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Supercharge Your Writing for Instructional Design


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Here are some sources of inspiration for improving your writing for eLearning, slides and other instructional materials.

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Supercharge Your Writing for Instructional Design

  2. 2. Informative1 Audio Scripts2 Video Scripts3 Technical6 Stories7 Test Questions8 Microcopy4 Persuasive5 Glossaries9 Copywriting10 There are at least ten types of writing that instructional designers might be involved in as part of their jobs.
  3. 3. STEAL LIKE AN ARTISTThe thesis of this book by Austin Kleon, is that you should find concepts and works that inspire, then use in your own way and make it your own.
  4. 4. “Every new idea is just a mashup or remix of one or more previous ideas.” Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist Many psychologists agree that creativity is not about doing something original. Rather, it’s about mixing existing ideas in a new way.
  5. 5. PLAGIARISM Of course, no one is talking about plagiarism!
  6. 6. We’re talking about borrowing from things that get you inspired and making them your own. The art comes in when you make it your own.
  7. 7. JOURNALISMADVERTISING HOLLYWOOD UX & UI Here are four industries you can look to for writing inspiration and ideas.
  8. 8. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (from advertising)
  9. 9. 1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE Advertisers do a lot of research to learn about their audience. You should too. Are you writing for an audience of baristas or an audience at a conservative financial institution? Hang out with the audience and use their words.
  10. 10. 2. FIND THE RIGHT VOICE Attitude Tone Personality Mood Advertisers find the right voice for the audience. Not your voice, but the voice that will connect. Will you write as the boss, the colleague or the teacher?
  11. 11. Congratulations on the new job! I was embarrassed my first day because I couldn’t answer all of the customer questions about the menu. Definitely study it tonight. Teacher Colleague Restaurant Training The first task for a new waiter-in training is to memorize the menu. In any given day, a waiter will receive numerous questions about the food choices and he or she must be prepared with answers.
  12. 12. 3. PASSIVE TO ACTIVE Passive sentence construction isn’t wrong, it’s just not very dynamic. Advertisers speak directly to their audience with an active construction.
  13. 13. The subject is doing the action. I heard it through the grapevine. The subject is NOT taking a direct action. ACTIVE CONSTRUCTION PASSIVE CONSTRUCTION It was heard by me through the grapevine.
  14. 14. I’m a hot air balloon, I could go to space. A hot air balloon going to space is analogous to me. Pharrell Williams would not have had a big hit if he used passive sentence construction!! Here’s the third sentence from the song Happy in both active and passive construction.
  15. 15. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (from journalism)
  16. 16. 4. WRITE HEADLINES NOT TITLES Journalists use attention-grabbing headlines. Why don’t we?
  17. 17. Little girl’s next move totally alarms her parents AOL writes great headlines. I click on them even when I’m busy and when I’m not even interested in the topic!
  18. 18. You’re probably cooking your bacon all wrong
  19. 19. Dr. Oz says one thing may be more vital than exercise The headlines pique the reader’s curiosity.
  20. 20. eMail Ettiquette for New Employees How to Achieve Active Listening Hand Washing in the Hospital The Boss Wasn’t Happy with This eMail This Surprising Technique Increased Sales by 50% Did you know hand washing could save your life? Three boring course titles made into more interesting headlines.
  21. 21. 5. USE TEASERS IN MENUS Journalists use teasers to get us hooked.
  22. 22. We can use teasers in menus and title screens. Here is an example menu from a course I made for physicians.
  23. 23. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (from Hollywood)
  24. 24. 6. GIVE YOUR PROTAGONIST AN OBSTACLE Hollywood script writers give their protagonists an obstacle that they don’t want to face, according to Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story.
  25. 25. 7. MAKE THE PROTAGONIST CHANGE According to Ms. Cron, the most significant aspect of story is how the protagonist changes. This is what captures our curiosity, more than plot.
  26. 26. “A story is how what happens affects someone in pursuit of a difficult goal and how they change as a result.” Lisa Cron, The eLearning Coach Podcast #4
  27. 27. Here’s an example of a story with an obstacle that I wrote to teach residents how to teach in short lecture/conversations, called “Chalk Talks.”
  28. 28. As usual, a super hero saves the day.
  29. 29. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (from UI and UX)
  30. 30. 8. REMOVE TO IMPROVE The user experience and user interface community have ideas for writing microcopy– the small instructions and messages that users need.
  31. 31. In the assignment for this chapter, you actually write two assignments in one: a set of instructions and an information structure (such as description, definition, or other) integrated within those instructions. In this assignment, you will write a set of instructions. Integrate a description or definition within the instructions. Deleting extraneous words is one way to supercharge your microcopy and all of your writing. Here is the before and after.
  32. 32. On the left are terms and on the right are definitions. Drag the correct term to its definition. Drag the term on the left to its correct definition on the right. Before and after for eLearning microcopy.
  33. 33. 9. ADD PERSONALITY Great Scott! You have a past timer running. Travel back in time to edit it (or just click this link). Have you noticed this trend for giving user interfaces some personality? This example is from Harvest Time Tracking software. We can do that too.
  34. 34. This type of message will only frustrate users and learners. It’s impossible to understand and has no personality. It’s from an error in a shopping cart.
  35. 35. We’re sorry to see you go, but hey, no hard feelings, hopefully we will see you back one day. Here’s another example message with personality from when I unsubscribed from a newsletter.
  36. 36. Google displays this friendly notice when you’ve checked your notices.
  38. 38. THANK YOU! Connie Malamed @elearningcoach Are you getting my monthly newsletter? If not, you’re missing out on articles, tips and freebies that will make you better at designing learning experiences. Go to and enter your email address in the form in the upper right. Your email address will never be shared.