Writing an Effective Tutorial That Gets Accepted to Pixel2life and Other Tutorial Portals

One of the the most popular complaints I get from the webmail forms from P2L come from disgruntled webmasters demanding to know why their tutorials were not accepted into the index, especially considering how great their tutorial was. *tongue in cheek*

Teach Intro

Well, 99% of the time it’s simply because they didn’t follow instructions or use some fairly common sense and joined the ranks of the hundred or so tutorials I decline every day. In an effort to help clear up these issues and perhaps offer some insight, I have put together this simple article to help you be a better writer, and create tutorials that will almost always be accepted and welcomed at Pixel2life.com or any other tutorial search portal you happen to use.

Define Your Purpose

One of the biggest mistakes you can possibly make is creating a tutorial with the mindset that it will be a quick traffic fix to help increase your traffic or increase your ad revenue. If you write a tutorial with these goals as your primary objective, not only will it likely NOT get accepted, but it will be tremendously obvious that you had no intention of teaching anything when you wrote it. People who write for traffic generally recycle the same content, rush through the tutorial, and basically commit every tutorial error I can think of. If you’re not looking to actually teach something and help people learn, don’t waste your time or ours.

A quality tutorial requires planning and hours of work… if you wrote a tutorial in 10 minutes, then I can guarantee you that it’s useless no matter what your buddies tell you. Now, let’s have a reality check shall we?

Are You Qualified?

Just because you can open up Photoshop and draw a square or scanlines doesn’t mean that you should be teaching a single thing, so you have to be honest with yourself and decide if you’re fit to share your knowledge. It’s shocking how many errors, poor technique and completely incorrect methodology some people bring to users simply because they lack experience and skills. If you create images with text that are all jagged because you don’t know what anti-aliasing is, then you have absolutely no business teaching anyone how to use a graphics program. Yes, I’ve actually seen tutorials where the entire thing was completely ugly because the author didn’t know how to use anti-aliasing on text.

Let me put it to you another way: If the extent of your knowledge of a particular subject goes only as far as the tutorials you’ve read and more or less memorized, you shouldn’t be writing tutorials or teaching because you don’t know how to use the program… you only know how to follow instructions. Just because I can copy/paste the coding from a PHP tutorial that shows me how to create a user hit counter, it doesn’t mean that I am a PHP programmer. It simply means I know how to copy and paste text into webpages, thus I am completely unqualified to teach PHP.

So, be honest with yourself before trying to teach other people… you could end up teaching them something counter-productive.

Are You Serious?

If you’re serious about writing your own tutorials and teaching people, then it should show in your materials. A serious painter uses quality paints, not Crayola Washable Bathtub Paint and as a teacher and author, you should be the same. You should have your own website and domain with all your content hosted in the same place. Having a website hosted on a free forum site with all your images hosted on Photobucket is completely unprofessional and just piles you into the pile of the thousands of other tutorial sites that come and go on a daily basis. Not only that, but these free image and web hosting services all have certain limits, and getting a tutorial on P2L will quickly reach those limits and your tutorial will no longer function.

Pixel2life.com (as well as many other portals) does not accept tutorials that contain images hosted on any domain other than the domain of the tutorial itself or if the tutorial is an image that is directly linked to a free image hosting service like Photobucket or Imageshack.

If you’re not able to spend $5 a month for hosting, you’re not ready to publish online on your own yet. You can certainly write for other sites and they welcome your work, but don’t run your own gig unless you can host it properly.

Choose Your Topic

For the love of God, WE KNOW HOW TO MAKE SCANLINES! If a tutorial for a particular subject has already been created, modified and improved upon by 20 websites, there’s no need for you to do it too. Write an original tutorial, and not only will it be accepted wherever you submit it, but you’ll also get TONS of traffic because it’s new and unique. People love to see new concepts, so don’t get caught recycling the same old stuff.

So when you’re getting ready to write something, ask yourself these questions:

1. Has it been done to death?
2. Is it useful?
3. Do I know enough about this subject to teach it?
4. Am I patient enough to document this properly?

