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Nov 2009

Speak easy: writing in a conversational tone

Blog posts

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

The best self-paced elearning programmes are accessible and easy to understand.

Learners get the message. They might have to think about the content – and we hope they do – but they shouldn't need to agonise over the meaning of every sentence.

This week, we share some quick tips to improve your elearning writing – be it for audio narration or onscreen text.

Which works better for e-learning?

1. The rapidly running, sienna-coloured cat-like mammal, leaped with dexterity over the sluggish, unmoving dog.

2. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

It’s a silly example, and probably not well executed. But you get the idea. One might argue that both deserve a place in the world. Of course they do.

Where would we be without poetry and great literature (not saying that first sentence was either)? Our world does indeed need prose that elicits the beauty of autumn leaves falling; the late afternoon’s golden sunlight filtering through the branches…

But such prose does not generally belong in e-learning. (Unless, of course, the topic is high literature.)

Keep the language simple so that your learners can focus their mental energies on learning the content, and not deciphering your writing.

Work with your subject matter expert

Subject matter experts know a lot about their topic. That’s why we call ‘em experts. They often use lots of big words. Lots and lots of them. The jargon and technical terminology tends to flow when someone knows the subject so well.

Remember – part of the job of the learning designer is to translate that expertise into terms that the learner – who may be a novice – can understand.

So take that complicated description that your expert just provided you with and translate it. We like to do this in content gathering sessions, if possible. “So I think what you’re saying is that twisting the screw makes it tighter?”

Edit yourself

Cut it down and get right to the point. What words can you eliminate? What sentences can you cut?

Edit liberally and then edit again. And again

Have a conversation

Write like you would talk, with an easy, fluid flow.

Imagine the learner sitting with you, right across your desk. Now talk to them. Don’t say, “the user then clicks on the OK button.” Say instead, “you then click OK.” Making it personal helps draw the learner into the experience.

Read it out loud

Once you’ve written it, read it out loud. If it sounds awkward to your ear, change it.

Watch your tone

Know your audience. Some organisations are more formal than others. If you work with an internal L&D department, chances are you already know the culture. If you’re a freelancer, spend some time up-front in your needs analysis getting to know the preferred language style.

Above all, go forth and speak easy. Your learners will thank you.

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

Cammy has been collaborating with organizations to design online learning programs since 1996. An active speaker and blogger, Cammy gets fired up about instructional design, avoiding the trap of clicky-clicky bling-bling, and ways to use technology to create real behavior change.

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