This is a post written for food bloggers and recipe developers. It is also for home-cooks who are hoping to submit a recipe to a contest. Here are 5 ways to write better recipes. And I am betting some of these will be new to you.

5 ways to write better recipes

Today I thought I would share my knowledge about professional recipe development and share some recipe writing tips and ways to keep organized that will add polish to your recipe. Or at the very least, you may find a little something that will be of value to you.

I should first say that I have been writing recipes for my job since 2002, I’ve had my recipes published in many national magazines, cookbooks and authored my own cookbook. You can see my published work here.

I have a lot to say about this topic so to keep things relatively succinct, I’ve just distilled out 5 really important things all food bloggers and recipe developers should know about recipe writing, hopefully some will be new to you. And then tomorrow I will get to the salad. I promise.

Write a hypothesis draft

I don’t know if this is really what it is called, but that is what I call a typed-up version of my recipe that I haven’t yet cooked or tested.

To make a hypothesis draft, I think about what I am going to make and then I sit down at my computer. Then I basically start writing the recipe. I go through each element (see 3 below) of the recipe and I make sure all of them are in there. When I get to the method, I basically cook the recipe in my head.

I type-up what I think is going to happen (aka hypothesize) when I actually get into the kitchen and start cooking.

This is what the hypothesis draft of my chicken and chickpea power salad recipe looked like before I got into the kitchen and started testing, taking notes, changing things and dripping stuff all over it.

How to write better recipes ~ write a hypothesis draft

I have to confess that when I started developing recipes, I didn’t take the time to write a hypothesis draft. I was much more loosey goosey about it, I’d take a piece of paper and a pen into the kitchen and write as I went. But since I started writing a hypothesis draft I save a ton of time in the end.

Not only that, but my initial test is much more accurate. Just to give you an example, my “active time” and “total time” only includes actual active time and total time, not time I was actually writing sentences on a piece of paper.

I am sure to verify all of the elements in my first test. The recipe copy writing is much better. This will also force me to really think something through, so that I don’t have to make wholesale changes in the middle of a test.

Save as e-version

When I saved the hypothesis draft of the recipe I saved it as Chicken and Chickpea Green Goddess Power Salad e1. Any subsequent drafts of my recipe will be e2, e3, and heaven forbid, so-on. This is an organizational tip I got from the test kitchen at EatingWell and it has saved me so many times.

When I do this, I have a record of the changes I made to the recipe. I can always go back to an earlier version if I need to. {I actually did that with a recipe I was working on last week when a change I tried didn’t work.}

Here is what the marked-up version of my e1 looked like after I tested the recipe, but before I edited it on the computer.

How to write a better recipe ~ save an e-version
On the right hand side you’ll see my notes for active time and total time too. I also made changes to the hard copy of the recipe for when I am editing it. This test ended up with bland chicken and too much dressing. You can also see where I demonstrated a lower case and uppercase cursive letter g for my seven year old. 🙂

Include all the elements of the recipe

The elements of the recipe are

  • title
  • headnote
  • ingredients
  • method
  • yield
  • timing
  • ingredient notes
  • tips
  • nutrition analysis.

Obviously you aren’t going to forget the title, ingredients or method. But one thing that gets missed sometimes is a yield.  See? I forgot the yield on my e1 and e2 version of my salad.
One way you can do this is make yourself a recipe template. This will force you to include all elements of the recipe.

Because I use a recipe plug-in I am reminded of all the elements when I fill in the form. But if you are working on a project like a cookbook, I would urge you to make yourself a recipe template to work from so you never forget an element. This will also ensure that all of your recipes are consistently formatted.

Always work from a clean copy

When you start a new test make sure you have edited the last version and printed out a fresh version. Then I paperclip (or staple if I’m feeling really bold) the new version to the top. That way as I am testing, I am actually testing the recipe the way it is written.

I know other recipe developers don’t always do this, and some use different colored pens for subsequent tests, but I find that I make less mistakes if I take the time to do this. When you go back to old tests from months ago, it is much easier to see what went down when.

Here is the hard copy of my second test. I edited it and saved it as an e2, printed it and then made new notes on it. Since I already had tested the timing I didn't make notes about that again.
Here is the hard copy of my second test. I edited it and saved it as an e2, printed it and then made new notes on it. Since I already had tested the timing I didn’t make notes about that again. Notice I also wrote myself a reminder and highlighted it so I wouldn’t forget.

Use a consistent copy-writing style

Doing so will ensure that you always include the information for your reader to have success. Every publishing company, food magazine and big recipe website has their individual “House Style.”

I have seen the style book at EatingWell and it is as thick as a phone book, so I can’t go over all of the rules of copy-editing, but the key is to choose your own house style and then be hyper vigilant about being consistent with your own rules.

I’ll give you an example of what I am talking about really quickly. Check out this sentence from the method of my truffled cream of mushroom soup recipe:
Add mushrooms, thyme and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cook stirring often, until the mushrooms have released their juices and the juices have evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes.

This sentence alone exemplifies a few of the rules that I personally follow

  • -I always start my sentences with an action word/ verb or a modifier of a verb. Some people start their sentences with “In a bowl or over medium-high heat” I don’t. Neither is right or wrong, it is important to choose your style and always do the same thing though.
  • -I always list the ingredients in the method in the order that they appear in the ingredient list. Note in the above sentence you’ll see the exception to this rule for divided ingredients, in their second addition, they go after the new ingredients.
  • -Almost always include a degree of doneness AND then a time range. In this case the degree of doneness is a visual indicator (the mushrooms have released their juices and the juices have evaporated) and the range is 5 to 7 minutes.

Having a consistent copy writing style will also ensure that you don’t forget details, like size of equipment, temperature of stove, degrees of doneness, visual indicators, temperatures, whether or not you should be stirring and so on. For more on that I also love this post written by Dianne Jacob.