If you’re satisfied that your topic will be successful after answering these questions honestly, then you’re ready to get started. You can find a complete list of tutorials P2L does not accept HERE.

Preparing Your Content

Before you start to write your tutorial, you need to prepare your source material and content for the lesson. Some of you are very young writers, and while it’s great to see so many bright young people out there, youthful tendencies can sometimes get the better of this group. Remember that people of all kinds of race, religion and gender will be reading these tutorials, so keep your content appropriate. A woman in a thong should not be ANYWHERE in your tutorial… how would you like it if women started writing tutorials featuring men in g-strings plastered all over it and they zoomed in to their crotch area to show you how to correct a nasty ingrown hair near their “unit” with the clone tool? So keep the bikini babes, tasteless jokes etc… at home. I once saw a great tutorial on how to create bruises and cuts. It was very well written and the effects were pretty realistic and looked good. The problem? The author used a photo of a 6 year old! As a parent, I was appalled to see a picture of a beaten up child, even if it was done digitally and not only did the tutorial get declined, but the author got a nasty email from me and I was pretty much ready to ban their site from P2L.

If you’re going to write a tutorial based on graphics, go through the entire lesson of the tutorial and take screen shots of every step and make sure you document everything if you don’t have it memorized. My graphic tutorials tend to be pretty huge, so I take notes for each screenshot so I can remember what I was capturing in the first place. Be sure to re-size your screenshots, or create thumbnails that a user can click on to see the full image. You should also optimize your images and cut out only what you need. Don’t post a 1600 x 1200 pixel screenshot to show us what filter you clicked on!

If this is a coding tutorial, you should have a fully tested and working version of the lesson and not just some code you typed out that “should work”. It boggles my mind when I see tutorials on PHP and the comments area for the tutorial is filled with people complaining about issues with the script or folks pointing out coding errors on something that was obviously not tested.

You should always have a live final result sample ready for the tutorial, be it a Flash SWF file, a link to a script or a down-loadable project file. Many people, myself included, learn from tearing live samples apart and seeing what makes them tick.


Write to Teach, Not to Guide Lemmings

Step 1. Go here
Step 2. Click this
Step 3. Draw a Circle
Step 4. You’re done!

What did you just learn? Absolutely nothing because you had zero explanation of the steps… you’ve been a victim of a tutorial fit for a Lemming.

Plan each step of your tutorial and explain everything in as much detail as you can by providing examples, screenshots, code snippets etc. and be sure to discuss variations if applicable. This means that if you are writing a tutorial on Javascript, you should be explaining what each line of code or command does and how it’s used. A two word comment within the code is useless and you’re not teaching anything. The idea is that you want people to understand what they are typing so they can apply it under different circumstances. Now that’s teaching! If you simply spew out the code, the student simply learns that it does *something* to make the script work, but they have no understanding of what it’s doing to make it work.

The same goes for a Photoshop lesson. Don’t just say click this, click that, click here and drag this… you’re teaching a big fat sweet nothing! Explain what the tools are and what they do so that they can create their own artwork with these principals and not just follow you like sheep. You can’t just shrug off details by saying “Well, I assume they have a basic understanding of Photoshop”. If they did, why would they need your tutorial on how to create a square with a gradient?

Grammar, Spelling and Structure

Your tutorials should be as professional as you can manage and if you’re going through the effort of writing one properly, why wouldn’t you do something as simple as spell checking it? Paste your entire tutorial into Microsoft Word or some other spell checker and verify that your spelling and grammar won’t make a dictionary collapse in tears or helpless laughter. Leave the l33t speak for your buddies on the forums, because it makes you look like you’re 12 when it’s in a tutorial and spare us the swear words, unless you’re writing a bad word filter in PHP. You can certainly have humor, but you can be funny without swearing… just ask Jerry Seinfeld.

