Deciding what is great is not arbitrary. While some opinions will vary, norms are arrived at through a common criteria by which something is evaluated. So let's define some criteria for judging a written Photoshop tutorial on the Web. Let's evaluate the points that make a tutorial good, great, or a super five out of five stars.
1. Wow Factor: How Interesting Is the Effect
One of the reasons why the tutorial by Fabio Create a Spectacular Flaming Meteor Effect on Text is so popular is because the effect is really interesting. Its amazing to see the O in the text on fire. The final result is top notch.
GoMediaZine has a tutorial that really stands out: Badass Bling Effect in Photoshop. The final effect is so shiny it pops off the screen.
I'm sure you can find more examples of tutorials where the final effect is amazing and just by seeing the final effect, you were already rating the tutorial Five Stars before even reading it.
2. Usefulness: Will You Use the Lessons Learned in the Tutorial
If you leaned something you didn't know, well that's nice. If you leaned something you didn't know and you will use it in the future, then that is important to you. This is one of the key aspects of a good tutorial. If it helps the reader with their future needs, then the tutorial has found a purpose other than entertainment.
A good tutorial will be useful to many people that read it. A great tutorial is useful to a large percentage of its audience. Readers can envision using what they learned in their own work. Advanced Glow Effects is a great tutorial partly because so many people in the Psdtuts+ community can put the techniques presented in this tutorial to good use.
Looking at the Psdtuts+ Flickr group, many users have put this tutorial to good use. Here is an example by mamjed below.
3. Detail: Quality of Step-by-Step Instructions
It can be difficult to decide how detailed you need to be when explaining anything. Explain something in too basic a way, and you sound like you're talking down to someone. Skip too much detail, and you talk over their head. Unlike face-to-face communication, it's easier for someone to skim sections that they already know how to do in a written tutorial, but it's very hard for them to fill in any missing details. So when constructing tutorials, it's often good to err on the side of too much rather than too little explanation. Good tutorials explain each step thoroughly.
The tutorials at Psdtuts+ all have a professional numbered step-by-step instruction format. I really liked some of the detail presented in the tutorial A Cool Lighting Effect In Photoshop. The percentages in Step 7 illustrate well the values needed to be achieved.
How information in a tutorial is presented affects our opinion. Here is an example of a tutorial that uses interesting callouts that differentiate it stylistically from other tutorials: Create a Fantastic Decaying Metal Sign.
4. Presentation: Professionalism of Tutorial Design
We as designers know that presentation is extremely important to communication. While some will view this in a feed reader, there are still many that will view the tutorial on the Web site it is published on. The quality of design of the Web site the tutorial appears on will influence our interaction with it and our judgment of its quality.
Gurnk is a blog that has a handful of detailed Photoshop tutorials. The tutorials on this blog benefit from being presented in a clean and well-designed template. Here is a link to a Photoshop Web site layout design tutorial on the site Orange Metal Gaming Design.
Even in feed readers, presentation still plays a key role. How big and how many pictures there are showing the steps in the tutorial are important in evaluating how good a tutorial is. The blog Spoon Graphics benefits by having full feeds and plenty of images for its subscribers. Here's how my Feed Reader view looks with the article Create a Realistic Page Curl in Photoshop.
5. Personality: The Tone and Writing Style of the Author
You don't have to be a great author to write a good tutorial. But no matter what, the writing every author has a voice and a tone of presentation. The author's personality invariably comes across in the words. The more the author stays on track and doesn't meander into diatribes, the more focused their tone is likely to be. The language used by the author should communicate well to the audience. Consider things like how much slang is used? How friendly is the author? How long are the paragraphs? How clear and direct is the writing? These are all part of what forms the tone of writing in the tutorial.
Veerle has a lot of popular tutorials. A big part of that is the connection she forms with her audience. She has an approachable, friendly, fun, and professional writing style. In her article
Photoshop Smart Objects, smart but not always that smart, she points out some good uses of Smart Objects and some problems she's had with them. She has a warm conversational tone. Also, she is keen on thoroughly answering any questions that come up in the comments.
Fabio has some really great tutorials on Psdtuts+ and his own site, Abduzeedo. His tutorial Amazing Photoshop Light Effects in 10 Steps is a good example of using clear, concise, and direct language in your tutorial.
Applying These Criteria
As a community, we can look at these criteria and praise authors when they do something outstanding in any one area and offer constructive criticism when they fall short. This may also help you when evaluating your own tutorials. It's good to think about how your audience will view your tutorial when you are creating it. And having criteria to judge your tutorials by will help you improve your own tutorial writing.
I'm sure we'll come up with more points that make up the criteria for a good tutorial. I'm interested in hearing your opinions about the subject. Also, let us know what some of your favorite tutorials are and be sure to give reasons for your opinions so that we understand your criteria behind deciding that a tutorial is great.
Good tutorials are above average in every criteria point we covered. Great tutorials are above average in every criteria point, as well as being outstanding in more than one of those areas. Five-Star tutorials are awesome on every level. Are there any tutorials that you would give Five Stars to?