Style changes over time, affecting haircuts, clothes, music—and writing. You probably don’t have a farthingale hanging in your closet (and might not even know what one is). You don’t have to look all the way back to Elizabethan times to see shifts in style, though. People don’t wear butterfly collars or corduroy bellbottoms to the office anymore. You shouldn’t be writing e-learning with a style from that era either.
In order to create custom e-learning that people actually want to take, you need to write with classic precision and modern-day style. Here are four tips to keep your writing contemporary.
GET TO THE POINT
I did not begin this article with a quick overview that introduced every tip with a sentence about why each is important. Nor did I then explain that the article would further explore each one. Why? Because it’s an outdated technique—and for good reasons too.
Whether you call it signposting, front-loading, or something else, it’s unnecessary. Don’t waste your time writing about what will be written. If you haven’t explored the topics yet, then you aren’t doing much to help your reader. If you are explaining topics that will be fully defined later, then you are being redundant.
This lesson applies doubly to e-learning. Let your introductions do something unique: make an interesting comparison, ask an engaging question, or even get a laugh. Build on that momentum to carry readers directly into what you want them to learn.
SPEAK DIRECTLY TO THE READER
Yeah, I’m talking to you. A first-person voice that addresses the reader is standard in online opinion pieces and social media platforms.
Even more immediate is the second person voice, a convention utilized in game writing since the earliest text adventures. (“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”)
A business simulation or an educational game focuses on the learner. You need to place her at the front and center of every experience—especially the written ones.
Direct wording increases engagement, and it’s just more personable, don’t you think?
KILL THE ZOMBIES
I know, I know, you’re sick of zombies. Everyone is. But we’re talking about zombie words, okay? Steven Pinker’s popular book The Sense of Style offers a detailed explanation of zombie nouns and zombie adjectives. Yes, you read correctly: zombie nouns and zombie adjectives.
Put simply, they’re the ones that drain the life from sentences. Lacking concrete reasons to be, the zombie words seem to shamble without meaning or purpose. Pinker demonstrates these using two versions of a portable generator’s warning sticker. Which one is more effective?
Mild exposure to CO can result in accumulated damage over time.
Using a generator indoors CAN KILL YOU IN MINUTES.
See? A concrete, conversational style isn’t merely fashionable. It saves lives!
STAY FLEXIBLE AND FUN
Once you know the rules, don’t be afraid to bend or even break them when situations call for it. Grammarians rail against many aspects of writing that are perfectly valid now—and some that always have been.
What am I talking about? The nonexistent rule against ending a sentence with a preposition, for one. According to that rule, “About what am I talking?” would be the correct phrasing. That sounds fine if your name happens to be Yoda. (Also, I answered that question with a sentence fragment. Madness!)
It’s much maligned by high school English teachers, but even the passive voice has its place in good writing.
Don’t write in a drab, passé fashion. Clarity and consistency, not rigidity and “correctness,” should be your guiding principles. Anyone can have a style that’s fresh, engaging, and fun. Now, isn’t it time you cleaned out your closet?