Tips to Achieve Conversational Tone in Instructional Writing

conversational tone
This famous sentence is by vocab wizard, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, who sent social media scurrying for the dictionary to decode it. Image by Freepik from www.flaticon.com.

 

In this post, we spoke about how as an instructional strategy, we use the conversational tone to engage the learner. We said that a conversational tone comprises simplicity of expression, precision at information sharing, friendliness in approach, and encourages reflection. It is not commanding, preachy, or patronizing.

Let’s now look at each of these aspects of the conversational tone and discuss further. These are simple rules of the thumb and are a matter of getting habituated to. We would urge readers not to look at the parameters as ‘checklist’ items because then we may miss the ‘principles’ behind the guidelines.

Simplicity of expression in conversational tone

Reflect on how we speak. When we speak, we do not do so in long winding sentences. In fact, many people don’t even speak full sentences. Yet, the listener understands the message and receives the information. Therefore, a conversational tone disperses information in manageable bits through short sentences. The learner should not have to replay or rewind the instructional video in order to understand any sentence.

A short sentence will contain one or two ideas. An ideal sentence length is between 20 to 30 words. If you are not used to writing short sentences, you might want to get into the habit of counting the words per sentence, to begin with. You can continue to count until the time writing short sentences becomes a habit!

Another way to achieve simplicity of expression is to use simple words and expressions rather than their counterparts NOT used in everyday speech. For example, “big” or “huge” and not “gigantic” to express the expanse of something. Using simple words ensures that learners from all backgrounds across the globe will understand your content.

Precision at information sharing in conversational tone

When writing in conversational tone, we need to take care that the learner is not overwhelmed with unnecessary information. In our day-to-day conversations, we are very conscious about who we are talking to. We give our listeners information only to the extent they need. We get clues from the body language of our listeners – if the person shows interest, we share more. If we sense disengagement, we change topic. Don’t we all?

We can both disengage and delight our audience and listeners with the relevance of our message. And, everyone wants to delight the other.

Therefore, precision and relevance go hand-in-hand. In order to achieve this balance, we must have perfect understanding of the level of our audience. We must always deliver the message pitched at the level of the learner. This sends out a positive message to your learner – that you understand them.

Friendliness in approach in conversational tone

Now this one is a bit tactical. But it is fun to grasp this principle. Go all out with contractions. So it is not “Let us find out….” but “Let’s find out…”, not “cannot” but “can’t”, not “do not” but “don’t’”, and so on.

Another tip is the use of personal pronouns. Use them. Address your learner as “you,” taking care not to sound like an academic book. Use “we” when you need to invoke group spirit. For example, “The next screen will contain the definition of the conversational tone,” can be written as “In the next screen, we will define the conversational tone.” The second sentence definitely bridges the gap between the teacher and the taught.

Exclamations can also be effectively used to bring in the personal connect and to express excitement or put emphasis. For example, “There are over seven billion people in the world and no two people are the same!” However, exclamation marks are to be used judiciously.

Encouraging reflection in conversational tone

A conversational tone must be both friendly and encourage the learner to reflect – either draw from their past or similar experiences. The idea is to take them from a known point to an unknown one, helping them to think by relating to their experiences. One way to do this is by asking simple questions. Questions also help generate interest.

“Have you ever been spammed by unwanted email? What did you do?”, “Did you know that mental health is among the biggest medical challenge in this century?”, “If you were given a toolkit, how would you repair the short circuit? Let’s watch the steps now.” These are some examples.

Finally, a conversational tone is not commanding nor preachy nor patronizing

We have seen some considerations for a conversational tone. Then, what is it NOT? A conversational tone is not commanding, preachy, or patronizing. These crease to make it a “conversation” and can disengage learners. Adult learners look for:

    • Information, not commands
    • Motivation, not preaching
    • Guidance, not patronizing

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