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How to Write Effective Instructional Materials


Effective educational and instructional materials accomplish the following goals:

  • Educate readers without overwhelming them.
  • Keep trainees engaged.
  • Be easy to read and understand.
  • Be written at the appropriate level for the target audience.
  • Get to the point and be concise.

Training and instructional materials include manuals, e-learning content, scripts, and any other content that is intended to educate. If writing isn’t a strong skill of yours, then producing great training content can be quite challenging. The process of create engaging learning materials requires a lot of time and hard work. To get started, you can check out the following tips.

Subject Matter Experts Should Simply Consult and Not Write Instructional Materials

Subject matter experts are not always good writers and educators. They play a very important role though, and they should be allowed to weigh in on matters of accuracy and to provide proper perspective. However, the actual writing of training materials should be done by those with experience educating and training employees.

Why isn’t it optimal to leave SMEs in charge of creating instructional materials? Many subject matter experts come by their skills quite naturally and are very well-versed in their subject area. Because of this, they may find it difficult to recognize or realize where students might get stuck. This is a bit like the star baseball player who can’t understand why scoring base hits isn’t easy for everyone. In addition to that, training and educating are skills in and of themselves. Subject matter expertise in no way guarantees that these skills exist.

Speak Directly To The Audience

While this practice isn’t acceptable in formal academic writing, you should definitely consider writing your instructional materials from the second person point of view. This means using the words “you,” “your,” and “you’re.” When you do this, you will speak directly to your audience. This technique fosters better engagement and a sense of trust.

Use Vivid Language

Whether you are describing how a particular piece of machinery should be used, explaining potential safety hazards, or conducting any other type of training, make sure to use vivid language. The goal is for your writing along with any additional materials to create a complete picture for students. This will help them to better understand concepts. Here are a few pointers on how to accomplish this.

  • Be specific and direct. Instead of describing something as colorful, say what color it is.
  • Use descriptive verbs instead of adverbs. For example, “The lab technician quickly ran to the nurse’s station when Roy spilled the chemical on himself” could be replaced with “The lab technician dashed to the nurse’s station…”
  • Words like “good,” “bad,” “okay,” “pleased,” “unhappy,” etc. don’t do much to clearly paint a picture. Consider more evocative replacement words such as “satisfactory,” “unsatisfactory,” “ecstatic,” “frustrated,” etc.

Tell Engaging Stories

If you have examples, anecdotes, and scenarios to help drive home your lesson, then by all means use them. In nearly every case, you will be better able to keep your audience’s attention while also educating them. When information is presented in the form of a story or an anecdote, recall is improved, and your content will be much more interesting to the reader.

Use The Active Voice

It’s okay to fall into the passive voice on occasion. Sometimes, writing can actually sound more stilted and awkward if you try to force the active voice. However, you should keep the passive voice to a minimum. Instead, write in the active voice. It makes your content readable and memorable. Here is an example of the passive voice:

The tools must be securely packed into the truck and the truck locked before workers take their lunch break.

Now, here is an example of the active voice:

Workers must securely pack the tools into the truck and lock the truck before they take their lunch break.

Remember that people take action, not objects.

Edit and Proofread Carefully

Accuracy leads to credibility. This is extremely important when writing training materials. Put plenty of time and effort into editing your content. If necessary, use an editing service to ensure that what you present to students meets the highest professional standards.

Be Aware of What Your Audience Does and Doesn’t Know

Whether you are writing documentation for your audience to read or creating scripts for interactive training sessions, be sure you are aware of your audience. If you go over their heads, they will be frustrated. If you spend time explaining things they already know, then the material will come off as condescending in tone.

Before you start writing training content, get a basic profile of your audience. Are they rank beginners who need a very basic breakdown of the information? Are they seasoned experts who are simply getting a refresher or maybe covering some more advanced material? Then, write material that is truly relevant to them.

Break Things Down Into Smaller Chunks

Don’t overwhelm your trainees with a whole bunch of content at once. Break things down both in terms of visuals and subject matter. When you write, present your content in small chunks. Use short paragraphs. Add visuals. Space things out so that you have plenty of white space. Use captions on images, lists, and bullet points to make key points stand out.

When you are approaching subject matter, you should also break things down. Tackle one topic at a time. Provide visual indicators that clearly show when you are transitioning to a new topic. This could be something as simple as a summary of the previous topic, or a graphic creating a visual separation from one topic to the next.

Keep it Short

Use as few words, sentences, and paragraphs as possible to make your point. Even better, provide some checkpoints in your content. These are small question and answer blurbs or requests for feedback. This provides the trainer with the opportunity to suss out whether or not the class understands the matter at hand. If they do understand, then the person presenting the training material can use that as an opportunity to move onto a different topic.

Remember that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if training wraps up early. The remaining time can be used to engage people in conversation, to demonstrate real-life situations and applications, or to ask for feedback on the course.

Only Use Jargon That Your Audience Uses

If you are writing instructional materials, then be careful about using jargon and tech speak. As a rule of thumb, if you are certain that your audience uses that particular jargon, then feel free to use it. However, in many instances using jargon can rub people the wrong way. You might leave the impression that you are attempting to appear like an insider. You might also use jargon that your audience has long dismissed. It’s also important to remember that jargon can change from group to group. As a general rule, only use jargon that you know your audience still uses regularly and has accepted.

Beware of Pronouns

Without proper context, pronouns can be confusing. For example, if you are referring to two women in your material and you use the word “she” or “her,” readers may not know which of the two women you mean. That’s not to say that you can never use pronouns. Just be sure that it is clear who or what you are referring to in your writing.

Another thing to consider is inclusivity.  Many companies prefer the neutral pronoun “they” over “he” and “she” when speaking or writing in general terms. Be sure you know what is expected.

Well-written training material is engaging and effective. By following the aforementioned tips, you can ensure that your trainees will be attentive, engaged, and educated. 

2 Responses

  1. Nice blog full of great tips.
    Nice blog full of great tips. I would add ‘Put pictures into the material’ It helps lift the words and is visually more pleasing.
    Off shelf training materials and course delivery

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