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How to write and prepare training materials – review


Title: How to write and prepare training materials
Author: Nancy Stimson
Publisher: Kogan Page, 2nd Edition
ISBN: 0-7494-3723-5
Format: Paperback, 192pp
Price: £16.99

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Nancy Stimson’s book promises “highly practical advice to help managers and trainers ensure that their training materials are as effective as possible”. So, is it, and does it?

Certainly it starts off well. With an introduction entitled “How to write everything trainers write”, the author points out that “trainers are not just speakers; they are prolific writers too”. She then lists just what trainers do write… everything from defining jobs’ skills needs, identifying the gaps, training proposals, training inputs and resources to finally evaluative follow ups of training.

The book then divides into three main parts. The first, “Writing basics”, is a brief refresher on writing principles. The second, “What trainers write”, gets into the nitty gritty of penning (or WPing) a whole range of material. A final section promises further material “For reference and interest”.

The basics section is a mere 30 pages long but within them it crams a host of useful hints and reminders about the aim of your document, writing style and language, presentation, and editing and reviewing. Highlights include how to overcome writers’ block (including take a bath… closely followed by the cry of Eureka); KISS (and she largely does); the FOG Index (for finding out just how convoluted your style is); the importance of presentation (including leaving white space, the liberal use of paragraphs and headings and emphasising key words and PUP, or please use pictures - an acronym new to me). The final section on review and editing emphasises the value of peer or audience review (and risking disagreement with your views) and introduces the concept of ABC (accuracy, brevity and clarity).

If section one is the bones, then section two is the flesh with each of its ten chapters dealing with an aspect of authoring. Thus, we have advice on creating job descriptions, objectives and competency descriptors (avoiding the semantic minefield of competences vs competencies); penning manuals and procedure documents; designing questionnaires and tests; creating course notes; writing reports, memos, e-mails etc; creating visual aids, handouts, exercises and self learning texts (separate chapters on each). Chapter 13 (of just over six pages) offers advice on web sites - with a focus on promotional sites rather than e-learning (which only gets a mention).

The final section offers chapters on sources of information and copyright (although nothing on referencing - an oversight worth remedying in edition 3). Further chapters cover the use of tables, charts etc and technology in the shape of WP, spreadsheet, DTP and graphics packages. The latter shows a weakness in that presentation packages such as Power Point receive scant coverage despite this being an area that many trainers are likely to be using (without necessarily understanding that they offer more than simply a computerised overhead or slide show).

Section three also covers grammar, punctuation and spelling- something which may have gone into the “Basics” section. (As an aside, I did what I always do with a “style guide” and looked up Ms Page’s views on boldly splitting infinitives… she seems fairly relaxed about them and, as with Fowler, acknowledges that splitting them is sometimes clearer than not).

So, does the book fulfil its stated aims? I would say yes… it offers a useful guide and many interesting pointers. As for weaknesses… I would suggest that it attempts to cover far too much ground for 192 pages and that the brevity of some sections is imbalanced by the detail in others.

Neil Wellman
Network Associates


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