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4 Steps to Writing Effective Training Materials

Trainers who develop learning materials often ask for help in being more productive and efficient. By following a strategy to organize and develop your ideas, you can make the writing process less tedious and more effective.

Step 1 

Start with a learning objective that will inform by imparting knowledge, teach skills by directing, or influence attitudes by being persuasive. The objective is what drives the materials development process. 

Step 2

Describe what needs to be developed. This is where content brainstorming is especially useful. There are a couple of ways to create comprehensive content: making a list (a left-brained, linear approach) and mind-mapping (a right-brained, nonlinear approach). 

Both methods are effective if done well, using common rules of brainstorming, which include

  • go for quantity
  • don't edit
  • build on existing ideas
  • keep asking what comes next
  • suspend judgment because there are no bad ideas
  • take risks
  • stop making excuses
  • take turns; encourage others. 

Step 3

Sequence the information using any of the following options. Whatever sequence you choose, be sure to share the sequence plan with the learner because it makes it easier to follow your logic and learn more quickly.  

  • Psychological sequencing presents the most acceptable ideas to the reader first and places the least acceptable ideas last. For example, describe the success and increased sales for the top-selling product and then list the techniques to build future sales of the lower selling products.

  • Chronological or historical sequencing starts with the oldest ideas first and places the newest ideas last.

  • Reverse chronological sequencing starts with the newest ideas and traces their origin in history, ending with the oldest ideas. For example, during a new employee orientation session, the founding of the company is stated first and then acquisitions that built the company are listed in historical order.

  • Job task or function sequencing starts with an overview of a job and lists the steps of completing a task or function in the order in which each task is completed. For example, describe the process for employees to safely lift heavy boxes.

  • Familiar to unfamiliar sequencing starts with an idea or content with which the reader is familiar and builds to newer or unfamiliar information. For example, describe the updated software for accounting clerks by first listing the steps that are familiar and then describing the changes to the process.

  • Geographical sequencing starts with one location and moves to the next location in one direction. For example, when describing an organization's multiple offices, start with the home office location in New York and list the additional offices from east to west.

  • Cause-to-effect sequencing begins with the initial incident and builds to the result of specific actions. For example, placing a heat source near combustible materials caused a fire that burned down a building.

  • Effect-to-cause sequencing begins with the result or outcome and traces ideas or events back to the cause. For example, the current deficit in the budget is traced back to overspending in five budget categories.

  • Stimulus-response sequencing begins with an action and identifies the likely outcome. For example, when the telephone rings, the telephone is answered.

  • Size sequencing starts with the largest and ends with the smallest. The reverse also can be used by starting with the smallest unit and ending with the largest. For example, shipping boxes offered by the postal service include six sizes ranging from holding 25 pounds to holding up to one pound.

  • Organizational unit sequencing is a way to describe an organizational chart that begins with the top of the organization (CEO and board of directors) and shows a reporting structure to the bottom of the organization (line manufacturing workers). 

Step 4 

Write your ideas by opening with a statement of purpose, free-writing each idea, and then editing your free-write materials. 

Open with a statement of purpose. This takes the form of a business need, a benefit to the reader, or the outcome that can be reached. For example, here is a statement of purpose for a selling skills training video: "This video demonstrates how the new accounts representative can successfully sell a money market account. New accounts reps often think of selling as order-taking or something that used car salespeople do. This video is meant to be an attractive and easy-to-follow model of the four steps to the sale, illustrating listening and questioning skills, including how to handle an objection. The four steps are identify the customer's need, sell the features and benefits of the right product, close the sale, and explain how to cross-sell additional products." 

Free-write each idea. Using the brainstormed list or mind map as a guide, write what you know about each idea. Ignore the compulsion to edit, use proper grammar, and spell correctly for now. If you know you've made a mistake, just circle it or highlight it, leave space for a later revision, and keep going. Don't fix it now. If you're having writer's block, try pretending you're talking to a friend and write down what you would say. Often I write materials that I have taught in the past, so standing up and pretending I'm in front of a group helps me find the words that I would say to a group of learners. 

Edit your free-write materials. Read what you have written and complete a "big picture revision." What is the style or tone of what you have written? Is the style or tone consistent? What format changes need to be considered? Next, complete "what's the point" revisions by focusing on the clarity of your message. Can you be more concise or simplify what and how you present your ideas? Finally, complete a "detail" revision by checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation. 

Bottom Line: Using these four steps to organize your ideas will make your writing process more organized and efficient, and result in better and clearer content for readers. For more tips, check out How to Write Terrific Training Materials .

About the Author

Jean Barbazette founded The Training Clinic, Seal Beach, California, a training consulting firm, in 1977. Jean is a regular presenter at ASTD's national convention and Training Magazine’s conference and is a recognized expert in training design and delivery for the field. She’s the author of the bestselling book Successful New Employee Orientation and The Trainer’s Support Handbook, as well as a contributor to McGraw-Hill Sourcebooks, Pfeiffer Annuals, and several ASTD publications. She resides in Seal Beach, CA.

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