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ATD Blog

Less Is More: Use Compelling Concise Text Like a Marketer

Thursday, May 27, 2021
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Do you ever find yourself rereading the same paragraph over and over? Do you ever get side-tracked while taking an e-learning course? Do you ever read something only to discover that none of it makes sense? When you’re creating an e-learning course, strive for concise writing. Wordiness is an attention killer, and you’re already contending with the distractions from internet access, laptops, and mobile devices. Clear, efficient writing leads to effective training.

Marketers know this, which is why you don’t see lengthy paragraphs in advertising. Engaging content is their superpower. They deliver their message in clear and concise phrases that make an impression and ignite action.

Likewise, instructional designers can strive for engaging text. But writing concisely isn’t just about using fewer words; it’s about using the most effective words to relay information. The human brain can only retain so much text at any given time, so chose carefully to make your point.

Unfortunately, wordiness is disguised in common writing habits like overexplaining and overusing technical terms. Here are tips from marketing best practices for concise e-learning text:

Rework the Language

Pair down the technical jargon and remember that you’re writing for learners and not subject matter experts. Marketers don’t use industry language or marketing terms to connect with everyday people. Eliminate corporate speak and sophisticated grammar, and instead use more concise and clear terms where possible.

This isn’t necessarily dumbing down content; it’s presenting your content in the best way your learners can understand. If you need to include technical terms in learning material, try a glossary that your learners can refer to for definitions.

Trim Long Sentences

Long sentences make it likely people will lose track of what you’re trying to say. Avoid learners’ attention wandering before they get to your point or stopping completely because the text is cumbersome. Summarize or break up sentences.

Mixing in shorter sentences creates more flow and avoids confusion that stems from run-on sentences. Remember, though, to maintain a balance. Using short sentences can create a more natural, human flow, but overuse can make the text stilted.

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Use Concise Phrasing

Cut down on the number of words used where possible. Less is more. If a word can adequately replace a phrase in your content, use the word instead.

Remember, being concise isn’t just about using less words. It’s about using the fewest words possible without compromising important information. For example, use because instead of due to the fact that, or use one clear and complete explanation rather than a few explanations that are differently phrased yet incomplete.

Cut Unnecessary Filler Words

Filler words are subtle attention killers. They add length to your sentences and weaken them. There’s nothing wrong with words like too or very, but they become add-ons when a single word can convey the emphasis instead.

Another example is redundant phrasing. Use ask instead of ask the question, kinds instead of different kinds. These words add no value to your writing, so avoid them in your writing.

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Cut Down on Passive Voice

Passive voice is one of the biggest culprits in wordiness. It bulks up and complicates text. It flips the normal flow of sentences where the subject is the focus and makes the object the focus. In doing this, it also revises the active verb by adding being verbs.

In its natural structure, active voice is more concise than passive voice. By simply using active voice, you’ll reduce word count and make it less tiring to read and understand.

Example: The active phrase “He passed the book” reads much better than the passive alternative “The book was passed by him.”

Use Shorter Paragraphs

Shorter versus longer paragraphs trick the brain into thinking text is shorter than it is. The same length of text but with bulkier paragraphs is daunting and can elicit anxiety.

Also, introduce white space into your text. This practice can make the same length of text easier to digest and learners keener to consume. An ideal choice is three to six lines per paragraph. Use numbered lists, bullet points, and subheadings where possible to break up text and improve readability.

Marketers strive to use the least number of words to convey their message so their call-to-action is on point. Even though L&D practitioners may not be able to cut down text as much as marketers do, they can still strive to achieve the “less is more” principles to save time and improve learning engagement.

For more advice on how to improve your e-learning design, join me August 31 at the ATD 2021 International Conference & EXPO for the session, Take E-Learning to the Next Level.

About the Author

Danielle Wallace is the chief learning strategist at Beyond the Sky, a provider of custom learning solutions. She combines proven marketing techniques with adult learning principles to create learning that sticks. Previously, as a marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, she learned strategic marketing and advertising principles, which she applies to learning and development to create compelling breakthrough solutions. Danielle is also a certified training and development professional (CTDP).

2 Comments
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Love this! I work in healthcare and find people default to lengthy, complicated jargon when succinct and simple could work just as well. Thanks for your insight!
Thank you for your insights. Often experts like to share the jargon and excess information forgetting that it makes it more difficult for the learner. Less is more!
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