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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, 2002
Format: Paperback, 181 pages, £16.99
ISBN: 0749437235

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The author’s first edition of this book appeared in 1991, and at that time I reviewed it ‘Training Journal’, saying ‘ This book produces in a most effective way exactly what the title promises. All the skills are described in detail from basics to the finished product. If you want a straightforward book on writing training material, free of academic argument over minor points of grammatical conflict, but full of valuable advice to the experienced and inexperienced trainer alike, I can recommend this book without reservation.’ Eleven years later, with a second edition I see no reasons to modify in any way that part of the earlier review.

In the eleven years that have elapsed, there has been a number of advances in technical, technological and electronic offerings and uses. The present edition has taken full account of these changes, although the author correctly states ‘Despite the technological wizardry, the basic principles of writing training materials do not change’.

The book is divided into three Parts. The first part is a refresher on writing principles, discussing planning what you are to write, choosing the most effective medium, presenting the material in the most attractive and effective way, and ensuring that the finished product says what you intended it to say. The use of KISS (Keep it short and simple), finding and using the right word, jargon, straightforward grammatical constructs, the FOG index and presentation methods are all fully discussed, all in a clear and concise manner.

Part two considers the various forms of writing in which the trainer will be involved. Chapters in this Part describe, necessarily briefly because of publishing limitations: Job description, standards, etc; Procedures, job aids and manuals; Forms and questionnaires; Course notes, visuals, handouts and exercises; Self-learning texts; Web sites; Reports, letters, Emails and Minutes.

The chapter that appears to have received the most updating attention is, naturally, the one on websites – chapter 13, a new chapter. Here the use of web sites is described briefly, particularly the topics of why have a website and what to include? The construction of e-learning programmes is mentioned, as is using the web for course booking and record-keeping systems.

The revised chapter on reports etc now contains advice on the use of emails, providing a checklist of pitfalls to avoid. Included in this list is the author’s recommendation not to use capitals ( = shouting): I haven’t been able to discover who decided on this ’protocol’, but I always equate capitals with emphasis on a word or phrase (I suppose that is the equivalent of shouting). In the text commenting on letter writing, the author recommends the use of ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ even when you do not know the person to whom you are writing, rather than the long-recognized ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or as I usually write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. The reason for the suggested approach is that the latter one ‘sounds like the opening of a government circular’.

The final Part of the book are chapters that contain useful reference material: Source material (including the Internet); Legalities – disclaimers and copyright, and data protection: more detailed, but not exhaustive, Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (including some comments on US spelling); Tables and Charts. Another updated chapter ‘Using Technology’ completes the book, comments being made on word processing; spreadsheet packages; presentation packages, DTP, and computer networks.

In a number of cases, the reader will have to research further because of the brevity commented on earlier, but this detracts little from the book which is an excellent introduction to the use of training materials.

Leslie Rae
27 September 2002


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