So you want to learn a new skill or you want to do a home improvement project. Where do you begin? In this day of googling everything, you’ll want to find some written material to guide you as you begin this new endeavour. How-to books are your obvious choice.
But there are so many books, and so many voices out there. How do you begin to wade through the offerings to find just what you need for your level of skill or lack thereof? Here are four guidelines as you search for the help you need in your new venture:
Clear and concise information: Your desire is to do something you’ve never done before and do it well. You’re looking for the most clear and concise information possible. So as you scan various how-to books, you’ll want to look first for clear written instructions, combined with simple step-by-step illustrations. The lay-out of the book is extremely important. A cluttered page with too much information or too much verbiage will distract from your learning curve. Remember, clear, simple and straightforward.
Foundational Information: Look for a how-to book that presents foundational information up front. For example if you were trying to learn the Japanese art of Origami, you’d need to first learn the twelve basic folds. Every project in Origami will be based on those folds, and not knowing them will hinder your finished product. Again, if you’re learning to crochet, you’d first need to learn to do the basic crochet stitches: the chain, single crochet, double and treble crochets. You might also need to learn about crochet hook sizes, two or three-ply yarns and other basic information essential to a well-done completed project.
Personal narrative: In new learning that is not so hands-on, but requires certain behaviours or understandings, you may want to find materials that include personal experience narratives. For example if you’re learning how to do the best job interview you may want to hear the stories of several people who were successful in seeking a particular job. Or, let’s say you want to learn to be an excellent cook in French cuisine. You might want to read the personal stories of those who have gone before you with all their successes and failures as your guide. Your how-to book becomes your mentor.
What to Watch Out For: As in all learning, there are trouble spots and “glitches” to beware of. Look for how-to books that give you practical recommendations about things to watch out for as you proceed in your learning. A good example of this is when learning to knit, one must understand the gauge, that is, the size the product will be based on the size of the needles, the ply of the yarn used and the individual style of the knitter. These three entities will determine the size of the item created and may be quite different for each person. A knitter who doesn’t take the time to knit a test piece to determine gauge will run the risk of spending many hours of knitting to end up with a piece that doesn’t meet the size requirements.
Do it yourself projects are a great way to expand your skills and interests and with the right materials you can move forward on learning a new language, understanding the stock market, or mastering virtually any skill under the sun.