Magazine article Training & Development

Ten Writing Principles to Improve Your Training

Magazine article Training & Development

Ten Writing Principles to Improve Your Training

Article excerpt

The success of the content of your training often rests on your ability to communicate concepts clearly in writing, whether online or on paper. Writing is not window dressing; effective writing - whether on a computer screen, in the leader's guide, in the participant workbook, or on a job aid - is essential both to learners' understanding and their perception of the validity and accuracy of the training content. Here are a few tips to improve your training materials:

1. Use overviews instead of introductions.

Many participant workbooks begin with an introduction that is little more than a table of contents. That is, the introduction promises to tell readers something - later. Such introductions are not informative. Instead of just mentioning the topics, an overview serves the same purpose as the summaries in the "What's News" column of the Wall Street Journal. In other words, learners should be able to read the opening section of a module or topic and have a summary of the key concepts.

2. Make the dialogue sound real, not stilted.

You have only to listen to someone read an article aloud to understand that the spoken word is far different from the written word. Capturing the right tone to give the words meaning is a significant challenge in writing case studies and audio scripts. For starters, note sentence pattern. Spoken words come out in tidbits and fragments. Speakers use contractions, slang, colloquialisms, and unusual pauses and intonations. A script punctuated with dashes will be read differently from one with commas or parentheses. And nothing makes a script more amateurish than overly descriptive tags, such as "he yelled" or "she complained." To paraphrase Hemingway, if you feel the need to write more than "he said," that's a good clue the words in the actual dialogue aren't strong enough.

3. Create intriguing case studies and role plays.

If you have learners who don't enjoy role plays or don't take them seriously, the writing could be the culprit. Although it's tempting to use clever names for people or places (Susan Smart, Drew Donothing, Little Upstart Org), real-sounding names are preferable. To help learners take on the situation and mindset of the characters in a role play, create vivid scenes with appropriate details that will appeal to people's emotions. Then, provide a clear, succinct statement of the issue to be resolved. Last, provide a launch statement for the participants to begin their own dialogue or resolution. They need a stepping-off place to wade into the heart of the matter.

4. Use specific words and phrases.

The more technical the topic is, the more important it is that you select the words carefully. Consider how the meaning of these phrases might vary from learner to learner: meaningful activities, safe operations, optimal conditions, storage units, marketing opportunities, invoicing irregularities. Costly mistakes on the job can happen as a result of poor word choice in a reference manual.

5. Position ideas for emphasis. Space and position are equally important - in your headquarters building and in your learning materials. Position the ideas and information so that they get the attention they deserve. The most important spot in a document or section is up front. The most important spot in a paragraph is the first sentence. The most important spot in a sentence is at the end. To convey to a learner "this information is the most important," take advantage of the impact of climactic sentences.

6. Link to show relationships.

Little words matter. "Turn the lever to the right, and depress the cylinder that opens the air chamber. …

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