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A quick guide to quick guides


Blog headlines

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    16 April 2020

    Social care is to get a new brand identity as the government seeks to reverse the perception that it is the poor relation of the NHS.

  • Blithering Covid-19 bulletin plays vital role
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  • Exceeding your expectations: the Blithering staff survey
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  • Martin Plackard’s week: Monday
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  • A quick guide to quick guides
    24 January 2020

    Few of us have time for long documents that take ages to read or a lot of expertise to put together. That’s where quick guides come in.

  • Towards people and impact
    17 January 2020

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  • Martin Plackard’s top tips for making a difference in 2020
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  • Tools honoured in Blithering awards
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  • Toast
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Friday, 24 January 2020

A quick guide to quick guides

Few of us have time for long documents that take ages to read or a lot of expertise to put together. That’s where quick guides come in.

This handy, bite-size explainer tells you all you need to know to create quick guides of your own.

Start by picking a complex topic that people often find hard to understand, such as medicine, then turn it into an eight page A5 booklet leaving out the boring, difficult bits.

Or choose a topic that people feel they should know about. Safe choices are compassion, leadership, collaboration, change and patients.

Who am I writing it for?

Your ideal reader knows nothing about the topic, doesn’t have the time to learn about it in depth, but may have an urgent need to express an opinion about it in a meeting or on social media.

Your job is not to fill their heads with “facts” but to get them started on their learning journey (see also our Quick Guide to Personal Growth).

What if I know nothing about the topic?

Then you are in an ideal place to understand the needs of the reader. Knowledge will only get in the way.

How should I get started?

Google should provide you with all the material you need. Don’t get bogged down in lengthy reports and academic papers. Don’t “reinvent the wheel” or feel compelled to do “original work”. Look for other quick guides on the same topic and cut and paste the best bits into yours (see also our Brief Guide to Plagiarism).

What should I include?

A high-level introduction – this should clearly set out your aims, the scope of the guide and a summary of the main points for anyone who doesn’t have time to read the whole thing. Include clear and simple instructions about how to use the guide, for example “Start at the beginning and read the words until they run out”.

Practical advice – readers will only engage if they believe they are getting practical advice or if the advice you give sounds practical. Your role is to stimulate their interest in practicality not to tell them how to apply it.

Top tips – don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Remember, some readers will know even less about the topic than you do. Examples of reusable top tips are: “Involve other people and ask them what they think”, “Focus on building relationships”, “Make a plan and stick to it” and “When you have a good idea, write it down” (see also our Smart Guide to Effective Tips and Hints).

Case studies – nothing illustrates the art of the possible better than a case study. Like everything else in your guide, these should contain a minimum of “information”. Remember to include an encouraging description of one or more desired outcomes. Actual outcomes, where available, are a bonus.

Checklists – pilots and surgeons rely on checklists, so should you. A checklist will help the readers to gain the confidence to take their next steps whether that’s flying an Airbus, performing delicate neurosurgery or starting a stakeholder outreach project.

Actions – these may or may not be appropriate to your guide. If actions are not for you, leave them out or save them for a follow-up guide.      

Illustrations – too many words will put readers off. To appeal to different learning styles use visuals such as infographics, which allow you to oversimplify even the most difficult subjects, and diagrams to convey ideas that might sound implausible if you described them in words. Helpful shapes include pyramids and quadrants, while arrows are good for creating a sense of direction or movement.

Links to useful resources – a long list of further reading will create the impression that you know the subject inside out. You don’t need to have read it all yourself – you can’t be expected to do everything.

Glossary – readers will appreciate a brief description of any acronyms, jargon or terms you’ve invented to make your document truly indispensable.

How long should it take to write?

A quick guide should be a five-minute read. Obviously it will take longer than that to write. Allow yourself at least 20 minutes. If it takes all afternoon you’re probably overthinking it (see also our Beginner’s Guide to Thinking).

Bite-size editor: Julian Patterson


richard.ward3@nhs.net says:
Jan 24, 2020 02:43 PM

Julian - pithy article as ever. I know you haven't covered FAQ's per se, but I wonder if you could give a quick guide on FAQ's. I'm particularly interested in how many times a question needs to be asked in the NHS before it becomes "Frequently Asked". Every time I'm presented with a new website I ask the question, but there is no consistency in the responses I get. Can you quantify?
Many thanks

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Jan 24, 2020 03:31 PM

Thanks, Richard. I'll give it a go and speculate that most NHS bodies need to be asked a question a minimum of zero times before it features in an FAQ. I hope that helps put your mind at rest.

Lawrence Moulin
Lawrence Moulin says:
Jan 25, 2020 03:23 PM

This article looks very interesting but sadly I'm too busy to read it all, do you have an executive summary available?

Jeff Hudson
Jeff Hudson says:
Jan 27, 2020 08:49 AM

Ah Julian! You missed 2 fundamental points:
1) Never Ever put your contact details on the guide as you'll be pestered for life for more information that you don't have. The phrase "I was only asked to do a 2-sider for the boss" doesn't help.
2) Never ever assume that there is any deeper / more detailed guidance behind the quick guide. They're generally just someone's thoughts on a page with a fancy title and couple of photos of generic smiling patient and compassionate actor...

Jeff Hudson
Jeff Hudson says:
Jan 28, 2020 09:12 AM

Dearest Julian...how quickly we forget...re: towards impact:
Posted this week on NHS Jobs: Head of Kaizen Promotion Office, The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Shrewsbury
Kaizen: Japanese word meaning "change for better", without inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use.