Instructional writing is distinct from the other types of writing for its clear, coherent, and concise style of expression. This style is especially suited for eLearning, where brevity is paramount. In this article, we will discuss the three Cs of instructional writing that together work to provide a lucrative learning experience to learners enrolled in eLearning courses.
1. C for CLARITY in Instructional Writing
First and foremost, we need to focus on writing short sentences. This will ensure we convey one or at the most two ideas per sentence. So, keep your sentences equal to or less than 30 words. A long winding sentence with either a number of commas, or the absence of commas at appropriate places, or the excessive use of unneeded commas can confuse your learner. Learners should not have to go back or pause the video because they didn’t understand something. The goal is to make them understand at the very first watch.
If as content creators, you are preparing scripts for the SME or voice over artiste to read out from, it is always a good idea to get the scripts edited and proofread for clarity. If SMEs are recording audio spontaneously based on notes they have made for themselves, they should speak in small sentences. In spontaneous speech, it is easy to digress. Therefore, SMEs must deliver spontaneous speech to an eLearning audience mindfully with an eye out for clarity.
However, long sentences are beautiful when used in creative writing. Here are examples of 65 beautiful long sentences from literary writing with the longest as huge as 2165 words! They are lovely, aren’t they? However, avoid them in writing for the eLearning medium.
2. C for COHERENCE in Instructional Writing
Coherence is the quality of being logical and consistent. Flow is the parameter for coherence. Smooth flow presents your content as a unified whole. You might lose your learners if the content flow is jerky. In ensuring coherence, you will need to, one, look out for flow breakers and, two, plug in transition words and phrases, wherever required.
What are flow breakers and how can you identify them? Flow breaker is any text that makes the overall content read and sound patchy. There is no secret formula to identify a flow breaker. The only way is to always keep the learner’s hat on and be alert for signs that break the flow. At times in our rush to create content, we overlook flow breakers but let us remember, learners will eventually catch them. To give a simple example of a flow breaker, consider the text below.
Just as I was at the gate of my apartment complex, it began to rain. I rushed back into the building and pressed for the lift. The power was gone so the lift had stopped working. I decided to take the stairs to my apartment on the sixth floor. I stood for a moment at the lift lobby wondering what to do. Should I climb the stairs all the way to my apartment to get the umbrella? Or just stand at the lobby and wait for either the rain to stop or the lift to work? Or, should I simply run to my bus stop but then I should be prepared to get wet…
What is the flow breaker in this passage? Obviously it is the sentence, “I decided to take the stairs to my apartment on the sixth floor.” If this sentence is plucked from where it is currently and placed as the last sentence of the passage, then the entire text will flow logically. This is a very simple example; however, flow breakers in eLearning scripts although are not difficult to identify, may not be as easy to fix. At times, you will need to fix them with the help of either research or the SME. But it is important to get used to identifying them.
What are transition words and phrases? Transitions are words and phrases that lend a direction to the learning. Here is a list of some smart words and phrases to establish transitions in your eLearning scripts. If you do not plug transitions, you make it challenging for the learners to grasp the full meaning. They spend effort understanding the gaps left by the inadequate use of the language, which is not an expectation from them.
For flow, broadly remember the following: At the micro level, each sentence should flow to the next sentence and each paragraph should flow to the next paragraph. At the macro level, each screen should flow to the next and each lesson should so logically flow that together, they provide a seamless learning experience.
3. C for CONCISENESS in Instructional Writing
Ensuring clarity and coherence takes care of conciseness to an extent. Conciseness simply means being “to the point” where you aim at conveying more without using unnecessary words. In the eLearning space, anything “unnecessary” is “redundant.”
So, be watchful of redundancies. Do not repeat thoughts, concepts, and facts, not even in different sentences and words. The learner is intuitively aware of these repetitions and repeating will not excite them at all. In fact, repetitions are flow breakers. They block the natural progression of the teaching. We need to treat our learners like thinking adults. So, we really need to be careful that we are not talking down at them by unnecessary repetitions.
At times, repetitions are necessary for reinforcement. The best places to reinforce is in the overview, transition, and summary screens.
Another important aspect of mainlining conciseness is to keep out value judgements from the narrative or script. This is especially for SMEs recording their own courses. Remember that learners have enrolled in your course because they trust your depth of knowledge. They trust that your course will give them a thorough understanding of the subject. However, they don’t want you to cloud them with your personal views. At the most you can take a generalist view, but no value judgements please!
Betelvine is committed to the instructional soundness of eLearning material, do read our cornerstone article, Content is King – Bottom line for Quality eLearning Course.