In the current landscape of compressed language—text messaging replacing emails, emojis replacing text messages—it has become a guessing game to navigate the minefield of contemporary communication styles.
In instructional design and training delivery, our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently is imperative to ensuring our learners walk away with new skills. Our writing comprises every component of the learner’s experience, and as instructional designers we leverage words in every phase of ADDIE, from our needs analysis report to our design document, to the learning program materials and our evaluation tools. Learning how to engage your audience with your words is not just about word selection; it encompasses language, formatting, rhetorical devices, the art of persuasive writing, and rhetorical appeals.
I’ve been a writer for most of my life, so the playground of words and language has always intrigued me—from the ways in which we can select the right words at the right time to delivering them with the right impact. As ISD professionals, we aim to inform, persuade, express, and entertain various audiences (stakeholders, team members, participants) with our writing.
Always keep these rules in mind when creating and delivering your materials:
Be Intentional With LanguageWe wouldn’t develop a learning program without first spending time constructing learning objectives and identifying our target audience. Well, the same rules apply when developing our writing. Know who you are writing for and why you are writing for them. Are you looking to persuade, gain buy-in, teach new skills, or solidify an agreement? Be intentional with your words. Consider point of view, rhetorical devices, and ways of appealing to your audience that can build engagement, like using colloquial language and writing like you speak.
Prioritize Concision Over ClutterSimplify your sentences. Clutter in communication occurs when you use too much “fancy language” and too many filler phrases. There are tricks to being economical with language. For instance, the word “just” is often used as a filler word. Check an email or an old design document and highlight every instance of the word “just.” Often, you will find omitting the word doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. In some cases, it’s filler. Excluding excess provides more clarity and helps learners manage cognitive load.
Take a Crash Course in Self-Editing 101The fine art of self-editing is an acquired and practiced skill. Knowing when to cut, restructure, or flesh out an idea is something that comes with practice. One key is keeping your empathy hat on and thinking about your audience as you edit. Sometimes we have a lot to say, but our audience is focused on what they need to know, not all there is to know. With a little practice, you’ll be able to spot how to elevate your writing from good to great. For instance, I had a great paragraph in this article about my nephew and his introduction to language with the utterance of his first word, but I would have had that in for me, not you. So, you’ll have to get that story another time.
Remember: Presentation Is EverythingPresentation is everything (yes, it’s worth repeating). Good writing is only as good as its formatting. How you present what you’re saying is equally as important as what you’re saying. Write to the appropriate level of your audience and use empathy to understand the ways in which they need to receive information in terms of both order and visuals. For example, I use the Mager Model to construct my learning objectives for a learning program. This allows me to see the who, what, and how of the program I’m developing for my fellow designers as well as my stakeholders. When I go to write a course description that will be used for marketing purposes, I have to recognize that my audience and my intention have shifted; therefore, so should my words.
When we were first introduced to words, we were given tools and resources. We had handwriting practice paper that told us how tall or how short each letter should be. We memorized lists of vocabulary to expand our personal word bank. We had rules for our practice of writing. Some of us loved it; some of us tried to get through it. Regardless of your relationship with words, they are an effective part of our daily communications—so make sure they shine.
For a deeper dive into this topic, join me for ATD's Writing for Instructional Design and Training Certificate Program.