Writing for eLearning, Part II: Clarity

You may have the best learning management system (LMS) available and the most powerful authoring tools, but even those can’t write your content for you. In this second article on writing for eLearning, the focus will be on clarity. After all, the whole point is to make your content as clear as possible to your learners, right?

Writing for eLearning, Part II: ClarityThe 8 KIS Principles for Clearer Writing

I’ve developed a series of 8 principles to help guide writers to greater clarity. I call them KIS Principles, meaning Keep It…Simple, Succinct, Short, Straightforward, Soulful, Snappy, Sound, and Sensible. Below you’ll find a brief explanation of each KIS principle:

  • KIS1: Keep It Simple. One way to do this is to write as if your audience will be children. It’s important to have this standard in mind at the beginning of any writing project to lay a solid foundation for clarity. Another way to keep it simple is to define your topic idea as clearly as possible from the beginning. Keep that topic in mind and use it like a filter to let in only the information that supports your topic while keeping out anything that doesn’t.
  • KIS2: Keep It Succinct. If you need a reminder on this one, go back and read Part I of this series – it covered writing concisely.
  • KIS3: Keep It Short. This one is focused on the length of your sentences. When your sentences are too long, learners get lost in the sentence and lose track of the point you’re trying to make. You might deceive yourself into thinking that longer sentences are a sign of depth or artistry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Long, unfocused, meandering sentences are more likely a sign of unclear thinking.
  • KIS4: Keep It Straightforward. Vague insinuations must be avoided. Hinting at your point is no good. Ambiguity does not facilitate understanding. I could come up with more ways to say this, but I think you get the point. Figure out what it is you’re trying to say and then write it as clearly as possible.
  • KIS5: Keep it Soulful. That may sound strange, but what I mean by this is staying true to the purpose for which you’re writing. As learning professionals, your writing is intended to convey information and knowledge to your learners. Keep that in mind as you write.
  • KIS6: Keep it Snappy. The way to do this is to come up with a great title for your piece. A snappy title is a promise to the learner for what they’re going to get by taking the time to engage with your content. Once again you can use this snappy title as a filter to bring in only the information that helps fulfill the promise your title makes to readers. Make it bold, informative, eye-catching, and short.
  • KIS7: Keep it Sound. Read out loud what you’ve written. Does it sound like something you’d actually say? If not, it probably also lacks clarity. Some people seem to think that the act of writing requires a different kind of language than how you speak. That’s when writing becomes too wordy, full of flowery expressions and stilted, formal language. You’ll do much better if you write like you talk. Of course it still needs to be grammatically correct, so perhaps I should say write like you talk, only better.
  • KIS8: Keep it Sensible. It’s surprising how often people allow redundancy to creep into their writing. The best way to illustrate this is with several examples, such as the following: Past history (history is in the past by definition), terrible tragedy (the alliteration is nice, but if it’s a tragedy, then it’s obviously terrible), foreign imports (if something is imported, it’s clearly foreign), pink in color (pink is a already a color by definition), and screaming loudly (a screaming person is clearly being loud). How many others can you think of?

Keep the 8 KIS principles in mind and your writing will be every bit as clear as it needs to be for your learners to get the most from you eLearning content.

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