post your Instructable to Facebook, Digg or Twitter. It also gives you embed code so you can use our flash embed tool to easily add your Instructable to your blog or website. There is also a direct link to download a pdf version of your Instructable.

email to friends - Access your Gmail/Aol/Hotmail/Yahoo address book to email a link to your Instructable to your friends.

collaborate - Use this tab to enable collaboration and add other Instructables members to collaborate on your Instructable. The user who starts the Instructable is the "lead author" and is the only person who can add other collaborators or publish the Instructable. Collaborators can edit text, add images and steps, and re-arrange steps. They can also remove images and delete steps.

Step 11: Version History

The Instructables system keeps a record of the previous 6 months of changes, so you can undo your last action or rollback to an earlier version. Click on the 'history' tab to access your previous edits.

Step 12: Saving and Finishing Later

You don't need to finish your Instructable all in one go. Your Instructable is auto saved often. You can also use the 'Save Now' button whenever you want to save.

You do not need to publish an Instructable to ensure it gets saved.

Step 13: How to Deal With Web Forms and Online Systems

When entering data into a text box or form on a website, there is always the chance that text may be lost. The website may go down before you click a "save" or "send" button or you may lose your connection to the internet. Losing something you just wrote can be extremely frustrating and annoying.

The Instructables website is no exception. Occasionally we experience errors that result in steps not being saved or comments not being posted. Often you can go back through your history by hitting the back button on your browser and try resubmitting. Try hitting the back button once until you see the spinning "loading" image, and then click the refresh button. For comments, click "Add comment" again, and your text may already be in the form. For Instructables, your text may already be visible.

The best way to prevent this problem is to type your text into a local text editing program and copy it into the web forms. If there is an error saving, nothing is lost and you can copy your text into the form again. Another method is to copy the text typed into a form into your system's copy buffer (typically CTRL-A to select all, and CTRL-C to copy) right before you click save or submit. Should anything go wrong, you can paste your text and try again.

Step 14: Publishing

Publish your Instructable when it is complete and ready for others to try out and comment on it.
Please do not publish with the intention of adding crucial information or images later.
A published Instructable should be complete.

Remember to add keywords that are appropriate to your content.

Select at least one category and a second category if it makes sense to have both. Only one category is required.

You can always edit your Instructable after publishing.
Use this function to add more information or to incorporate suggestions from the comments.

Step 15: Popularizing Your Instructable

Content is king. None of the tips below will help if your Instructable isn't your best effort. Remember, a great Instructable is about something you are passionate about. It is well-written and spell checked. It has clear images with proper use of macro, if needed. It has an intro step that summarizes the project and explains your motivation.

Now, assuming your content is great, you want to tell people about your Instructable.

1. Email out your Instructable.

Email your friends and family a link to your Instructable with your intro text. If you are sending the link to someone who has never been to the site before, give them a brief introduction. "Instructables is a place where I've been sharing my projects and finding other cool projects..."
You might also tell them how to use some of our features: "To give a project a positive rating, create a free account, and hit the "+" button in the upper right."

2. Add your Instructable to the social bookmarking or news sites.

There are a number of sites that help people find, organize, and rate interesting things on the web. Our favorite site is [ Digg], where users vote on new items and there's always interesting things on the front page. If your Instructable reaches the front page of Digg, expect a huge number of people to see it. We've added a "Digg it" button to the upper right corner of each Instructable. Click on this button to submit your Instructable to Digg, or if it has already been submitted, to vote it up ("Digg it").

Here are a number of other sites that often help people to find Instructables:

3. Email bloggers about your project.

If your project fits with the theme of the blog, send the editors a note with a quick description of your Instructable and why you think it fits their theme. Be courteous and concise! Remember, these blogs are usually run by only a few people. Phillip Torrone is really only one person!

Here are some blogs that often link to Instructables:

Many of them have email address to send tips, or forms to flll out on their site.

4. Add your project to a group on Instructables.

If you project fits the group, add it. Some of our groups are syndicated across to other websites and other audiences.

Step 16: Taking Good Pictures

When you want a close up picture of something don't put the camera close up to the object, move it back then zoom in on the object. It looks unbelievably better, and more clear.

There are lots of Instructables on how to take better photos.

Once you have good images, you can make a homepage image for your Instructable to appear on the homepage:

Step 17: Edit & Expand

After a day or two, read your Instructable again and ask yourself if it could be better.

Correct spelling and grammar errors.
Clarify language.
Add links where appropriate (the more links the better).
Add notes to photographs.
Follow suggestions offered by readers.

Most importantly, add needed information.

If your project requires programming an IC, for example, it would help to add a step explaining where to get a programmer and how to use it--or find that information somewhere on the Internet and provide a link to it.

Ask yourself why you wrote your Instructable. Is it achieving those goals?

Ask yourself why people would be reading your Instructable or completing your project. Is the Instructable clear enough and complete enough to satisfy the needs of your readers?

If your Instructable is not fulfilling your own goals or the needs of your readers, don't be afraid to do a complete rewrite. Your instructions will be much more clear the second time around.

Finally, ask yourself if what you've written so far would make a good jumping off point for a new Instructable. Maybe people could do an even better job of completing your project if they had some other skill. Or maybe there's something else you can do that would develop the same skill. If people like your Instructable, they'll probably want more. That will keep you writing and your readers reading.