Design & UX
By Ada Ivanoff

7 Point Checklist for Making Great Video Tutorials

By Ada Ivanoff
A video camera recording a scene

Photo: Alex Abian

High quality video tutorials are one of the best ways to share your knowledge with the world.

However, you don’t need to look far to find poorly-made tutorials that play like some kind of cruel punishment to the unlucky viewer.

What’s more unfortunate is, although many of these tutorials often contain useful raw content, poor presentation drives potential viewers away before they see it. So, if you want to sidestep some of the major pitfalls, here are seven easy tips for making quality video tutorials.

1. Is Your Topic Suitable for a Video Tutorial?

Reflections of a thinker.


Before you start making a video, the fundamental question you need to answer is: Is this topic well-suited to video content?

You might be tempted tothink that any ‘How To’ topic is a great choice for a video tutorial but this isn’t so. For instance, a topic such as ‘How to Hire an Accountant’ could make a great text tutorial, but may not be well-suited as video content.

A topic that is suitable for a video tutorial has a compelling visual aspect to show-off. For instance, almost all software and hardware how-to’s are a good candidate, as well as cooking, home repairs, most sports, etc because you show how to perform an action, rather than explain it in just words.

2. Keep it Short and Focussed

Movie capper board in action

Photo: openDemocracy

Detailed explanation are fine, but longer isn’t always better with video tutorials — we’re not making feature length movies here.

While there is no universal rule regarding video tutorial lengths, generally it’s better to keep your tutorial under 5 minutes. Anything up to 10 minutes is acceptable, provided there is no way to shorten the video or break it in parts.

This is particularly important when trying to build an audience from scratch. Spielberg can ask for two hours of our attention because he has earned our trust. When we’re starting out, we need to gradually build that audience trust, and the best way to do that is to deliver high value content quickly.

3. Use Short Sentences and Simple Words

Alphabet pasta spelling

Photo: h&b { Lea }

One of the specifics of the video genre regarding text is that you do need to keep it simple.

In spoken language, complexity is a huge hurdle for listeners/viewers, so always try to keep your text as simple as possible. After all, with a video you don’t need as many words as with a text tutorial because you are showing most of the stuff, not describing it in words.

There are two reasons to keep sentences short and use simple words. Firstly, long sentences and complex words are harder to present, and as a result you’ll likely need to record the audio multiple times to get it right.

Secondly, a video tutorial is not a book – your audience will listen to and watch the tutorial, not read its script. This means it’s harder for viewers to convey your ideas when you use long sentences and complex words.

Set a time limit for your video, makes a timer visible as you record, and stick to your time limit.

4. If Necessary, Hire a Professional Voice

Sound desk controls

Photo: Martin Deutsch

We all sing, but that doesn’t makes us all singers. Voice recordings are no different.

While there’s no doubt it’s more authentic to record your own audio track, that doesn’t mean is not always a good idea. If your voice, accent, intonation, etc. are not pleasant to the ear, you’re often better to bring in a third party to record the audio.

If you can afford it, hire a professional — their rates are not that high. But if your budget is tighter, ask a friend, a co-worker or anybody else whose voice, accent, intonation, etc. are easier on the ear to record the tutorial for you.

If you write their lines and have your equipment set up, recording should only take an hour or so.

5. Ensure the Picture and Audio Quality Are Good

Woman in dark with microphone.

Róbert Kiss

It might be more important what you are saying than how it sounds/looks on screen but if the picture quality is blurry and the sound is distorted, this kills even the best content.

While you can do without professional video equipment that costs thousands of dollars, one small item that makes a huge difference is a decent microphone. Even an inexpensive microphone can improve your production values immediately, but if you plan on doing more video tutorials, splashing out on a quality microphone will me money well spent.

The quality of the audio willalso drastically improve if you choose a quiet environment to record in – users don’t have to listen to planes landing, traffic or office chit-chat, right?

In any case, even if you record in a quite environment with a state-of-the-art microphone, it won’t hurt to run some filters over the audio to clean it from any noise that is possible to be cleaned.

If your tutorial is focussed an onscreen topic (i.e. an app, or a Web site), you need to watch for mouse movements. Don’t move the mouse hectically – move it only when you really need to. If the mouse cursor is moving all the time, users get not only distracted but also annoyed, so keep the mouse still, when you don’t need it to perform an action.

6. Don’t Overdose on Ads

Pasted posters

We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch, and most users understand that if there were no ads, the video might not be free. Nevertheless, even the most understanding viewer can snap when there are ads everywhere.

It’s fine to include some ads to promote you, your products, or your services, or even to make you a few bucks but good measure is key. Keep in mind that your video hosting service may package their own ads into your videos, so keep that in mind when you’re considering packaging your own advertising.

If your promotional content is limited to an opening splash screen with brief info about your company, contact and links info at the end plus links and perhaps overlaying a logo throughout the tutorial, you’ll usually be fine.

Be wary of pushing harder with ad content, especially before you’ve established an audience.

7. Write a Thoughtful Text Description

Magnetic word poem.

Photo: *BGP*

In 2012 Youtube reported that users uploaded one hour of new video EVERY SECOND. The question is, how do you get your content discovered amongst this vast ocean of video?

One very important step is to always write a great text description. As engaging as video can be for humans, Google and other search bots are much more adept at processing text descriptions. If you make things easy for the bots, they’ll make your content more easily ‘discoverable’.

When you think about the title, try to make it catchy. However, don’t get TOO clever or abstract – it needs to reflect what the video is about.

In the description, don’t forget to mention what users will learn from the video – it’s these practical benefits to the user that make them watch your video and not somebody else’s.

