This handy guide is meant to give general hints and recommendations for beginning adventure game players. I've tried to keep it generic in character, with pointers of things to watch for and general hints of what to do if you get stuck. My game reviews of individual games usually contain hints of things to be particularly aware of for that game. Start with the game page for the individual reviews.
Getting stuck is a common occurrence in an adventure game, and much of the fun is that flash of inspiration "Wait, I know how to get past that." The end of this guide includes places to get help if you've been stuck for too long in one spot, and a few games I think are good starts for beginning adventure game players.
Before you start, check for patches! Many games do not allow you to use a saved game after you apply the patch. So you want to apply any patches before you really start playing the game.
Always look at everything. Sometimes an item you need is only represented by a few pixels (a coin on the street). If you can pick it up, do so. There are only a few cases I know of offhand where this is not a good idea, and usually, you will have warning that picking the item up is not a good idea.
Pay close attention to dialogue. Clues are frequently embedded into the comments that one of the characters makes. Clues may also be found in the form of notes left around, sounds that you hear, along with the description of every object. In other words, you should always pay close attention to anything that happens. It may mean nothing, but you may suddenly realise later that it is a very important clue.
Double check for exits. This one frequently gets me in Sierra games. There is an exit at the bottom of the screen, it just isn't obvious to me. It can be a good idea to first wander around, just looking at places and picking up any items that you can. Once you have some idea what's around, then you may be better able to solve puzzles.
If there is even a slight possibility of death, save the game often. You should get in the habit of saving the game after solving any major puzzle. In general, don't keep saving over the previous save. There may be situations where you've used the last match and you suddenly realised that you used it in the wrong way. If you don't have a saved game from before using the match, you'd have to start the game again.
If you are stuck, think about the following. Have you talked to everyone about everything you can? Have you tried combining items in your inventory (when possible)? Have you tried doing something odd, just to see the reactions? (Sometimes, the comments made make the correct thing more obvious.) Are you sure that you've looked in detail at everything in every scene in the game?
Pick up a walkthrough. The best collection of walkthroughs that I know of currently is the Spoiler Center. Be warned, walkthroughs do make it easy to unintentionally find solutions. You only needed to find how to get a brush, but now you also know how to traverse the desert and you don't even know where the desert is yet!
Ask the friendly gamers at GameBoomers. They may be able to help.
Personal preference has a lot to do with how much you like a game. If you try one of the above and it didn't appeal, that definitely doesn't mean that you should give up on the genre. Adventure games tend to have personality and you just have to work out what personality appeals to you.