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  • Rikki Lee

Lost in Narration

The narration script is an important component in developing an elearning program. Writing the script usually comes after creating learning objectives and outlining content, and before storyboarding and designing screens. The storyboard and the on-screen text, images, animation, audio, video and other screen elements usually flow from the script, so it should be well-written and meet the requirements of an elearning program. That is, the narration script should teach all the necessary knowledge, and it shouldn’t leave learners confused.

If your content is a classroom presentation that you must convert into an elearning course, you might think the scripting work has already been done for you. But quite the opposite is true: An instructor’s script that has been delivered to a classroom full of learners won’t always convert into an effective elearning script. For one thing, the classroom script may not be in the proper sequence for optimum understanding by self-paced learners. It also might include the instructor's ad libs and digressions, or leave out answers to discussion questions. Some of the knowledge will be in the instructor's mind, and revealed only on an as-needed basis. So, converting the instructor's script will often require numerous changes, deletions and additional content.

But let’s hold the topic of converting ILT to elearning for another time. In this post, we’ll talk about writing a narration script based on various sources that you’ve had to locate and research. Some instructional designers are fortunate to be able to develop their own script for an elearning program. It helps them produce a more effectively designed course than if they were simply handed a finished script developed by someone else.

If you don’t consider yourself as good an instructional writer as you are a designer of screens, writing the narrator’s script may be your most difficult task. So here’s our first list of helpful tips and avoidable traps to make narration writing go smoother:

  • Be technical. In many ways, writing a good narration script is similar to writing a good technical paper: Both must be organized, clear, concise and precise. This doesn’t mean the narrator should sound like a user manual, but that they should get to the point quickly and explain the topic thoroughly. Every word in the script should be important, and few (if any) unnecessary words should be spoken. A classroom instructor can afford to ramble on and on about a topic, but a long-winded discussion reduces retention in elearning.

  • Vary your sentences. If you think you can write a narration script in the same way you write a blog post, email or marketing collateral, you won’t notice that some of your sentences are running dozens of words long. When spoken by a narrator, long sentences are difficult for the listener to follow. So, vary the length of your sentences and avoid long sentences completely. To help you understand what you've written, speak the script aloud after every few paragraphs. Then ask yourself, "Did that make sense? Did my thoughts follow along with the script? Or did I forget what I just said?"Ask a trusted co-worker to do the same, then compare your experiences.

  • Write for everyday people. Maybe you try out of habit to be a perfect writer. But your narrator must be able to relate to learners—not like that stuffy grammar teacher you had in middle school. Try using a conversational writing style that’s realistic, as though you’re talking to someone. Anything that doesn’t sound right coming out of someone’s mouth—including rarely used words that no one (except you) knows the meaning or spelling of—doesn’t belong in a narration script. In addition, avoid slang (such as texting abbreviations), overused colloquialisms (such as “you know what I mean”) and clichés (such as “when all is said and done”).

  • Bend a few rules. Disregarding a few previously ironclad rules of grammar has become widely acceptable. For example, we can finally lay the “he or she” issue to rest. The sentence “Each employee should complete his or her time sheet” was common in the past, but it’s now considered awkward. A better way is: “Each employee should complete their time sheet.” (Yes, you can safely use that plural “their” for a singular subject.) Also, using “that” as a modifier for a person was once considered poor grammar. These days, you can use “that” to modify a person; as in, “Anyone that works in accounting will know how to use this formula.” Of course, “who” is still preferred, but “that” is not improper. And ending a sentence with a preposition, splitting an infinitive, and starting a sentence with “and” are other rules to completely forget obsessing over.

  • Try out a persona. Instead of writing a script for an anonymous narrator, you might create a character or "persona." This can be a fictitious supervisor, manager or veteran of the industry where your learners are employed. The narrator is given a name and might summarize their “work history” with learners. In this case, the narrator is seen as a real person who shares knowledge. The benefit of a persona is that the learners can identify and more easily engage with the character better than with a nameless speaker. The persona should be pleasant, not irritating. And this technique is best used for new hires or others just entering a company or industry, or for those who are outside it.

There are many different techniques to use when writing narration scripts, and we’ve just gotten started. We’ll cover more of them in upcoming posts.

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