Your tutorial should also have some form of basic formal structure, similar to a book report or a school paper. You should have an introduction that discusses the general purpose of the tutorial, how long the process takes, the software used etc. I can’t believe how many tutorials I see that require me to read halfway through just to get a clue of what I’m supposed to be trying to accomplish. Next should be the body of your tutorial, with each step well documented with references and images where necessary. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to have more steps and images than needed rather than not enough. Once that’s all done, your tutorial should have a conclusion that can talk about variations of what was just learned, how to advance on the lesson, and any other final shots. And finally, you should have some footnotes and links to final examples, live samples and additional references as applicable.

Once your tutorial is all done and ready to go, do a final spellcheck and then have it proof read by at least 2 people. Make sure they read it slowly and have them mention anything that doesn’t read well or is somehow confusing.

Submitting Your Tutorial

Your tutorial is done and published on your site, now it’s time to submit it to Pixel2life.com and any other tutorial portals that you know and love! You know your tutorial is awesome and you’ve spent hours and hours on it, so this is the last place that you should rush through and shoot yourself in the foot. And it happens… A LOT! The following statements are based on the P2L submission process and it’s criteria and may vary for other tutorial sites.

1. Avatars

If an avatar is required for a specific category, it’s because this is a category that users generally use the icons as a way of getting a glimpse of what the tutorial’s end result will be. So this means that if your avatar sucks and is irrelevant, then your tutorial may bomb. In fact, if you submit an avatar for a Photoshop tutorial to P2L that has nothing to do with the tutorial itself (Let’s say the avatar is simply your site’s logo), it will be declined on the spot.

2. Tutorial Title

If you spent all this time on your tutorial, why on earth would you write a 2 word description when submitting? If you care about your tutorial, then you should care enough to submit it properly, so describe it properly! Try and use the maximum space allowable in the submission form and remember that the more keywords you put in the description, the better your chances the tutorial will come up when someone is searching for something.

3. URLs

For some reason, a lot of people have problems submitting URLs that work. Before you click the submit button, make sure your URLs are correct and that you have them in the right fields on the form. It always cracks me up when people have the title of the tutorial submitted as the tutorial’s web link.

You can check out the official FAQ on submitting tutorials to Pixel2life HERE.

Thanks and I hope you found this article useful and helps you to not only write more effective tutorials, but that you’re able to further increase your website’s popularity and reputation as a source of quality information.


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50 thoughts on “Writing an Effective Tutorial That Gets Accepted to Pixel2life and Other Tutorial Portals

  1. I love this article says it all, I sincerely hope it’s well read and webmasters pass this around. Only thing I see missing is a little Dan standing next to the chalkboard 😛

    And add this to DIGG


  2. Wow, this article is very useful and well written as usual Dan :).

    I loved the “Lemmings” bit, that was just great.

    Great Article as usual, looking forward to the next one! They are extremely useful.

  3. Heh Dan… All my tutorials are written to gain traffic! Mwahaha! The thing is, I’m actually qualified to write them. Unlike most of these kids who make a website thinking it will automatically shoot up to the likes of 13dots. I know Photoshop like the back of my hand and do design work professionally. More than half of the tutorials written by myself have been accepted to Pixel2Life and other tutorial sites. I do write tutorials and so do my members on subjects which are over done, I don’t even bother submitting those… but they do bring in search engine traffic :D.

    I also go as far as to pay writers, yes, pay writers. I give them bonuses if the tutorials are exceptionally well written and unique. So far, of my paid written tutorials, 95% of them have been accepted to Pixel2Life. A few didn’t because they are over done topics heh…

    As for writing methods, I tend to work out what I will write a tutorial on first, go over it once to create the outcome and ask my members if they would like to see a tutorial on it. Then I recreate it all over again, but this time I take screen shots and write the tutorial as I do it. It’s worked out very well, much easier to remember everything if you did it 3 seconds prior :D.

    I can’t agree more with the spelling and grammar bit… I’ve had to write a list of rules for members who write tutorials on my forum to prevent this. They need to understand that the internet is WORLD WIDE. A lot of people will be reading these tutorials whos first language IS NOT ENGLISH.

