Setting up a tent is a procedure that doesn't offer much room for error---get it wrong and you could be a miserable camper the entire night (or trip). Generally speaking, no two tents are exactly alike, and each tent has a different style and pieces, though many have similar pieces and follow the same general idea for set-up. Approach the tent with the right strategy and you should get it set up without a problem.
Before going on your camping trip, double-check that you have each piece of your tent. If there are a lot of pieces, make a checklist and physically cross each item off as it's packed. Pack like pieces together (e.g. poles, stakes). Having every piece in place is the first step toward setting the tent up correctly.
Site Selection and Preparation
Upon arriving to your campsite, locate a good place to set the tent up. It pays to set the tent up right away to ensure that you have a place to retire to should it get dark or begin to storm. Locate a level piece of ground that doesn't have any potential hazards nearby (e.g. flooding water or swinging branches). Many campsites already have a clear area designated for tent pitching, but often there is some debris covering it. Clean an area the size of your tent's footprint and get rid of any rocks, sticks, etc.---the smoother the ground, the better. If the area is not completely level, you'll want to place the tent so that your head is situated uphill from your feet.
Place a ground sheet down. A ground sheet or footprint will help protect the tent. It should be slightly smaller than the base of the tent to prevent water from seeping up and into the tent. Unravel your tent body. Pull it taut at the corners and sides. Situate it so that you'll be facing the direction that you'd like to sleep. Most tents entail staking out after set-up, but some recommend staking out first. Decide when you'd like to stake the tent out and proceed with your plan.
Put together all of the poles. Today's dome tents use a series of shock-corded fiberglass or aluminum poles in which a number of segments combine to make the greater pole or pole structure. Put each segment together and create the larger pole. Assemble all poles.
Determine if your tent uses clips or sleeves. These two separate construction components are what connect the poles to the tent body; each requires a different strategy for set-up. Clips: Insert each end of the pole into the grommet or clip at the corner of the tent. Then connect the other poles in the same manner. In some cases you may need to run the poles into a central hub on the top center. When the poles have been inserted, grab each clip on the tent body and clip it onto the pole to form the full tent. Sleeves: Insert each pole fully into the appropriate sleeve; run it from one end of the sleeve all the way to the other. When all poles are inserted, begin arching them and placing the ends into the grommets on the tent base. Repeat until the tent is standing. Even out the sleeves so that they're not bunched around a pole.
To stake the tent out, simply locate each stake on the base of the tent, pull the tent taut and then use a mallet, rock or other blunt tool to hammer the stake into the ground so that it holds the tent in place. Walk around the tent and stake out each loop. Look inside as you get close to finishing and make sure the floor sits evenly and isn't pulled or scrunched in an uneven way.
Many tents use a separate rain fly. This part of the tent is to protect from precipitation and bad weather and can be installed based upon the weather conditions. To install, drape the fly onto the tent, making sure it's not inside-out. Move it around until it covers the tent evenly and faces the proper direction. Use the hardware on the fly and tent to connect the two together. Pull the guy lines out, set them up according to your tent's design and stake them to the ground. Tighten the guy lines evenly.