One of the things that pops up time and time again when talking about E-Learning is the topic of effective writing. Namely, what does effective writing look like?
It seems like a simple question, but the answer is not as easy as one might think. Why? Because the idea of effective is extremely subjective. Not only that, but what may be effective in one situation would be completely inappropriate in another.
So today we are going to break the world of writing into 3 distinct categories. Now, I realize that others may disagree with my groupings here, but my idea isn’t to overwhelm you with a million different ways to write a course. My idea is to get you thinking about how the information will be processed and show you how to write effectively for the outcomes you want.
Let’s get started!
1). Words that are Read
In most cases, the majority of the text you write is meant to be read. What do I mean by this? I mean that you are talking through an idea, explaining a situation or even telling a story. This type of text will make up the bulk of your copy and, as such, it is important that it be written well.
When writing text that is meant to be read, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind:
- Keep you tone conversational and open. The text should be easy to read and the vocabulary should be appropriate for the audience at hand. If you attempt to write at too scholarly a level, you will lose your audience and torpedo your retention rates.
- Be mindful of grammar and spelling. When you deliver a course, you want it to be of the highest quality. Obviously this means that we want both grammar and spelling to be as perfect as it possibly can. Not doing so does a couple things. First, it can make it difficult for your learner to follow the content because it is distracting to read. Also, a large number of mistakes in this area can make your participants question the validity of the materiel while reflecting badly on you as the writer. However, know also that we all make mistakes. We are human and there will occasionally be errors that slip by you. So try your best and then learn to forgive yourself! It took me a while, but I’m very slowly learning to take my own advice here.
- Vary your word choice. One of the most common traps I watch people fall into is word choice. It’s not that they choose bad or poor words, its more that they find this handful of great remarks and expressions that they love and they stick with them! And then the copy starts to read something like this. “She said….And then she said….and then she said….” You get the picture! Make a point to mix up your word choice to add interest and readability to your text. A good rule of thumb is that most words should be used only about once per paragraph. There are going to be exceptions to this rule, i.e. names, articles, adjectives…things like that, but it’s just something to keep in mind.
2). Words that are Spoken
In terms of writing there are some pretty big differences between text that is meant to be “read” and text that is meant to be “spoken.” Spoken text refers to a script of some kind. This means that your learner will not be reading the text, they will be hearing it, a key distinction that you have to keep in mind as you write.
When writing text that is meant to be spoken, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind:
- Watch your pacing. Do you know how many words make up a minute of spoken script? About 150, give or take. This isn’t many! The trap I see people fall into is that they try to cram too many words into too short of a time frame. This means your clip (either audio or video) is going to run over on time OR your content is going to be read at too fast of a pace. When writing text that is to be spoken, it is highly important to keep your pacing even and slightly slower than a normal conversation. Why? Because people must have time to both hear and process what you are saying.
- Flow is ALWAYS important! The biggest difference between written and spoken text is always going to be the word count. When you are writing something for someone to read, you have the freedom to add an extra sentence or two for clarification. Spoken text does not always give you that option. When working with a time limit, you have to make sure that every word counts. The text has to be clear, and it has to flow from one point to the next easily so your listener can follow. This is where clarity and word choice becomes extremely important.
- Do a test read. I never submit any sort of script without doing a test read. This is the best way to check both your pacing and your flow. Even better? Get someone else to listen as you read out loud. Then you can hear how the words sound and you can use their feedback to tighten things up. You can also use this practice to make sure your text is on target time wise. Just make sure you are reading at a slow, even pace. I’ve written hundreds of scripts and I have yet to submit one that I have not read aloud at least half a dozen times.
3). Words that are Studied
The last category we are going to look at today are words that are meant to be studied. Why does this matter? Because when you are writing text that is designed to be studied, then you have to offer clear, concise copy that is easy to follow and factual.
When writing text that is meant to be studied, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind:
- Use bullet points. This is one time when bullet points are your friend! Other types of extremely clear formatting work as well, but the idea is to break up the text into manageable amounts. When you offer nothing more than paragraph after paragraph of endless wording it is difficult to follow and even more difficult to retain. Why? Because your readers get bored! So break it up, keep it short and keep it simple. Your participants will thank you.
- Stay on topic. One of the most frustrating things to face when you are trying to study is text that keeps drifting off topic. If you are writing material designed to be studied, then now is not the time for side trips. Make sure that you stay on topic and keep to the facts. This isn’t the time to tell the whole story, this is the time to get your point across and be done. The fewer words, the better.
If you take these three categories and apply them to E-Learning you will see that they cover just about all the writing you will need. The bottom line? Know the purpose of your text and then write to that purpose. Your material will improve and your participants will greatly appreciate the attention to detail.
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