Alright, I just saw Jon's "Monster Hunter Basics" video and decided to help him out a little since he showed some interest in the series. Now I'm not a guide maker, so if anyone sees something that's out of place, say so in the comments and I'll edit this post.
(Disclaimer: I am not a professional at Monster Hunter, but I have logged over 400 hours of play time in Tri. If you really want the in-depth stuff check out Social Dissonance on YouTube, he does a whole play through of Tri with several weapons and how to use them effectively. This guide is going to mostly focus on weapons and their differences.)
One of my personal favorite categories of weapons, the Sword and Shield is one of the original weapon types of the Monster Hunter series. With a good combination of attack and defense, these weapon types are most recommended to beginners of the series. While they may not have the best damage output in terms of single hit damage, they excel in combinations; the more hits you can chain together the better. They are also used to inflict elemental effects (which I'll go over at the end) and K.O. (knock-out) damage with their shield bashes. SnS is the only weapon type that can use items while having the weapon drawn.
Similar to the Sword and Shield but with more of a bend toward the offensive, this type forgoes the safety of the shield for added attack power and an much greater emphasis toward speed; if you love combos this is these are the weapons for you. Like their SnS kin, they don't inflict much damage in a single strike but compensate with elemental damage and even longer combos. Dual Swords also have a mode unique to them know as Demonization. While in this mode (activated buy pressing the R button) players no longer flinch due to a monsters' wing beat, can chain attacks into an endless combo and gains a new combo known as the "Demon Dance" that cannot bounce off of the target monsters' hide. To balance this mode, the players' stamina is gradually drained to nothing ending Demonization. As a result of so many attacks in a short period of time, Dual Swords generally have the lowest weapon durability and need to be sharpened with Whetstones more often where compared to other types.
Large, slow, and high damage define the Great Sword weapon type. These weapons are for the more advanced players and beginners are generally advised to stay away from doing large monster hunts with Great Swords until later. Timing and positioning of the actual blade of the weapon is everything for this weapon type; Great Swords incorporate a three stage charge function with the damage for the following strike increased for each charge level gained. While charging, players are less likely to be knocked over by low-damage monster attacks. Great Swords can also block with the weapon itself but at the cost of some weapon durability. Where you strike with the sword also plays a major in damage output; hitting a monster with center of the blade gives a slight damage bonus. When combined with a Level 3 charge and hitting with the swords' "sweet spot", Great Swords can easily have one of the most powerful single strike attacks in the game.
My personal favorite weapon type, Long Swords are large, katana type swords that combine the combos and elemental effects from the SnS weapons, but still has the high base damage of the GS types into one efficient weapon. These swords rely on two prominent features; the Spirit Gauge and the Spirit Combo. The Spirit Gauge fills as each strike lands and eventually charges to full (indicated by a chime and a flash of red around the character). At this point the player can execute a Spirit Combo (started by pressing and mashing the R button) to inflict a great amount of damage in a small amount of time. There are several points along the combo where the character pauses leaving room to dodge or insert an extra attack for a little more damage, but its the final hit of the combo that really shines. Know as the Spirit Slash, this attack moves the character forward a great deal, covers an extremely wide range to the front and sides of the character. Landing this final slash is the number one priority when using Long Swords as a successful strike means adding a level to the Spirit Gauge. The Spirit Gauge has three Levels - White, Yellow, and Red with red being the strongest and White the weakest. These charges add extra damage to the Long Sword as long as they are maintained. Achieving and maintaining the Spirit Gauge is vital to be successful when using Long Sword type weapons.