7 Tips for Writing for eLearning

At some time through your instructional design or eLearning developer career you will find yourself writing text for the content. Whether it’s for the text on screen or the narration script. Here are some tips to assist you in making your text easy to digest for your learner without inflicting huge paragraphs of dense text on them. Otherwise you may has well given them a PDF document to read as opposed to an eLearning module!

Tip 1: Use an Active Voice

Use a direct, active voice, not passive constructions. Active voice reduces the processing burden on the brain by keeping it simple. For example, instead of saying

‘The proposed initiative will be bitterly opposed by civil rights groups’


‘Civil rights groups will bitterly oppose the proposed initiative.’

See the difference? The second sentence is much stronger and is straight to the point, whereas the passive construction requires a little more work to determine what is being said. We want our learners to use their cognitive power in the learning, not the deciphering of the content.

There is a great online app that can assist with restructuring passive statements to active ones. Check out the online Hemmingway editor for more information.

Tip 2: Headings and Subheadings

Use headings and subheadings to summarize or indicate what is coming in the paragraph ahead. This allows learners to scan content quickly to locate the information they are after.

Tip 3: 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.

Tip 4: Tone

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

I’ve seen professional articulate voice overs as well as character based voiceover (Private detective, Humphrey Bogart style) as well as conversation al friendly tones all used to great effect.

What type of tone would work best in your organisation?

Tip 5: Keep it short

Keep your sentences short and succinct. 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 in your text boxes.

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 visualize 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: Consider Every Text Box Carefully

One of the biggest killjoys for any eLearning module is too much text on screen for the learner to read. It gets back to the analogy earlier that you might as well have given them a PDF document to read if your slides are just paragraph after paragraph of text. Condense and get to the key ‘need to know’ point of every paragraph and make it the focal point for the learner.

Use interactions to enable the learner to draw their own conclusions, as opposed to spelling it 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!

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