Writing for eLearning, Part III: 6 Tactical Tips
In this third installment of my series on writing for eLearning, I want to present some good tactical tips that will help keep your writing as good as it needs to be for your learners.
Use active voice. This doesn’t mean you should never use passive voice, but it’s generally better to keep things active because it helps learners avoid confusion. Think of the difference between active and passive voice in relation to who is doing what in the sentence. In the active voice, the subject clearly performs the action. In the passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action. Here’s a very basic example to show the difference:
Passive: The sentence was written by the author using passive voice.
Active: The author wrote the sentence in active voice.
Let verbs carry the action. Many writers fall prey to nominalization, which means turning verbs into nouns. Indications you’re prone to this include using “be” too frequently or taking a verb and adding “-ion” to the end of it. Writing is more interesting and engaging when the action is clear and unambiguous. Below are some examples of nominalizations highlighted in italics.
An evaluation of each team member’s performance needs to be done.
Each team member’s performance needs to be evaluated.
Depending on who the subject is that needs to do the evaluation will determine how to revise the sentence into a more active format. Below are a couple of options:
Please evaluate each team member’s performance.
We need to evaluate each team member’s performance.
Restrict wordy phrases. You’d be surprised how many wordy phrases can easily be replaced by a single word. Any time you can use fewer words is a good thing – the art of brevity and the art of clarity go hand-in-hand. Look at the following examples:
- the reason for
- for the reason that
- due to the fact that
- owing to the fact that
- in light of the fact that
- considering the fact that
- on the grounds that
- this is why
Each of the above phrases could be replaced by a single word such as because, since, or why. Here are some others to watch out for:
- despite the fact that
- regardless of the fact that
- notwithstanding the fact that
The above phrases could also be replaced by single words such as although, even, or though. Many times we use wordy phrases out of habit, and other times they sneak into writing because you’re trying to vary how you say things. That’s not a bad thing, but when wordiness gets in the way of simple, clear writing, then it’s time to put wordy phrases on a diet, even if it means repeating the same word.
Cut back on wordy verbs. The same applies to verbs that can become wordier than they really need to be. Check out the following examples and how to fix them:
Not so good: All of those things are indications of a deeper root cause.
Better: All of those things indicate a deeper root cause.
Not so good: Don’t you think Michael is aware of the hotel’s price?
Better: Don’t you think Michael knows the hotel’s price?
Limit prepositional phrases. When sentences are cluttered with too many prepositional phrases, clarity is impaired.
Not so good: It is a matter of extreme importance to the future of all human beings with a concern for the health of the planet that activities resulting in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere be greatly reduced.
Better: Anyone interested in the long-term health of the planet should reduce CO2 emissions.
Some writers also have a tendency to show possession by using a prepositional phrase rather than making use of the apostrophe. Ditch the prepositional phrase and use the apostrophe instead! Here’s how it works:
Not so good: The opinion of the professor is that writing should be clear.
Better: The professor’s opinion is that writing should be clear.
Reduce expletive constructions. Whenever you read one of your sentences and it begins with it is, there is, or there are, take a closer look at it. If the word that or this also appears in the sentence, you’ve probably got an expletive construction that should be revised. Check out the following examples:
Not so good: It is inevitable that inflation will rise.
Better: Inflation will inevitably rise.
Not so good: There are likely to be many employees raising questions about this new policy.
Better: Many employees will likely question the new policy.
Use the six tactical tips every time you sit down to write new eLearning content. Your learners will greatly appreciate it!