“It’s only words, and words are all we have…”
So sang the Bee Gees.
As it happens, in an eLearning context words aren’t the only thing we have. But they are still, used well, arguably the best thing we have.
By its very nature, eLearning and its design is centered around technology. It’s technology that makes it possible after all. But it’s easy to get carried away with whizz bang graphics and forget the power of words to get an eLearning message across. When it comes to eLearning design, we put a lot of time and effort into crafting an amazing interactive experience. It’s easy though to forget that it doesn’t end there. It’s easy to forget in our eLearning bubble that the language used is not merely an adjunct to the eLearning experience but should be an integral part of it. It’s easy to forget that, at the heart of all things web are words. Words to guide, inform, and to teach.
Just as there’s an art to producing the perfect eLearning design there’s an art to writing for the web. So here are 10 tips to help you craft great eLearning content when it comes to words.
1. Write A Great Title To Grab The Learner’s Attention
This article is about strategies for creating book titles but the principle remains for anything. It suggests that you think about the following for titles:
Titles That Make A Promise
Titles that say what your course will offer or how it will improve an aspect of their lives. For example:
‘The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman’. Who wouldn’t be tempted to click on that?
But, of course, don’t make promises your eLearning course simply can’t deliver on. I’m not too sure about the above title’s ability on that score.
Titles That Are Intriguing
As this eLearning Industry article points out we humans tend to be curious beings. If we weren’t we wouldn’t have landed on the moon! So if a title gives only a glimpse into a topic the chances are we’ll want to know more. Does this one intrigue you?
‘Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.’
Titles That Identify A Need
Agitate the need and then give a remedy for it. As the above eLearning Industry article says:
‘Learners viewing your eLearning course title and description have one thing in common. Whether they want to develop their professional skill sets or to learn more about a topic that interests them- they all have an educational need.’
So give your course a title that solves their particular pain. The title of the article –How To Create Attention Grabbing eLearning Course Titles– is itself an example of identifying a need.
Titles That State The Content
The final suggestion from the article about creating book titles is to simply state the content. Take for example: ‘Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Vol. 1’. It does what it says on the tin!
2. Take The Time To Refine And Edit Your Words
Make them work for you. Make each word earn its place on the screen. If you struggle to be concise in your expression, then it’s wise to outsource to a copy editor.
3. Adverb Overdose And Less Is More
Adverbs, to the uninitiated, are words that modify the meaning of an adjective (in simple terms). They often end in ‘ly’: Slowly, quickly, swiftly, frequently, and so on.
Stephen King famously observed that the road to hell is paved with adverbs. That might be going a bit far, but too many do interrupt the flow of your words. So be sparing with them. In fact, a good overall writing rule of thumb is ‘less is more’ – not only in relation to adverbs. Writing ‘and’ or ‘also’ instead of ‘as well as’ will trim your writing down. Likewise with filler and fluff words.
4. Avoid The Passive Voice
Sometimes only the passive voice will do. But don’t let it dominate your writing. Otherwise, as with adverbs and fluff words, you’ll have turgid, bland, and verbose content.
Compare and contrast the following active vs. passive example:
- Active voice: The journalist wrote the award-winning news story last year.
- Passive voice: The award-winning news story was written by the journalist last year.
See how much stronger ‘A’ is compared to ‘B’.
5. Synthetic Personalization
Address the learner directly in the content with active language.
‘What should/would you do in this situation?’
‘What should be done in this situation?’
6. Avoid Jargon And Difficult Words
Keep your language clear and simple and easy to read. For example:
- ‘Use’ instead of ‘utilize’,
- Buy’ instead of ‘purchase’.
7. Address The Learner
Write your content as if you’re sat with the learner and are speaking with them.
8. Go With The Flow – Avoid ‘ING’ Verbs.
According to Daykin and Storey, verbs ending in ‘ing’ have a tendency to interrupt the flow of a text. As the article suggests, using the past simple tense can be more effective. For example:
‘The boss demanded improvements from his staff.’
‘The boss is demanding improvements from his staff’.
9. Avoid Clichés – Like The Plague
To use a cliché. The chances are that your eLearning, as wonderful as it may be, is not unique. So don’t say it. Avoid using them and you’ll have writing that bounces across the screen or page.
10. Use Design Elements To Make Words Stand Out
Finally, and with specific reference to eLearning : use your design elements to make sure that important messages have the screen space they need to stand out. Use such things as color, size, shape and font to their best advantage to maximize the effect of the words.
So that’s it. 10 ways to make your words work wonders for you. If any of this sounds a bit like stating the obvious… well yes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that.
But you know what? If I had £1 for every time, in almost 20 years in the industry, I came across these writing issues in eLearning, I could be wintering in Barbados. To use a cliché!
Have you got any more writing tips?
This article was first published at eLearning Industry.
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