30 Bite-Sized Writing Tips for Better eLearning Content
It's a fact that eLearning should be a carefully planned and created to fully succeed in meeting the needs of your learners.
The writing in an eLearning course needs to stand on its own without an instructor. Instead of being used to support the instructor’s lesson, the writing is the star of the show. It must be engaging and clear, almost a combination of the best of technical and marketing writing to interest the e-learner in the material and impart information.
In this post we´ve compelled the best techniques and tips that will help eLearning developers to improve their eLearning writing— advice based on the medium of eLearning and with learning design in mind.
Helpful tips for writing great content for your eLearning courses:
1. First of all, focus on your audience – make an important promise early on (with your headline and introduction) that tells the learners what’s in it for them. Never allow learners to question why they are bothering to pay attention.
2. Plan, organize, write. Before you begin, think: who is the audience, what is the purpose of the message and how will the learner use the information.
3. It’s crucial to plan the structure of an eLearning course. List the topics which need to be covered. Make a note of the points you want to cover on each screen. Focus on the learning objectives – and bear them in mind as you write!
4. Most learners only skim on-screen text so keep it lively and relevant to the learner. A simple idea to make the course scannable is by adding subheadings for each main idea. That means that learners will be able to glance at the subheadings and pick out the main ideas.
5. Remember that writing for the screen is very different from writing for the page. On the page words, have the main purpose of communicating. On-screen, images should do that job.
6. Use active voice whenever possible. The active voice is more direct and engaging. The sentences are punchy and make it clear who’s doing what. Writing in the active voice gives energy to your content, which will keep your learners reading.
7. As an Instructional Designer, your writing style needs to adapt to what you are creating and what the end product is supposed to be.
8. Take out all the industry speak and make simple word choices. Learn how to adjust your “speak” so what you say is accessible to everyone and it is put in a context that can be understood quickly.
9. Be very specific. Remember students are learning at their own pace and do not have an instructor in front of them. Sometimes you have to further explain something that someone would normally experience if they had instructor-lead training.
10. 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.
11. Consistency. Make sure things like e-mail or email are the same throughout the course. By creating standards, learners will develop a feeling of familiarity when viewing the courses. Check out this Writing Style Guide Template from ELearning Uncovered.
12. Organize the content. Outline your course with meaningful titles, breaking the course into sections as needed. The outline quickly gives learners a feel for the course and provides logical breaking points in the training.
13. Edit, improve, edit. Recheck your writing to improve and edit until it is perfect.
14. Variety is very important. You can go beyond bullet point slides and vary the rhythm of your text. Ask questions, mix up the structure – use scenarios, give examples, tell a story.
15. As always, it is best to put yourself in the shoes of the learner. Read the text aloud to yourself and decide if it is working well with the elements on the screen. If you are not able to get it through smoothly, your learners may have difficulties following it too.
16. Say more, with less. Trim the fat! Or even better, if a picture is worth a thousand words, use it. When going through the editing process, try to cut out words or even whole sentences that are not necessary. You’d be surprised at how much more concise you can be!
17. Provide an “easy-read” for the learners—one that is understandable on the first read-through to avoid losing them. Limiting the amount of words usually leads to tighter, clearer writing because authors need to get to the point quickly and must remove extraneous material.
18. Know your learners so well you can get inside their heads. Try to understand as much as you can about them. Then try to make your eLearning course a conversation with this “persona”.
19. Use jargon only when necessary. Most real people don’t speak in jargon, they speak in plain English. If you’re stuffing your course with manual-speak, it’s not going to read naturally. Instead, it might make things more confusing for your learner. Again, reading aloud will help.
20. Consider adding personality. Sometimes it is appropriate to add humor and personality toyour text. This can make an eLearning course a friendlier experience.
21. Make sure the language and detail is authentic. If you’re in new territory, talk to subject matter experts and do the research to make sure you’re comfortable with the dialogue and patterns of speech.
22. 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. Your credibility takes a hit when you publish typos on your courses.
23. Use words learners can picture. Use energetic and descriptive words as much as possible.
24. Descriptive headlines and titles: headlines and titles should tell the learner what the course or module is about. Some people like to use humor, while others prefer to play it straight. It doesn’t matter, as long as readers know what to expect. Readers want to know what’s in it for them. A good title will tell them.
25. Personalize text. Support a conversational writing style that relies on first- and second-person language (using “you,” “your,” “I,” “our,” and “we.)
26. Promise it will be quick: Your text needs to communicate in a second that the entire experience of taking the lesson will be something they can do quickly and painlessly. The way you name your lessons can help you out. Short sentences and paragraphs work great also. No one wants to read the Great American Novel in your courses.
27. Write to express not impress. Don’t try to impress with your choice of words. It just doesn’t work. It can annoy your learners if you do this. Keep the language simple so that your learners can focus their mental energies on learning the content, and not deciphering your writing.
28. Use text, but do it responsibly. Keep it to no more than six lines per screen and intermix it with other elements. Also, don't overdo your text animations.
29. Break it up. If you want your eLearning content to be user friendly, you have to make it digestible. That means breaking it into small chunks, usually with one main idea in a paragraph. Bottomline: format improves readability.
30. Think about handwriting fonts. They can add a human touch. According to Tom Kuhlmann, handwritten fonts can draw the learner in and make it seem like the information is a bit more personal.
Having excellent writing on your eLearning courses is one of the easiest ways to grab the attention of learners (and keep them coming back for more). What other tips can you suggest? Tell us!