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  • Rikki Lee

Writing Tips for the Instructional Designer

If you’ve created scripts, slides, storyboards or curriculum maps in your job, you’re not only an instructional designer and/or trainer but also a writer. Unfortunately, all writers are prone to making a mistake now and then. Even expert writers and editors frequently miss a period here or dangle a participle there.

ID writing is somewhat different from writing e-mail, white papers or brochures, even though the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation and word usage shouldn’t be broken. But you can bend these rules when designing a course. For instance, you can sometimes use colloquialisms in a voice-over script to highlight a narrator’s persona, or you can remove the occasional “a,” “an” and “the” on PowerPoint or e-learning slides to save space. These two examples are usually acceptable, because on-screen text is accompanied by narration, and the result is easily understood.

But in other cases, deviation from normal use of grammar isn’t acceptable, such as incorrect subject/verb agreement in text or spoken script, “of” instead of “have,” missing or misspelled words, inconsistencies in punctuation and so on. Also, industry jargon, “business-speak” and unfamiliar synonyms should be avoided. Such errors not only look or sound bad in a course, but they can reduce its overall effectiveness and spoil the learning experience.

To help you avoid some common writing problems, here’s a list of 10 tips to remember for your next ID project:

  1. For emphasis, primarily use italics. Italicized words, instead of underscored or bold text, more effectively express the point you’re trying to make. But don’t overdo italics, or you’ll reduce their effect.

  2. Limit the number of bullet points per slide, and see if you can do without them altogether in many slides. Use images or symbols to express words and ideas, especially if there is narration. For example, an up arrow might indicate an increase, or a segmented pie chart or bar graph might replace a list of numbers.

  3. Use the correct spelling of common words, such as “all right,” “already,” “cannot,” “Internet” (with a capital I), “intranet” (with a small i), and “OK.”

  4. Know the difference between homonyms and other similar-sounding words, such as “than” and “then,” “affect” and “effect,” “cite” and “site,” “compliment” and “complement,” “farther” and “further,” and “principle” and “principal.”

  5. Create a checklist of your common spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes and refer to it while you are building slides and writing script.

  6. Keep the punctuation consistent and standard throughout the project. For example, complete sentences might end with a period but incomplete sentences don’t, or no periods appear at all.

  7. Replace double hyphens with em-dashes to make sentences look more professional.

  8. Before publishing or printing, check the spelling in your design file. Use the Check Spelling tool in the design software, but also proof the file manually.

  9. In Microsoft Word documents such as voiceover scripts, curriculum maps and storyboards, identify the level of simplicity of the text by clicking the “Show Readability Statistics” box in the options menu.

  10. If possible, give your project to at least two co-workers to review for errors and other problems before distributing it to management or launching it to the server or LMS.

Each word is written with readers in mind, so make sure they can understand it! Let us know your favorite writing tips.

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