    Very nice article by the way, hopefully it helps heh. 🙂 I’ll stop rambling now.

  4. SKETCHi we get no special favors from Pixel2Life or any other tutorial site we submit to, we have them declined just like everyone else, and well I find it embarassing when Dan declines them lol as I see the stuff that is declined but I still test him lol and trust me you cannot pull the wool over his eyes he’s 10 times worse than me 😛

    I will query if they are declined and there is no good reason why that I can see. Once I submitted a tutorial 3 times (not to Pixel2Life) and each time it was declined and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why so I asked Dan and he couldn’t understand it either as it was so detailed in instruction. I emailed the website owner and asked why did he keep declining it, turned out the tutorial was not even looked at nor read and I was apologized too and it was up in the next listings, I sincerely feel tutorial sites do not read nor look at the tutorials properly. Dan does I know he does as I assist him every now and again.

    I have learn’t many things from watching Dan and what he does and doesn’t approve and it really is sad what does get submitted, there is so much talent out there but they are wasting it.


  5. Donna, I didn’t say you receive any special treatment… In fact, I complimented 13 Dots.

    When I said “Unlike most of these kids who make a website thinking it will automatically shoot up to the likes of 13dots”, I was referring to the very large amount of people (usually in the 15 and under crowd) who start websites thinking they will have the same success as 13 Dots over night.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  6. great article dan, got aware of it through my friend arutha 😛

    gives out a couple good advice, i got “why the hell haven’t i thought of that before?” here and there.

    although, i have one question: regarding the image hosting, are tutorials not accepted if not hosted on the same same has the tutorial is?
    for i.e., i have my own webhosting acount (free), provided by my isp, with limited space but unlimited bandwidth. is this taken in consideration when accepting/denying tutorials?

    again, great article

  7. I agree with all these points, some people simply dont even bother getting their links working,
    Often I see a tutorial, on the front page of p2l and it DOESNT work.
    Often the issue is a CMS problem, but jeez.
    Fix the damned thing.

    I hope more people read this article

  8. You’re absolutely right , but do you check all the tutorials, isn’t that a lot of work?

    ABout P2L, I absolutely love it when i started using programs like photoshop,flash and dreamweaver.
    It was my number 1 tutorial site, but now , when I look at the tutorials they are all so easy and they aren’t useful anymore cause every tutorialwriter is actually rewriting someone else his tutorial :(. and i’m starting my one site with a couple of friends and when our site is ready where going to post submit some more challenging tutorials to p2l… we’re trying to make unique tutorials, but also some basic tutorials to get beginners started 😉

    ps: I found this article so useful I’m going to link it on our site 😉

  9. Thanks for your comments everyone, I’m really glad to hear you guys like the article and that it’s helping some people out. Reaction on P2L has also been great and it’s helped raise awareness of why perfectly good tutorials are getting declined because of silly technical issues.

  10. Great tutorial Dan. I do write tutorials to get traffic. Because I care about the site. Yes I fall into the 15- class of tutorial writers but I have been using my program (GIMP) for over two years and know the workings of it inside out even if I’m not the most amazing artist in the world. And since the tutorials are about the workings on the GIMP. I’ve spend many hours on it and once I feel it is completely done I will submit it. A question for you though. Do you think thumbnails are much better then just (Screenshot) links?

    I also looked back a old tutorial that I had written and submitted a month or so ago and wanted to kill myself it was so bad. Spelling errors everywhere, broken links to bad screenshots. And it was about making a border. That embarrassed me too much after looking at tons and tons of tutorials since then.

    I’m out.

  11. Great article, i’ll definatly keep them in mind when writing a tutorial.

    “A question for you though. Do you think thumbnails are much better then just (Screenshot) links?”

