How to Write for eLearning

Writing for the web is an essential skill in the digital age. Here is a brief guide designed to enhance your online writing skills. While we’ll loosely focus on eLearning, these strategies are applicable to anyone who creates content in a professional capacity. No matter your role, whether it’s as an instructional designer, eLearning developer, researcher, or advertiser, and no matter the content type, be it educational or training materials, blogs, or social media copy, this guide has practical tips to help you.

Why is writing online different?

Online, we rarely read every word. Instead, we tend to scan web pages, honing in on the information that serves our immediate needs. This scanning process isn’t linear; eye-tracking studies show that we navigate content in a non-linear fashion, jumping around, scrolling, and revisiting paragraphs.

With this behaviour in mind, there are specific approaches we can adopt to make our writing more impactful.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t about simplifying content for a disinterested audience, nor does it mean relinquishing creative expression and individuality in our writing. It is about adapting our content to align with their preferences and requirements.

Tip 1: Get straight to the point and consider every text box carefully

One of the biggest detractors for any eLearning module is too much text on the screen. Remember that this is a different format to a PDF document. Make sure the most important information is up the front. This will help readers who are quickly scanning to grasp the key points easily. This technique is known as front loading. For example, if you are writing about a new event make sure the first paragraph covers:

  • The theme
  • Date
  • How to register/buy tickets

The rest of the text can flesh out the other details.

You can also use interactions to enable the learner to draw their own conclusions, as opposed to spelling them out in minute detail for them via paragraphs of text.

If there’s too much text for the screen, throw it in the audio narration. If there’s too much for the narration, throw it in a reference document.

Focus on the core message and you won’t go wrong.

Tip 2: Use headings, subheadings and bullet points

Use headings and subheadings to summarise or indicate what is coming in the paragraph ahead. This breaks up heavy blocks of text and allows learners to scan content quickly to locate the information they are after.

Keep your headings short and succinct. It’s also helpful if they work out of context and are informative. For example Our eLearning module on design principles free for existing customers is more helpful than Brush up on design skills.

Bullet point lists are important for the same reasons – they break up text and highlight important information, letting it stand out from the body copy. But don’t overuse them. Keep them for short, sharp information that will go into a listed format naturally.

Tip 3: Ask questions

Use questions to disrupt the flow of reading. Use them to create a pause in the narrative to allow the reader to consolidate their learning. They can also be useful in headings to entice the reader.

Tip 4: Get the tone right

Include a tone of voice that fits the target audience. Should it be formal or informal? Light-hearted or serious?

There are many ways you can utilise tone, for example, in professional or character-based voiceovers (e.g. Private Detective, Humphrey Bogart style) and conversational tones. These can all be used to great effect.

What type of tone would work best in your organisation?

Tip 5: Keep it short and keep your language plain

Keep your sentences short and succinct. In eLearning, try to keep paragraphs to no more than three sentences.

Research has shown that we can read up to 25% slower online. So, take that into account when you are determining the amount of content.

Write in plain English. This means:

  • use everyday language
  • active voice, not passive constructions e.g., ‘the cat sat on the mat’, not ‘the mat was sat on by the cat’
  • avoid jargon and idioms
  • explain specialist terms

Hemmingway editor is an online app that can help ensure your language is bold and clear.

Tip 6: Write your narration script first

This can be a good route to take when you have been given existing PowerPoint slides that have been used in a face-to-face setting.

Take all the text off the slide, and rewrite it in a narration script. Then try and visualise what the learner will see on the screen as the narration is unfolding.

It may not work for every slide/screen but it can be a good starting point.

Tip 7: Use images

Images can dramatically improve your content, in helping to:

  • Make the content more engaging
  • Support the reader to understand the content better
  • Help the reader get a sense of your brand and personality
  • Break up text

We hope this helps you with your eLearning writing or online writing. Keeping these tips in mind, and lots of practicing will all help to perfect your writing skills.

If you’d like more information or have any questions, please just get in touch.

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