Do you ever find yourself listening to a friend or loved one’s story and unable to determine what happened because they forget to tell you important details? Or getting so lost in their details and asides that you lose their point? It’s kind of funny when it’s at home… but when you’re trying to understand how to perform a new task or integrate a concept into your daily routine, poor communication is a problem.
To create effective training, our content doesn’t have room for missing or unclear information. We’re starting from a down position—resistance to change, competition for our users’ attention—so it’s critical that we figure out what our users need to know to effect the changes we want them to make. Then we must find the clearest terms in which to share this information.
Of course, words aren’t all we use to communicate—we also develop graphics, engage client-specific formatting, and set a tone through the level of formal language and visual styles we use. But to create the final product, every training begins with a word picture that describes our need. So, how can we ensure we don’t leave anything out or overpaint our word picture? We follow basic guidelines for clear communication.
Be active. Make sure every sentence has a subject (actor) and a verb (action). It’s amazing how many words you can save—and how much clearer your ideas become—when you follow this guideline. Instead of saying, “Mistakes were made,” identify precisely who you mean so you can clarify what happened: “I made mistakes.”
Use less to say more. When you speak, do you usually make statements like, “The behavior of my son was exemplary so an ice cream cone was bought for him”? Probably not. Most of us would say, “My son’s behavior was exemplary so he got an ice cream cone” or even better, “My son’s exemplary behavior earned him an ice cream cone.” The more direct we are, like saying “my son’s behavior” versus “the behavior of my son,” the easier we make it for users to identify our point.
Keep it simple. I love big words, but if readers need a dictionary to read my content, I’m writing for me, not for them. Instead of saying, “Our point becomes obfuscated in excessive verbiage,” I could say, “Our point gets lost in extra words.” Again, with both number and types of words we choose, less is often more.
Delete the dead weight. Adverbs like “simply,” “completely,” and “very,” or phrases like “in order to,” “the reason that,” and “it was evident that,” are the junk food of writing, adding calories without substance. When you write a statement, review it for substance: subject, verb, and direct object; for example, “I went to the store” versus “I put on a blue dress and went quickly and impatiently to the nearest store”. If you’re including other words, are they there to clarify those three parts, or can you remove them without losing your intent? For example, is it important to know I wore a blue dress and that I went both quickly and impatiently? If it is, can I remove some extra words without changing my meaning? You need to invest time for this in-depth review, but with practice, you will get faster at identifying and better about leaving out the dead weight altogether.
Listen to feedback. Whether you leverage a trained editor’s skills, survey a test audience, or seek advice from a trusted reader, pay attention if anyone reports confusion about your written work. If necessary, ask your readers to point out places where you included too much or too little information. Few people enjoy having their work critiqued, but incorporating feedback will improve your writing.
These basic guidelines can start you on the path to clearer writing, which leads to more effective training. To take your training to the next level, our skilled staff can help you move your ideas off the page into an engaging visual course!