    Definatly use Thumbnails, i like to preview what im about to see and back in the days, when i viewed ps tuts on a daily basis, i would usually just leave. 😉

  12. I’m a webmaster who has started a few months ago. As every webmaster (I think), I care about traffic. Everybody wants a succesfull website but of course not every website can be succesfull. The difference between a succesful and a not succesful site is the content. It doesn’t matter how good your layout looks, it doesn’t matter which cool scripts you’ve got on your site, it doesn’t matter what nice CMS you’re using / wrote, it doesn’t matter how many mods you installed on your message board… Because what your visitors are looking for after all is good, quality content…

    I like this article because it opened my eyes. I try to provide quality content on my tutorial site on a daily basis, and some points like a good introduction, writing in steps and explaining WHY you want them to do something sound obvious when you read it, but they aren’t at all…

    I think learning how to write tutorials is a process everybody has to go through, and articles such as this one help a lot.


  13. I totally agree with you dan and v1per…I’ve been working on my site for a couple of months now focusing a lot on content. I don’t have as much time as I would like to dedicate to it, but I do what I can. Like v1per I feel like this article has opened my eyes…I’m just gonna have to go back to my writting and focus on introductions and the reasons why certain things are done a certain way…anyways, thanks!

  14. Actually sketch your quite wrong there, being a kid has nothing to do with it, I know 12 year olds who act more mature and can code php better than 21 year olds, that actually has nothing to do with.
    So i sugets you rephrase it because it may hurt some feelings.

  15. Actually, it does Sygon. While obviously there are exceptions, a 12 year old (even a teen in general) lacks the experience to write and perform in a professional environment. It’s not an insult at all. I have yet to meet a 26 year old that thinks he’s as learned and experienced as he was at 16. In fact, we tend to laugh at ourselves at how we were at that age.

    Young folks try to grow up and fill big shoes way too fast… Get some experience, grow your skill set and gain experience in the field and you won’t have to defend yourself when people point out your age. Your work will do all the talking for you…


  16. Thanks for this tutorial! I knew the most parts of it, although I learned some very usefull things from it, Excellent Article,
    So i sugets you rephrase it because it may hurt some feelings.

  17. I’m always browsing your blog Dan 😛
    This article is a good one, I especially like near the beginning where it asks if you should be teaching at all.. I like the part where it says:
    ‘If the extent of your knowledge of a particular subject goes only as far as the tutorials you’ve read and more or less memorized, you shouldn’t be writing tutorials or teaching because you don’t know how to use the program… you only know how to follow instructions.’ aswell.

    Well I havn’t had a problem with my photoshop tutorial writing yet, other than I only get motivated ever other few days

  18. Very nice article, very useful and not only with PhotoShop. I’ll be sure to take this information to heart as I write tutorials based on our office procedures and our software package. This should eliminate the lemmings and improve the quality of our support!

    Thanks again.

    p.s. you should do a scan for ‘cut out onl ‘ I see you dropped a ‘y’ under the second paragraph in “Preparing your Content” (At least it wasn’t under Grammer, Spelling and Structure 😉 )

  19. This is a wonderful article, except for one thing: the paragraph following the “Grammar, Spelling and Structure” section contains the sentence: “The following statements are based on the P2L submission process and it’s criteria and may vary for other tutorial sites.” It’s ironic because the spelling is wrong. It should be “its”, not “it’s”. It’s a tiny glitch, but unfortunately placed. (I actually make similar mistakes all the time and found some in this comment even after proofreading it ten times.)

  20. Thanks for your comments everyone! At first I was wondering why all of a sudden people were commenting on this old article, then I noticed it was tagged on Digg. Thanks for coming by and thanks for all the encouraging posts 🙂


  21. Just a nice job. While I am not new to writing tutorials I am new to writing tutorials for Photoshop. In my past experience, I have found the techniques suggested right on target. I will be back for more.

  22. Excellent article. Opened my eyes to some rules I already knew, but did not apply strictly. I’ll definitly scan the few tutorials I have, possible rewrite and add information, and this is a great base for future tutorials.

    You see indeed a lot of tutorials with just the steps explained. However, it is possible to learn from these, because you understand how to apply a certain effect, how to do some things in a faster way. But you’re spot on with the point to explain things. It will make it much better.

    Kind regards and thanks for your article,


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