Depending on where you publish your video tutorial, your title, description, and tags fields may not be mandatory. Even if they aren’t, always fill them in any case, as this will always improve the odds your video to be found.

You can also fill in the meta tags of the video page, so that you’ll get better rankings with search engines.


None of these tips are particularly hard to follow and should improve your videos immediately.

Of course, there are many more advanced tips that deal with camera equipment and software techniques, but they are the focus of another article. Hopefully these tips will start you off on the right foot.

  • boen_robot

    “If your voice, accent, intonation, etc. are not pleasant to the ear, you’re often better to bring in a third party to record the audio.”

    Yeah… About that…

    It’s not uncommon for people to UNDERestimate their own voice’s pleasantness when they hear it from a recording, so perhaps the advice about hiring a third party should be said with the caveat that one should first find out by more objective means how pleasant their voice is to others.

    How exactly do you do that, I’m not sure though… If you just ask friends and family, they’ll obviously say “Your voice is fine” even if it’s not, so as to not hurt your feelings and what not. I mean, unless you’re REALLY at the ends of the spectrum, you’ll get neither “Are you kidding?! Your voice is EPIC!” or “Errr… your voice is not… appropriate… for video tutorials”.

    I guess… If you feel confident in the topic and the script, go for it, at least for the first couple of videos that you do, and if your voice is as unpleasant as you think, you can be sure commenters on your video would not hesitate to point it out, especially if you post your video on YouTube or other environments NOT known for polite conversations.

    • Alex Walker

      @boen_robot That’s a great point. I think we’re all surprised and often horrified when we hear our own voice on a recording. Strong accents can be an issue if it means users have to work harder to understand the content. But I agree, that you should get other opinions on your vocal delivery if you’re unsure.

    • adaivanoff

      Right, this can be tricky. I myself when I heard my own voice, I just couldn’t believe my ears! And I definitely wouldn’t post a video of mine with my own voice on YouTube. You are right that the comments on YouTube can be really nasty, so I would add to your comment that if you are confident in the beauty of your but the comments on YouTube mock it, just don’t pay attention to comments and go with your voice.

    • Sp4cecat

      We’re so used to ‘hearing’ our own voice conducted to our ear drums partly by way of vibrations through our own body that our voice almost always sounds ‘weird’ when first heard from an external source.

      I had a bit of a crack at doing voice-over, and the main pointers I picked up are:

      a) Don’t rush; take time to enunciate
      b) Imagine you are speaking to a specific audience or person as you explain (especially if you are using a script) and
      c) Put a bit of bounce and character in to your speech – emphasise key points and words. You can have ‘slowly and clearly’ down pat but go too far in to ‘slow and monotonous’

      An enthusiastic speaker can make up for a lack of technique – a quirky voice is often much more appropriate than a ‘mr movie trailer’ voice.

  • I’d also suggest “write a script” as an important point; James Wedmore (YouTube marketer) suggests the same, because as much as an expert as someone might be, without a script there’s a strong chance of them going off on a tangent, or of verbal ticks like “um”, “ah”, “uh”, “like” and “so, yeah” coming through. The benefit of writing a script is that you know what you’re going to say so you don’t have to think on-the-fly.

    Another advantage is that if you do decide to hire a professional voice over artist, having a script already written will save you time. A professional voice may suggest some improvements to help with the flow of the read, but if they have to listen to your audio and then write the script up themselves, they’re going to charge extra.

    If you do decide to go with a professional voice, make sure it is a professional voice and not “someone who sounds like they have a good voice.” A properly trained voice over artist will be able to make the information stick, and will deliver much better quality reads, while someone who has a nice voice but no experience reading from a script will sound like they’re reading from a piece of paper. That doesn’t sound very professional and reflects badly on you.

    • Alex Walker

      Good calls, all of them, Karl.

    • adaivanoff

      A script really helps, especially with pro readers. With me a script is a disaster – it’s more than obvious that I read the script, which kills the whole idea because the audio sounds a bit like machine reading with an even voice and stammering at the tongue-twister parts of the next. I guess it pro readers it’s different – they can make the script live and interesting to listen to.

  • urbgimtam

    Great points both on the article and on the comments. I would just add two things to the table:

    1. Regarding scripts, even if you don’t write a script, at least you should define the topics and a very tiny description of each. It serves both as a ice-breaker (to avoid over-thinking which builds ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘so…’ and such) and also keeps you in focus, as it’s very easy to fall out of line. Also helps organizing the presentation before you start recording, thus making a stronger final product.

    2. Transcribe the video. The world is big, and many viewers won’t speak english as their’s first language. Even for a English-fluent european, sometimes is hard to keep up with all the different accents, intonations and such. Transcribing the video to English brings a ton of benefits. Here’s a couple:
    – Disambiguation: for words that ‘sound’ the same, even if they aren’t.
    – Unclear accents, punctuations: helps clear the doubts.
    – Better SEO: as there is a text document with words in it, keywords can be found inside.
    – Possibility to translate to any other language: increases its lifetime and distribution.
    – Corretion: Usually, during a video, one can make mistakes while speaking, and only detect them sometime after published. The only way to correct without loosing your work is to correct it on the subtitles – bonus tip: most people wont realize the error if the subtitles are playing, as they ear the sound but absorb the subtitle.

    And it’s not that much work. If you already have a script (and you followed it), just upload it and adjust the times. If not, try to detect the english track – youtube will write you subtitles, and you just need to correct them (the detection is good, but its not perfect).

    • adaivanoff

      Great tips, you obviously know a lot about how to make quality video tutorials! :) Thanks for the input.

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