How to Write Scripts for Online Training Modules
by Jim Moore 1/19/2021
Writing for online training modules is a different type of writing. You need to write for the ear.
Why write for the ear?
One critical feature of Smart Training’s learning management system (LMS) is sound: the audio recording of the trainer’s voice. When creating training modules for the LMS, writing for the ear is critically important. Listening is much different than reading.
How is listening different from reading?
When reading a book, you can always go back and re-read a sentence. While it is possible to review content on the LMS, most users won’t pause or back up the training module. They won’t make certain they’ve understood concepts.
An LMS user will never know what is coming next. This means that the user needs to understand each element clearly and immediately. If they don’t, their mind will stay busy deciphering the content. This means they might not be able to “hear” the next ideas in the training.
This is why trainers need to write for the ear, rather than the eye. Writing for the ear will eliminate doubt about content or meaning, and ensure that users retain more information.
A brief overview of writing for the ear:
To create successful audio training, use the following tips:
- Speak deliberately.
- Write in a script mindset.
- Avoid complex sentences.
- Use active voice.
- Write like you talk.
- Read your script out loud.
Let’s break it down into more detail.
1. Speak deliberately.
Hearing involves both the ear and the brain. The brain is always processing audio stimuli while receiving new stimuli. The brain can even anticipate future sounds. For this reason, write clearly and deliberately.
Save clever writing, complex sentences, or extensive vocabulary for a different venue. The LMS is not ideal for flowery writing.
The LMS user wants information in basic, understandable sentences.
2. Write in a script mindset.
Writing good content for the Smart Training LMS involves the same basic principles writers use when writing for spoken presentations. Any script needs to be written for the ear, not the eye.
For example, when reading a book, paragraphs are a visual guide. Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structures also provide visual clues. But when we listen, there are no visual clues. Listeners don’t have a glimpse into the future. They can’t see what they’re listening to.
3. Avoid complex sentences.
Each sentence should be simple and direct. Each should hold a thought or an image.
Here’s a simple sentence: “The grass is green.” Sometimes, a compound sentence works well: “The grass is green, and the sky above it is blue.”
To effectively lose most LMS users, add a subjunctive clause to your sentence. For example: “The sky, which extends across the entire horizon, is blue.”
Watch out for subjunctive clauses. They begin with words like:
Adding a subjunctive clause to a sentence requires the LMS user to hold one fact, while hearing about another fact. Your sentence connects the two, but the connection requires time and mental effort.
4. Use active voice and verbs.
Active voice is where the subject does the action. For example, “Tracy sent an email.” In that sentence, chronologically, the subject (Tracy) came before the action (sent an email). But in passive voice, the action is done by the subject. Chronologically, the subject comes after the action. If we rewrote the active sentence into a passive sentence, it would read, “The email was sent by Tracy.”
Passive writing is weak writing. Many training writers still choose to use it, because it can be less confrontational. It can also be tricky to spot, even for experienced writers. A tool like Grammarly can help. Grammarly underlines passive voice and shows how to rewrite it in active voice.
Passive writing can create doubt in a user’s mind, because it asks the ear—and the mind—to determine an action or process by mentally inverting the information.
Here’s an example of passive voice in a training module. The training director for one of our large corporate clients wrote, “Having been cited several times by OSHA, our work practices now reflect their safety principles.”
To rewrite this sentence as active, we wrote, “OSHA’s work practices guide our operations, and our work reflects our commitment to safety.”
To avoid writing with a passive style, ask: Who did or does something? State the sequence in the most expedient way possible.
5. Write like you talk.
You likely use contractions as you speak. Write with them as well. Scripts aren’t formal. Aim to make it sound like a conversation, not a written piece of information. However, be careful to avoid “dropping” the end of the contraction, which changes the meaning. For example, can vs. can’t. If you’re not careful with that final T sound, it will change the meaning of the sentence.
Simple vocabulary is key. Most long words are really no better than short words. A worker doesn’t “utilize” a tool. He or she uses it. An artist’s style isn’t “referred to” as Cubism; it’s called Cubism.
When appropriate, don’t be afraid to use proper terms for specific work practices or techniques. However, be aware that continued use of jargon can make you sound formal and distant.
Write as if you’re talking to someone, not giving a lecture. Don’t use “stilted” language just because you can.
Avoid imperatives like “must” or “shall.” No one likes to be told what they must do, and this is especially troublesome in any training process.
Use words like “you” and “yours.” Avoid the stuff and formal “one” or “ones.” For example, consider this sentence: “The low-flying plane drew one’s attention to the horizon.” Now, let’s try it another way: “The low-flying plane drew your attention to the horizon.” This sentence does more to involve the user.
6. Read your script out loud.
The best way to find your unique sound is to read aloud. Listen to yourself. Reading out loud helps you notice where the script sounds off when it’s spoken.
Do you need help writing for the ear?
Unfortunately, the formal learning process has conditioned most of us to write for the eye, rather than for the ear.
Remember that Smart Training’s training development team is happy to help our clients with writing for training modules. Our team will review your script before you begin production.